Green spaces linked to better human health. Does this inform us about domestic cat ownership?

I’ve always thought that humans have gradually, through their best efforts, distanced themselves from nature. It’s a natural evolution through greater population numbers, commercialism, housebuilding, larger cities, more concrete and less access to nature. It has been found in a study that those who were raised among the lowest levels of green spaces were 55% more likely to develop disorders such as substance abuse, stress-related illnesses and schizophrenia.

cat enjoying himself outside in long grass
Photo by Kazutaka Sawa published under creative commons license
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In short, a leafy childhood environment is strongly linked to improved mental health in adulthood. The link is as strong as a family history of mental illness in terms of the influence that green spaces have on improved mental health.

The authors of the study are not quite sure why this is. For my part, as I stated in the opening paragraph, I think it’s about reconnecting with nature because we need to do that. We are creatures of nature. We come from it. We have evolved from it and we should not build barriers between us and nature. Think of the health benefits of a walk in countryside.

The authors speculate that greener neighbourhoods may reduce stress, encourage exercise and improve social coherence.

Cat rolling around in the grass, London, UK. Photo: Michael
Cat rolling around in the grass, London, UK. Photo: Michael

Translate to Domestic Cat Caretaking

Does all this inform us as to how we should look after our domestic cat companions? It goes to that polarising question of whether we should let cats outside or keep them inside full-time. I completely understand the need to keep cats indoors all the time. Our first priority is our cat’s safety.

However, I’m convinced that cats, just like humans, need access to green spaces. The domestic cat is even more a creature of nature than us. They are hardly domesticated. Their raw cat is within them bubbling up to the surface all the time. To withhold nature from them – those intriguing green spaces – is to create malcontent in our domestic cats. We don’t know a lot about the mental health of cats. There is, though, many similarities between humans and cats in terms of physiology, anatomy and I would argue also in terms of mental health.

Although we are learning about the emotions of domestic cats, we do understand that they feel emotions. We know that they can be content and discontented. I think we need to find a way to allow them to be in a green space safely. This should be our primary objective is cat caretakers.

Jackson Galaxy wrote a whole book about “catification”. It is very important as far as he’s concerned. This is making your home environmentally interesting and enriched solely from the perspective of a domestic cat. Very, very few cat owners do this. It’s a massive dilemma because of an understandable great reluctance to let cats outside in certain areas in America because of predators and many other hazards.

However, I don’t think it’s good enough simply to keep cats indoors without more. Cat owners need to do more to compensate the cats for taking them away from nature, the natural environment where they find stimulation, contentment and a world where they can express natural desires.

The Study

The study was conducted by Dr Kristine Engemann of Aarhus University. She said:

“There is increasing evidence that the natural environment plays a larger role for mental health than previously thought. Our study is important in giving us a better understanding of its importance across the broader population not least because a larger and larger proportion of the world’s population lives in cities.”

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences. Children surrounded by the least amount of green were more susceptible to mental disorders in adulthood even after taking into account other factors such as family mental health issues.

“We show that the risk of developing a mental disorder decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10. Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important.”

These thoughts should inform us about domestic cat ownership in my humble opinion. I realise that it is a difficult issue but in many ways we have boxed ourselves into a corner. We are unable, it seems to safely provide our cat companions with green spaces. Once again, and I regret to say this, it seems that we have created a failure within the process of cat domestication. It’s a failure which cannot be resolved without great difficulty and which is getting worse.

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