Owning a Cat May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke, Study Says

They're so much more than a cuddly companion.

petty orange cat laying on couch
Photo: Magui-rfajardo / Getty Images

If you have a cat, you know how much a loving nudge or encouraging purr from the cuddly creature can cheer you up on a bad day. While just the presence of a cat can be comforting, research shows the domesticated felines may also be beneficial to your overall health. According to a study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology, cat owners are at a decreased risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. "Acquisition of cats as domestic pets may represent a novel strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases in high-risk individuals," the study's authors say.

To obtain their findings, the researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study and followed up with participants who reported any kind of allergy to see if they've ever owned or currently own a cat or dog. After adjusting for risk factors like age, gender, blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, and more researchers found that study participants with a history of cat ownership had a notably lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than participants who never owned cats.

The reduced risk of a fatal heart attack in cat owners is attributed to the relaxing effect the felines have on their humans and their ability to minimize stress. The study authors note that participants may already have existing traits that protect them from cardiovascular disease, independent of being cat owners. Additionally, the researchers note the possibility that cat ownership at an early age may be more beneficial to owners than in later years when cardiovascular disease has already been diagnosed. Unfortunately, a reduced risk of death from heart attack and stroke wasn't found in dog owners, but study authors hypothesize that this is because pups vary considerably in characteristics.

Although the results are promising, researchers say they need to be confirmed in other studies with more controlled quantification of cat exposure, examining factors like years of ownership and intensity of physical interaction. Fortunately, further research has been conducted by people at the University of Pennsylvania. The study followed 4,435 participants for 13 years and found that people who owned cats in the past were less likely to die from heart attack compared to people who never owned a feline.

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