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If you live with a feline companion, you probably already know that they can provide companionship and just generally make you feel better when you’ve had a bad day. What you might not know is that living with a cat provides a number of positive health benefits for both you and your family.

Though not all experts agree with the conclusions, at least one study has indicated that people who live with a cat have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. This includes lowering the risk of having a heart attack. (Source: Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology)

Cats are also credited with helping to reduce stress levels, helping to reduce blood pressure, helping to lower cholesterol levels, and helping to reduce the risk of depression.

A more recent study found that children raised with pets may be healthier as well. Children raised in a home with cats (or dogs) were found to have fewer ear infections and respiratory problems than those without pets. (Source: Pediatrics)

Increasingly, we’ve been reading about toxoplasmosis in the media. Toxoplasmosis, as most of you probably already know, is a disease typically associated with cats. Besides being particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies, toxoplasmosis has been linked with numerous other problems, including an increased risk of suicide, schizophrenia and brain cancer. The nature of these links are far from being clear and the risk of getting toxoplasmosis from your pet cat is much lower than the risk of getting it from gardening or from eating improperly cooked meat or unwashed vegetables. Still, it’s nice to know that there are positive benefits to owning a cat that, at least in my opinion, outweigh any risks associated with toxoplasmosis and cat ownership.

I live with six cats. From my own personal experience, each has a unique personality. Two of them seem more empathetic than the others. When I’m feeling a bit under the weather, they’re the ones who come to lie on my lap or to nap beside me. Though having them near me doesn’t necessarily make the illness go away any faster, it certainly does provide comfort.

As for lowering blood pressure and relieving stress, I can’t claim to have measured my blood pressure or its reaction to my cats. However, I can tell you that when I’m upset or angry, having the cats near me does have a calming effect. I have absolutely no doubt that they help relieve much of the stress in my life and it wouldn’t surprise me that my blood pressure stays lower because of them.

Even more important than the health benefits, my cats provide companionship that is irreplaceable. I honestly can’t imagine living without them.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Valeri Potapova / Shutterstock

Last reviewed on July 31, 2015

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