Why cats make us happy and healthy

Fritz is a girl with gray fur. The lives of the two retirees Christina and Werner are really confused. Sit at the table. And on the door leaf. He grabs his shoulder from the front over his belly, puts his nose in his ear and purrs his eardrums. If you don’t want to, make a hand gesture that means “no”. Fritz takes note, sits down, waits – and tries again later, this time from behind. Is the cat lying in its place? Simply say “Fritz, please sit down – look over there” and point to the other chair. Nowadays it even changes location as a prophylactic measure when you get close. “Our cat feels for us,” says Werner, whom she seems to love particularly, with conviction.

crush? No way! The latest scientific findings suggest that Werner is right. Just recently, the University of Paris-Nanterre reported that cats react differently to their owner’s voice and to the voice of a stranger – and behave differently accordingly. And an American team from Oregon State University was able to show that domestic cats were much more relaxed and courageous when their trusted caregivers were in the same room. Thus, 64 percent of the felines subjected to the test showed signs of an apparently strengthened bond with their owners. The animals seemed stressed and meowed a lot when they were not in the room, but when they returned the cats relaxed.

The calm and pleasant expression of the velvet paws warms our hearts. In the photo: Fritz the cat taking an afternoon nap.
© Photo credit: Eva Karlovits

Does this mean our cats love us? North American evolutionary biologist Jonathan Losos says yes, because love also has a meaning in evolution. In his book “From the Savanna to the Sofa” he delved into the evolution of the domestic cat Felis catus, which is a descendant of the African fallow cat. Losos Conclusion: It’s true that velvet paws adapt to us humans and accommodate us, but we shouldn’t take it personally. Because it was precisely this behavior that brought advantages to our furry darlings.

Survival of the friendliest

Losos cites a study by linguist Nicholas Nicastro, who recorded the songs of various representatives of species, both wild and domesticated, for his doctoral thesis on cat communication at Cornell University, in the USA. His findings refute common assumptions that domesticated cats developed meows simply to make themselves understood by humans, but do not communicate with each other in this way. Even wild cats meow loudly to each other – but in a different way: they use deeper tones than domestic cats. “The difference is that evolution has equipped them for friendly interaction with humans and, as a result, changed their meow so that we find it more attractive,” he reports. The repertoire of purring sounds has also evolved and in Felis catus it ranges from a delicate, contented and feel-good noise when relaxing, to an urgent and demanding chainsaw when hungry.

The evolution of cats also revolves around the survival of the friendliest. “What other species of cat will curl up on your lap, lick your hair and follow you around the house besides the domestic cat?” writes the evolutionary biologist and cites another study for which US behavioral researchers and animal keepers from 71 Zoos have researched the behavior. of 400 small cats. One of the friendliest was the African duncat, a direct ancestor of the domestic cat.

A cat accepts the wishes and limits of others.Dennis Turner

Today Felis catus is the most popular pet. Not even man’s best friend, the dog, can compete with her. According to Google, she is also the most searched pet on the search engine. “It’s no wonder that feline content passes the time and cheers you up. If you browse some funny cat videos after a bad day at work, the world will immediately seem friendlier”, summarizes Radio Network Germany on the occasion of World Cat Day on August 8th. Plus, cats never get boring, says behavioral scientist Kurt Kotrschal: They’re individualists, gifted terrorists, creative food tyrants who always come up with something new.

And then they are comfortable everywhere. Whether on the sofa, at the computer, at the table or in bed: the calm and happy expression of the velvety paws with pointed ears warms our hearts. She conveys that she somehow likes us and trusts us, that the love is almost mutual.

Ethical behavior in the animal world

“If Christina is still sleeping, but Fritz is already hungry, she will come to me and make a silent meow. “So she just forms her mouth, but without any sound, so as not to wake Christina up early in the morning,” reports Werner about what he believes to be an exemplary and attentive cat.

Dennis Turner of the Institute of Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Horgen, Switzerland, has investigated questions like these. The Swiss-American biologist knows velvet paws like no other. He has studied their behavior for decades as part of long-term studies of human-cat relationships. He and his team at the University of Zurich observed, among other things, 600 cats and their owners.

