People say that there are “dog people” and “cat people” in this world (or maybe just our small part of it) and each of us must declare themselves.
Well, I don’t know about that. I love the individual, not the species, so I don’t automatically approach a cat or a dog (or a child for that matter), but once we have become friends, I am as likely to love one as the other.
Being a lazy type myself, I prefer having responsibility for cats rather than dogs (or children for that matter) because cats can mostly take care of themselves.
I just read a scientific study that looked at the effect of having a cat or a dog, now or in the past, on heart health. It was a small study and was looking at people with severe allergies, but there were some promising results, for cat people at least. After adjusting for weight, smoking, underlying conditions, etc., the study showed a significant decline in risk of heart attack and other cardiac diseases for people who have ever owned a cat.
Dogs gave a slight decline in heart disease, but it was so small it didn’t really count. Surprisingly, the younger a person was when they had a pet cat, the better the results.
Having a cat currently did not help any more than having had a cat 25 years ago. The researcher (who sounds like a disgruntled dog owner to me) proposed several reasons for these results:
• Perhaps a certain kind of person, with fewer heart problems, preferred cats. This was based on the concept that all cats and cat owners have the same personality; or
• Perhaps there was greater variability in dog owners and their heart health because dogs have more diverse personalities; or (begrudgingly)
• Perhaps there is something beneficial from having a relationship with a cat that can have a lifelong impact on our health.
For my part, I give full credit to the medicinal effects of purring.
Healing vibrations are used in human sports medicine to promote bone growth and heal wounds. NASA uses vibration therapy to prevent bone loss in astronauts.
For a few hundred dollars, you can buy something called a “Whole Body Vibration Machine” that claims to improve circulation, muscle strength, flexibility, lymphatic flow, metabolism, bone density and range of motion while reducing stress, pain and ugly cellulite simply by shaking you up for a few minutes per day. Can vibrations also protect a heart?
Cat purring is a scientific mystery. We used to believe that purring was related to blood flowing through the veins, but now it is believed that the mechanics of purring relate to air being forced through the space between the vocal chords.
Purring happens both inhaling and exhaling, so it is continuous like the drone of bagpipes.
Felines are one of only two families that can produce a true purr (the other is the genet family). In the cat world, you can either roar or purr: lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars roar; house cats, lynx, bobcats, mountain lions and cheetahs purr.
Although we think of a purring cat as a contented cat, that may not be true. Cats also purr to calm themselves when they are scared or angry and to reduce pain if they are injured or sick. Pregnant cats purr during labor. Kittens can purr almost as soon as they are born and communicate with their mother this way.
If you’ve never lived with a cat, perhaps you’ve never had the all-encompassing, glorious, possibly addictive experience of the sound, weight and rhythm of a cat purring next to your heart. Like operating a jackhammer at a very, very low setting.
Some cats will even throw in a massage and acupuncture as part of the treatment! If you haven’t tried it, you’ve missed a blessing.
A Hertz (Hz) is one cycle per second. Whole Body Vibration Machines deliver doses of vibrations between 5 Hz-60 Hz. Domestic cats produce vibrations between 20Hz and 150Hz when they purr.
From 20 Hz to 60 Hz there is a very clear overlap between the medicine administered by humans and the medicine administered by cats. Owning a cat might be a cure for every physical, emotional and psychological problem, including ugly cellulite.
Back to the heart disease study. Other studies have shown many benefits of owning pets from dogs to goldfish; that is not in dispute.
Personality differences between cats and dogs (and the people they live with) are also pretty well accepted. But dogs and goldfish don’t purr. When it comes down to reducing the risk of heart attacks, I stick to my original premise: it’s all in the purr.
Here’s my advice, especially during this stressful time: if you don’t already have a cat then schedule an hour with a friend’s cat, lay down with the cat on your chest, pet the cat, talk to the cat, let the sound and vibration of its purr envelope you and let the healing begin.
Kathryn Hunter is from McMinn County and holds a bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Idaho and a Master of Forestry from Yale University. She has worked with the USDA Forest Service locally as well as living and working in natural resource management and protected area conservation in eight foreign countries.