Cat owners less likely to die of heart disease, study says

‘U’ researchers say pet companionship is good for both physical and emotional health.

Cats need their owners to give them clean litter boxes, bowls filled with food and a comfortable place to lay their heads. But in the end, cats may be better for their owners than their owners are for them.

University researchers have found a correlation between cat ownership and a decreased risk of deadly heart conditions.

The study, conducted by Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute at the University, found that people who own cats had about a 40 percent lower risk of dying of a cardiovascular condition than those who don’t own cats.

“There’s been a suspicion that pet ownership may have health benefits, but we haven’t really documented that,” Qureshi said.

The study looked at data collected from more than 4,000 people in the 1970s and ’80s, Qureshi said. He and his team analyzed the data, in which 2,435 participants said they owned a cat, and found the link between cat ownership and decreased heart-disease risk.

“I think we suspected that,” he said. “We were not that surprised.”

Cat owner Emily Rence said she wasn’t surprised by the news, either. The youth studies junior and her roommate bought their first cat, Bitsy, two weeks ago.

“We spur-of-the-moment decided to look at the cats at the pet store that were waiting to be adopted, and fell in love with one of them,” she said. “It’s been pretty awesome.”

Rence said having a cat has made her more energetic and happy.

“You’re more active and you’re playing with it all the time,” she said. “It just makes you smile.”

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are about 90 million cats owned in the United States. Only 74.8 million dogs are pets.

Qureshi said dog owners’ results were not as conclusive as those of cat owners, but didn’t discredit the importance of having a dog companion.

“We don’t know whether that’s a direct effect,” he said, “or that cat owners actually have some characteristics that protect them regardless of whether they own cats or not.”

Jeannine Moga, director of social work services at the University’s Veterinary Medical Center, said having any pet companion is good for both physical and emotional health.

“As human-animal relationships in this culture continue to change and become more socially acceptable, we’ve really started taking a look at the benefits and the protections that come from having those animals in our lives,” she said.

Pets keep owners physically and socially active, Moga said, and whether it is a dog, cat or other animal, the bonds between pet and owner are important, she said.

Charlie Fenick, assistant coordinator at Last Hope, Inc., an animal shelter in Farmington, said her cats help keep her relaxed and in good spirits, even when she was sick with the flu.

“I had a bed full of them,” she said. “Just having them laying on me and purring. It was just really nice. It’s a good feeling.”

Qureshi, who owns a cat named Marco, said the results of this study could have implications for the future.

“We found an interesting relationship, and more interesting is the potential implications as a form of intervention that can be provided to a large community with minimal costs and minimal risks,” he said.

For Rence, owning a cat is a fun activity, health benefits included or not.

“It puts you in a good mood even if you’re having a pretty bad day,” she said. “I imagine that has a lot to do with health and everything.”