OPINION: Cats aren’t just cute, they’re beneficial for your health

A cat being petted.
Cats can be a critical source of emotional and mental health support for students, writes Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24. (Corina Silverstein • The Student Life)

After a long day away from home, I would always look forward to coming home and seeing my cat. Whether she was ready to greet me at the door, or curled up on the couch, petting her provided much-needed comfort in my most stressful days. During the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, having my cat around made life a little easier. 

Cats are not only very loving animals, but they can also be very helpful for our individual wellness. They provide comfort and can be a great friend when we feel lonely. Cats have unique personalities, making them fascinating to be around. It is important to recognize how useful having a cat can be because they offer much more than we think. 

Recent studies have shown that petting a purring cat can relieve stress in both the human and the cat. The cat’s vibrations have also been shown to have a calming effect that replicates vibrational therapy, which people use for promoting bone growth and healing fractures. Purrs have also been linked to reducing symptoms of dyspnea (difficulty breathing). 

Beyond the physical healing benefits, cats offer loving companionship during hard times. During the height of the pandemic, my cat helped ease my loneliness by sleeping in my bed with me and following me around. Surveys have shown that others shared this experience during their quarantine. 

There is a common belief that cats are not interested in cuddling and want complete independence. However, this could not be more of an untrue and over-generalized statement. Studies have shown that cats adjust their behavior in accordance with how much attention their owner gives them. If you give your cat a lot of attention, it is very likely they will do the same. 

If you’re allergic to cats, there are still ways to benefit from them. Research has shown that simply watching cat videos on YouTube lowered people’s anxiety, sadness and annoyance. Cats have extremely funny behaviors, and watching them jump or make funny sounds online is enough to make us happy. 

Cats are also very emotionally intelligent. If their owner is sad, cats will notice this and adjust their attitude and behavior. If a cat notices their owner is angry, it will often give its owner some space or even act defensively. The complexity of a cat’s responses to human emotion makes them seem more like a friend rather than just a pet. 

For college students, cats are a logical emotional support animal to have, especially if you live in a dorm. Cats don’t mind smaller spaces, and they can also tolerate being left alone for a little while. They also make very quiet noises, if any at all. If you are experiencing loneliness and are capable of being a responsible pet owner, adopting a cat for your dorm may be a good idea. 

It is also important to remember that in order to have a healthy relationship with your cat, you need to treat them with respect. Cats are not dogs — most don’t like their heads aggressively rubbed and many of them have highly personal petting preferences. Some cats love having their belly rubbed, while some will scratch you immediately if you even try. You have to learn what your cat likes in order to develop the best bond possible. 

Some people label cats as snobby because they have such specific preferences, but part of owning a cat is learning how to respect their boundaries. If you are able to build trust with your cat and make them comfortable, they are wonderful pets that can help your physical and mental well-being. 

Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She dreams of owning multiple cats one day. 

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