Research suggests that having a cat helps and hinders anxiety and depression. This is how cats can influence mental health.
Feline friends are known to be the perfect antidote when you’re feeling down or stressed, with soft petting, snuggling and purring that help bring smiles back to faces.
As such, it is not surprising that during 45 millions American homes house at least one kitten.
Scientific research on the effects of cats on our mental well-being is mixed.
“Having a cat has shown to have a positive impact on mental healthdepression and anxiety, for many reasons and in many ways,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Cassandra Fallonregional clinical director for Thriveworks in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
one smaller study 2017 found that cat owners reported significantly lower feelings of depression than dog owners, and further research below explores how cats can influence specific symptoms.
For example, loneliness it is a key symptom of depression, and feeling lonely has also been associated with the development of the condition.
However, owning a cat can help combat this by “giving [their humans] a feeling of being needed [and] providing company,” he explains. Dr Jamie Whittenburg, aveterinarian at Cat World and director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Texas.
A 2006 study found that single women (compared to those living with a partner or children) who had a pet were less likely to have depressive symptoms.
Pet ownership has also been found to relieve Depression after losing a loved one.
Researchers in 2013
But it’s not just symptoms of depression that cats can help alleviate: our feline friends can also help reduce feelings of anxiety.
Researchers in 2008 found that 44% of cat owners gained “a sense of security” from their cats.
Compared to those without pets, other researchers found that those with furry friends reported less anxiety. Studies have also found cats (and animals in general) to be beneficial in reducing anxiety among children with autism Y
The calming influence of cats may come from a physiological effect, says Whittenburg. “Pet or cuddle your cat it can lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body,” she says. “This leads to feelings of calm and happiness, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, and calming of anxiety.”
Plus, Fallon adds, being around a cat can help us stop dwelling on negative thoughts. “Physical contact and having a cat to care for helps us focus on a bigger picture than ourselves. [challenges].”
While this evidence sounds great, there is research indicating that owning a cat, or pets in general, has no effect on depression or anxiety. For some, it can even make mental health symptoms worse.
A 2020 study of adults age 50 and older found no difference in depressive symptoms between pet owners and those without pets.
Meanwhile, having high levels of attachment to a pet raised symptoms of depression and loneliness in a 2010 study. New Zealand researchers saw that people who lived alone with pets “were more likely to report diagnoses of depression and anxiety.”
Both found that those with cats had poorer mental health. While the reasons weren’t clear, the researchers suggested it could be due to cat owners:
- be associated with lower levels of self-esteem
- get less exercise and time outdoors (compared to those with dogs)
When it comes to anxiety, symptoms can also be exacerbated by behaviors and activities associated with ownership.
Especially if you’re a new owner, “it can be a challenge,” says Fallon. “Not knowing how to take care of basic needs can lead to worry and anxiety about doing something that could hurt them.”
Other factors can also cause or increase anxiety. Cutler explains that some stressors can include:
- behavior problems
- litter box problems
- medical concerns
- cat care if you have to be away from home
- financial responsibilities associated with the property
It’s not just people who experience trauma, depression and anxiety: animals can too. For example, felines can develop
Also, as intuitive creatures, “cats are sensitive to the emotions and feelings of their owners,” Whittenburg notes, and can “pick up these emotions and can become anxious.”
According to Cutler, signs of anxiety in cats include:
- changes in sleep patterns
- loss of appetite and weight loss
- hide or try to escape
- increased meowing or other vocalizations
- pace or trouble relaxing
- increased grooming
“Any of these signs should prompt a trip to your vet,” adds Whittenburg.
Does the ‘transfer’ apply to pets?
However, if you’re experiencing depression, you don’t need to worry about “passing” the symptoms on to your feline.
“It is my opinion that depression is not contagious, and a clinically depressed owner does not pose a danger to the mental health of their cat, as long as they can care for it properly. [it]Whittenburg says. “I don’t think there’s a cycle between pet and owner.”
As Whittenburg points out, “every human and every mental health diagnosis is different.” So if you have depression or anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily mean that having a cat will increase your symptoms.
However, she recommends that “owners talk to their doctor before getting a new pet if there is a chance that the stress of caring for [it] It can worsen your condition.
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, remember that support is always available. Fallon reports that possible treatments include:
- talk therapy
- participation in other activities that may lead to improvement of symptoms
And, if your cat’s behavior or stress around her care is contributing to her symptoms, you can talk to a vet about “needed support or education about the unknown,” Fallon adds.
Millions of people have a feline friend and report that ownership brings joy, security, and companionship. The study findings also support such benefits.
However, some research has found that being a cat parent they can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. This can be due to factors such as finances related to the property, mischievous cat behaviors, and pre-existing trust and esteem issues.
More research, specifically around cats, is needed to better understand how the human-feline relationship can affect mental health. In the meantime, if you think your cat is contributing to your anxiety or depression, you can consult a doctor or veterinarian about steps that might help.
Still curious about pets and our mental health? You can learn more by visiting our pet center.