To obtain the most accurate results possible, researchers spent several days in the families and discovered: “The human-cat relationship is a true partnership. It can exist for a long time at a very high or very low level, because the cat accepts exactly the intensity that the person wants and adapts to it”, explains Turner in an interview with WZ: “From a philosophical point of view, this can be seen as The first indication of an ethical attitude in the animal world can be seen in the sense that the cat accepts the wishes and limits of others.” There’s a lot to it.

Can you feel what we feel

If you can’t get along with your cat, despite the feline’s wealth of talents, call Petra Ott. In her professional practice, she says she has observed and, if necessary, treated around 8 thousand strange cats. According to the animal psychological behavior consultant, cats can feel, to a certain extent, what we humans think and feel. “If a cat needs to go to the vet, they will realize something is in the air hours before the carrier is even taken out of the closet. Cats sense stress, depression, hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy and illness in their humans. Some are upset, others feel and suffer and reflect on the situation,” Ott tells WZ.

A photo of a cat.
Petting a cat feels physically good. When handling cats, the human body releases greater amounts of oxytocin. The cuddle hormone has a calming effect, reduces blood pressure and stimulates wound healing.
© Photo credit: Eva Karlovits

Dementia wards, hospices and therapy facilities are increasingly benefiting from the calming effect of cats. According to experts, purring velvet paws can help alleviate psychological or physical suffering and help patients perceive their stay in therapeutic facilities a little more positively and engage in therapy.

More happiness hormones through caresses

Unlike dogs, they cannot be trained for specific skills through courses like therapy animals, but rather work on their own. “To come into contact with cats, they require humans to calm down,” explains German social worker Margit Dittrich in National Geographic magazine. Because if someone runs towards you, the velvet paws become physically restricted and pull on the leash. So if you want to pet her, you have to calm down. “They have a stress-reducing effect,” says Dittrich of the German Federal Association for Animal-Assisted Intervention. This is why cats are also useful for hyperactive and depressed children.

Petting a cat feels physically good. When handling cats, the human body releases greater amounts of oxytocin. The cuddle hormone has a calming effect, reduces blood pressure and stimulates wound healing. At the same time, the body releases less cortisol, the stress hormone. Furthermore, the sound of purring has a healing effect – at least for the animals themselves. According to one study, broken bones in cats heal faster with a purring frequency between 27 and 44 Hertz and bone density increases. Another study with several thousand participants confirmed that people who own cats are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Purring makes you healthy

Dennis Turner sees the increase in research on cats also in connection with the growing interest in all factors that increase human well-being. “However, it is not easy to study cats because it is difficult to motivate them to participate in a study. And you need to know them to observe their behavior. Useful results from the study can only be obtained after a week”, admits the expert. For this reason, research on cats is quite recent.

Cats sense stress, depression, hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy and illness in their humans.Petra Otto

Just a few years ago, scientists assumed that cats only had limited facial expressions. Which contradicted the perception of several cat owners who observed their animals blinking, winking, looking gloomy or staring boredly into the air. New research shows that cats have a diverse repertoire of facial expressions. American researchers Lauren Scott and Brittany Florkiewicz recently analyzed video footage from a cat cafe in Los Angeles and discovered 276 different feline facial expressions. However, only pets were observed. The results have not yet been compared with wild cats. Because some of the friendly facial expressions resemble those of humans, researchers speculate that domestication may have played a role in the felines’ facial expressions. Following the motto that survival of the friendliest, a pretty face may have increased the chances of finding food.

Even for cats, the way to love is through the stomach. “Eating is just an icebreaker,” says Turner, whose study team also examined the human-cat relationship in several countries using a specially developed questionnaire. “Building a bond with a cat takes a lot more than just putting food out there.”

Sad when your person dies

Petra Ott often works with cats in animal shelters. She has a growing suspicion that the Pointy Ears not only think we’re just automatic feeders, but actually love us. “Cats make a very special face when they are sad,” she reports. “When their humans die and they arrive at the shelter, the eyebrows press against the eyelids in such a way that the almond shape of the cat’s eye disappears. This creates a rare image: the cat’s eye develops a droopy eyelid that sits like a wave over the eyelid.” The droopy eyelid disappears when the cat recovers. Or it forms a bond with a person again. Many animals thank their “saviors.” ” who welcome them with special affection.

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