Is that finicky feline you live with your best hedge against heart disease? She just might be.
At the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in New Orleans in February 2015, a presentation on a ten year long study by University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute reported that living with a cat can reduce your stroke and heart attack risk by almost one-third.
Led by Dr. Adnana Qureshi, Executive Director, University of Minnesota Stoke Institute, among others, researchers studied more than 4,000 subjects in America over the past ten years. Dr. Qureshi reported, “For years we have known that psychological stress and anxiety are related to cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks. Having pets probably helps to relieve stress”. The researchers indicated that dogs had this effect, but there were not that many dog owners in this study.
This study collected information over a ten-year period from almost 4,500 American adults aged 30 to 75. Of the 4,435 participants in the study, 2,435 were either currently living with cats or had previously shared their homes with cats. Two thousand of the study participants did not ever have a cat.
While looking at death from all causes, the research findings indicated that over the ten year period those who lived with felines had a 30% lesser risk of death from a heart attack than those who never had a cat. Qureshi indicated that the size of the link between living with cats and having a heart attack was a surprise to the researchers although the fact of there being a link was not a surprise.
However, Qureshi also stated, “This study links pet ownership to health consequences, and that’s a very new concept that we haven’t previously considered.” This finding continued to be true even when other factors that are heart disease risks were taken into account such as smoking, high blood pressure, race, gender, and age.
All Types of Pets Offer Health Benefits
Another study done earlier and presented in 2005 to the American Heart Association by Kathie Cole, a clinical nurse at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Center and School of Nursing, showed that having a relationship with dogs improved outcomes in the functioning of the lungs and heart of patients with heart failure.
According to Ms. Cole, “I would be inclined to think that any animal that is perceived as meaningful to a person in a positive way would have health benefits.” Her research showed that pets of any kind had a calming effect on patients but that many patients could not take advantage of this because of where they lived in nursing homes or apartments that did not allow pets.
This indicates that the use of therapy dogs and cats is needed more than anyone knew.
Cats Can Relieve Stress
Veterinarians expressed their beliefs that cats reduce more stress in patients than dogs do, and that may be why this new survey showed the results that it did. Dr. Lawrence McGill, Technical Vice President and Veterinary Pathologist at ARUP Labs, believes that cats are more of a lap animal than many dogs. He believes the act of petting an animal is what reduces blood pressure and heart rates.
Dr. Marla McGeorge, a veterinarian at Portland, Oregon’s The Cat Doctor practice shared, “I have heard an owner with a chronic, debilitating illness say that her cat gives her a reason to get up each day.”
Most of these studies are not analyzing the personalities of their subjects and cannot speak to the question of preventing heart disease in cat lovers as opposed to the cats themselves. Pets of any kind can be low-cost alternatives to expensive pharmaceuticals or medical intervention because they tend to lower the pet owner’s stress and anxiety.
While most of these researchers admit that it’s possible that cat lovers just have a lifestyle and personality better suited to ongoing prevention of heart disease, they tend to support the basic findings of most studies showing that cats do help their humans to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
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