Most cat owners would agree that having a furry friend in your life has a positive effect on your mood. A 2019 Cats Protection survey of cat owners found that 93.7% said their kitty was beneficial to their mental health.  Now more than ever, with most of the world in self-isolation, owners have found particular comfort in their cat. Here Cat in a Flat looks at some of the ways having a cat at home can be good for your mental health.

Cats and companionship

Cats can be a wonderful salve for loneliness, offering a constant and calm furry presence in your life. The welcome sound of the pit-pat of paws and an inquisitive meow as your cat comes to find you is an instant mood lifter. And there are few things more satisfying or comforting than a cat snuggling down on your lap or next to you for a companionate snooze.

It’s no coincidence that at the start of lockdown, pet charities received a huge surge of interest in adoptions and fostering cats and dogs. For example, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in the UK rehomed double the number of animals in one week in mid March than they did in the same period in 2019 – 69 cats and 86 dogs.

While animal charities are keen to point out that pets are for life, not just for lockdown, it is clear that caring for a cat can really help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation for owners.

Cats can help combat loneliness and anxiety
Cats can help combat loneliness and anxiety

Cats and responsibility

Owners often cite the responsibility of looking after an animal as being beneficial to their mental health.  The PDSA’s Paw Report 2019, for which the animal charity surveyed more than 5,000 pet owners in the UK, found that a feeling of responsibility was one of the main benefits to mental health of caring for an animal.

The daily structure of having to feed and care for the cat provides meaning and purpose to each day and can act as a great motivator and up-lifter.  It can also encourage and help to maintain a healthy routine. If Mr Whiskers wakes you up demanding breakfast every morning, it makes it easier and more satisfying to get out of bed.

The responsibility of looking after a cat can be too much for those really struggling with mental health, and this is never something that should be taken lightly. Cats’ self-reliant and independent nature, however, make them easier to dependably care for than some other animals.

Cats and feeling calm

Although cats may have a reputation for being aloof and particular, owners know that cats offer unlimited and unconditional love. Cats are completely unconcerned with how you look, what your job is, how much money you make and how old you are. In fact as long as you feed them, they are completely non judgmental. This can be extremely comforting to anyone suffering from social anxiety.

A relationship with a cat is particularly intimate too: cats don’t seek out social interaction outside of their immediate circle, so being let into their little world to develop a uniquely close relationship is extremely satisfying.

Being creatures of habit, cats are also reliable and predictable. While they might have the occasional case of the zoomies – running all over the house for no apparent reason – on the whole cats follow a familiar routine and behave in a comfortingly consistent way. This aspect of cat ownership can be hugely beneficial for people who crave stability or who struggle with the unpredictability of human relationships.

Cats and sensory relaxation

A cat’s purr is one of the most calming sounds in the world – it’s a noise designed to soothe. The sound of purring not only has a meditative quality, it is also a clear sign that you have created a moment of bonding and positivity with another living being.

Similarly, stroking a cat is a deeply satisfying tactile experience. The combination of touching soft, warm fur and the repetitive motion of stroking a receptive feline produces a deeply calming experience.

A 2019 study by Washington State University found that just 10 minutes of petting an animal reduced the levels of stress hormone cortisol in students. Scientists have also found that stroking a cat can raise levels of mood-enhancing hormones oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. This, in turn, can help alleviate anxiety and reduce the chance of having a stroke or heart attack by up to 30 per cent.  

Happily, studies have shown that stroking a cat has a similarly positive effect on kitty too. A study by neuroscientist Paul Zak showed that cats’ oxytocin levels increase by 12% after 10 minutes of play with their owners. A 2016 study in scientific journal Behavioural Processes also found that many cats prefer human interaction to food. And will opt for strokes and scritches over snacks.

Cat breeds that are great for mental health

Every person and every cat is unique. While some might find certain cat breeds to be a perfect companion, others might find the opposite. Really, there are no hard and fast rules about which cats will suit those who are suffering with mental health problems.

Some energetic breeds such as Bengals, Abyssinians, Siamese and Burmese cats will require huge amounts of stimulation and attention. Others such as Sphynx cats and Persians require you to pay close attention to grooming, skin and fur care. Persians, Balinese and Birmans are known for being friendly and attentive. While Ragdoll cats are bred to be passive, sweet and docile.

The variation in personality means it is important for potential cat owners to research what breeds might best fit their lifestyle, and emotional and mental needs. If possible, cat owners should also spend time with a cat before adoption to make sure your personalities align.

Age is also a factor: kittens might seem like a great distraction and an irresistibly cute and playful companion but they can also be overwhelmingly mischievous and needy. A calmer adult cat might therefore be a better option for those who desire a more tranquil, steady companion.

What is particularly comforting, however, is to know that there’s a furry friend out there for every cat lover. Who can suit your lifestyle and help to support you, no matter what. And that when we can all travel again, Cat in a Flat will be here to make sure your cat receives the finest care while you’re away from home.