A reminder that cats reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

Living with a cat companion when younger can protect against heart disease when older. I’m referring to a study which was published in 2009. This is not hot off the press but then we know that a cat companion can help relieve stress. I think it’s important, though, to look at some hard science as well and go back to some early studies to remind us that there is a direct link between a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and living with a cat companion.

The study found that, after making all the usual adjustments for age, gender ethnicity and race et cetera, people enjoyed a significantly lower relative risk for death due to myocardial infarction (heart attack) if they had lived with a cat in the past compared with those who had not lived with a cat companion at any time. There was also a “trend for decreased risk for death due to cardiovascular diseases” among people who had lived with a cat companion in the past.

Cat benefits in old age. Reduced risk of heart disease. Screenshot from video on YouTube.

It appears that there are two aspects to this study. The benefits of living with a cat in the past appear to be carried forward and living with a cat currently also bestows benefits on the cat guardian in respect of the health of their heart. It’s interesting that owning a cat perhaps as a child or teenager may provide a greater protection for the heart later in life than living with a cat when older.

As with all studies, you have to be sensible and cautious. The scientists say that the protective effect may be related to the personalities of cat owners. They may have personality traits which are protective towards cardiovascular diseases.

The scientists said that the results need to be confirmed in other studies. However, they did suggest that adopting a cat may be a strategy that might be employed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in people who are predisposed to these diseases. They suggest that it might be a form of medical treatment. You would hope that general practitioners could in the course of discussions with their patients at least broach the idea of cat ownership as a means to reduce the risk of heart disease.

The study is entitled: Cat ownership and the risk of fatal cardiovascular diseases. Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-Up Study. It is published on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Toxoplasmosis

While on the topic of cats and health I would like to briefly dip into another study. This one addresses the much discussed issue of how an infection of toxoplasma gondii can affect mental health. You may remember some years ago when there was a splurge of articles about cats making people mad because of transmitting the disease toxoplasmosis to them. It was all hyped up and very unscientific. The fears were unfounded. This study dated 2017 concluded that cat ownership “in pregnancy or early childhood does not confer an increased risk of later adolescent psychotic experiences”. In other words living with a cat does not make you mad! I have greatly oversimplified. But the point being made is that the T. gondii infection does not translate to mental health issues in adults who lived with a cat when a child.

This study is called: Curiosity kill the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 in the UK general population cohort. It is published online on the Cambridge Univeristy Press website.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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