“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.” – Hippolyte Taine
If you are a cat person, you have likely experienced the mesmerizing effect of a cat’s purr. It can be extremely hard to move with a vibrating feline on your lap. Did you also know that this purr may be just what the doctor ordered? Studies indicate that a cat’s purr is highly beneficial to us and can help heal broken bones and broken hearts.
Cats are naturally healthy and this may be due largely to their purr. Compared to other animals, cats do not get muscle and bone diseases and ailments very often (Scientific American). University of California at Davis researches theorize that a cat’s purr developed in order to compensate for long periods of sleep that would otherwise create loss of bone density (Wikipedia).
A cat’s purr is a natural healing aid which also bestows several important benefits on humans. A cat’s purr has a frequency of between 25 and 150 Hertz, a wavelength frequency that helps broken bones heal four times faster than normal. In fact, this same frequency is used by sound therapists in Europe to heal osteoporosis (Tesh). Some studies suggest that a cat’s purr helps people improve bone density; promote healing of cracked and fractured bones, muscle, ligament, and tendon injuries; aid in joint and wound healing; reduce infection, swelling, and pain; and relieve chronic pulmonary disease (Peterson).
Cats are also good companions for emotional upsets. A cat’s purr increases feelings of contentment, boosts the immune system, and helps regulate internal emotional states. The physical benefits of a cat’s purr combined with the positive aspects of having a pet can help you heal from emotional upsets in life.
Below are a few ways that cats and pets in general aid in emotional health:
- Mindfulness: Being mindful means being fully aware of the present moment. Animals are very present-centered, aware of themselves and their human companions. They are physically able to shake off stress and trauma because they are fully present and can let the stress pass. They also often notice when their owners are in distress. Being with an animal also helps you focus on something other than self-criticism, self-doubt, or depressive and anxiety-based thoughts.
- A Sense of Structure: A pet means daily routines, which confer a sense of normalcy and structure in chaotic times. Waking up in the morning, providing food, changing litter, or going for walks provide a sense of continuity when other routines are disrupted.
- Responsibility: When dealing with life’s challenges, a little responsibility can help re-establish your rhythms. Being “response-able” means that you see your actions as being meaningful. This is also a positive feedback loop: helping pets makes you feel good and they show their gratitude immediately—a cat being stroked, a dog going for a walk, a horse being fed, which makes you motivated to care for them. This gives you a sense that you are needed and wanted, and increases self-efficacy. It also contributes to better self-motivation; caring for a pet helps you see that you can do more than you realize during stressful times.
- Unconditional Love: Emotional upsets are often connected to changes in relationships with romantic partners, family, children, or friends. With a pet, you know you are always accepted as you are; there are no pre-conditions.
- Positive Social Contact: Health psychologist June McNicholas found that sometimes the social support that animals offer is greater than what another human could provide (BBC). Death of a partner or friend, divorce, loss of job, and other major life changes can increase feelings of isolation, sadness, and depression. You may find yourself wanting to withdraw from friends, family, and social contact. With a pet, however, you are never alone. You also have a commonality with others—talking with someone at a dog park, pet store, or to a neighbor about your pet is a bridge to social connection. As cat owners know, other cat owners love to listen to share anecdotes.
- Greater Physical Health: Physical exercise is good for both physical and emotional health, and having a pet can contribute to better physical health. Some studies have shown that dog owners are healthier and live longer. Walking your dog lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and creates opportunities to interact with others.
- Healing Touch: Physical contact with a pet is a good way of soothing yourself. Stroking a pet induces calm and helps settle emotional turmoil. Petting your cat, dog, or other pet lowers your heart rate and deepens your breathing, increasing the brain’s release of feel-good hormones.
- Self-Soothing: Cats are natural self-soothers; they know to get enough sleep, have their favorite comfort spots (often a nice warm lap). Cats are also nature’s first Yogis–they know how to stretch after being idle for a while. These are all great skills for you to use too when dealing with emotional upsets or in your everyday life.
Cats are natural therapists; many owners report that when they are distressed their cat (or other pet) will seek them out and sit with them, conferring nature’s primary healing mechanism—presence. And you don’t need to feel guilty about being on the receiving end of affection, contact their owner us has similar benefits for pets. The benefits of pets don’t stop with cats—birds can make you more social, fish relieve stress, and horses decrease anxiety and increase self-confidence (Tesh). Sometimes a familiar face (with pointy ears) and a friendly purr is the best medicine.
References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purr, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr, http://paulapeterson.com/CatsPurr.html, http://www.tesh.com/story/pets-category/animals-can-make-you-happy-and-healthy/cc/11/id/2038 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6279701.stm