Why cats make us happy and healthy

Fritz is a girl with gray fur. The lives of the two pensioners Christina and Werner are really confusing. She sits at the table. And on the door leaf. He scratches his shoulder from the front onto his stomach, sticks his nose in his ear and purrs his eardrums. If you don’t want that, he makes a hand gesture that means “no.” Fritz takes note, sits down, waits, and then tries again, this time from behind. Is the cat lying in its own place? Simply say “Fritz, sit down, look over there” and point to the other chair. Nowadays he even changes places as a prophylactic when you get close. “Our cat feels sorry for us,” says Werner, whom he seems especially fond of, with conviction.

smash? You are welcome! The latest scientific discoveries prove Werner right. Recently, the University of Paris-Nanterre reported that cats react differently to the voice of their owners than 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 tested 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 velvet paws warms our hearts. In the image: Fritz the cat taking a nap.
© Photo credit: Eva Karlovits.

Does this mean our cats love us? American evolutionary biologist Jonathan Losos says yes, because love also has meaning in evolution. In his book “From the savannah to the sofa” he delved into the evolution of the domestic cat Felis catus, which descends from the African fallow cat. Losos Conclusion: It is true that velvet paws adapt to us humans and accommodate us, but we should not take it personally. Because it was precisely this behavior that brought advantages to our beloved furry dogs.

survival of the friendliest

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

Cat evolution also revolves around the survival of the friendliest. “What other species of cats curl up on your lap, lick your hair and follow you around the house than the domestic cat?” writes the evolutionary biologist, citing another study in which American behavioral researchers and animal keepers from 71 zoos studied the behavior. of 400 small cats. One of the friendliest was the African duncat, the 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, it is also the most searched pet on the search engine. “No wonder cat content passes the time and cheers you up. If you watch some funny cat videos after a bad day at work, the world will immediately seem friendlier to you,” summarizes Radio Network Germany on the occasion of World Cat Day on August 8. Plus, cats are never bored, says behavioral scientist Kurt Kotrschal: They are individualists, talented terrorists, creative food tyrants who always come up with something new.

And then they get comfortable everywhere. Whether on the sofa, at the computer, at the table or in bed: the calm and happy expression of the velvet paws with pointed ears warms our hearts. She tells us that somehow she likes us and that she 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 comes to me and meows quietly. “So she just forms her mouth, but without making any sound, so as not to wake Christina up early in the morning,” reports Werner of what he considers a cat considered exemplary.

Dennis Turner of the Institute of Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Horgen, Switzerland, has researched 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 get the most accurate results possible, the researchers spent several days in homes and discovered: “The relationship between humans and cats is a real 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 perspective, this can be seen “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 in that.

Can you feel what we feel

If you can’t get along with your cat despite the feline’s great talent, call Petra Ott. In her professional practice, she claims to have observed and, if necessary, treated about 8,000 strange cats. According to the specialist in animal psychology, cats can feel to a certain extent what we, humans, think and feel. “If a cat needs to go to the vet, he will notice something in the air hours before he even takes the carrier out of the closet. Cats sense stress, depression, hormonal fluctuations, pregnancies, and illnesses in their humans. Some are upset, others feel, suffer and reflect on the situation,” Ott tells WZ.

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

Dementia wards, hospices and therapy centers 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 therapy facilities a little more positively and participate in therapy.

More hormones of happiness 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 need humans to calm down,” explains German social worker Margit Dittrich in National Geographic magazine. Because if someone runs towards them, the velvet paws feel physically restricted and pull on the leash. So if you want to pet her, you need to calm down. “They have a stress-reducing effect,” says Dittrich of the German Federal Association for Animal-Assisted Intervention. That is why cats are also useful for hyperactive and depressed children.

Petting a cat is physically good. When it comes to cats, the human body releases greater amounts of oxytocin. The hug hormone has a calming effect, reduces blood pressure and stimulates wound healing. At the same time, the body releases less cortisol, the stress hormone. In addition, 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 of 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 an increase in research on cats, also in relation to the growing interest in all those 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 have to know them to be able to observe their behavior. Only after a week can useful results be obtained from the study,” admits the expert. For this reason, research on cats is quite recent.

Cats sense stress, depression, hormonal fluctuations, pregnancies, and illnesses in their humans.Petra Ott

Just a few years ago, scientists assumed that cats had only limited facial expressions. Which contradicted the perception of numerous cat owners who watched their animals blink, wink, stare darkly, or stare 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 recordings from a cat cafe in Los Angeles and found 276 different feline facial expressions. However, only pets were observed. The results have not yet been compared with those of wild cats. Since some of the friendly facial expressions resemble those of humans, researchers speculate that domestication may have played a role in feline facial expressions. Following the motto that survival is of the friendliest, a pretty face may have improved the chances of finding food.

Even for cats, the way to love is through the stomach. “Eating is just a way to break the ice,” says Turner, whose study team also examined the relationship between humans and cats in numerous countries using a specially developed questionnaire. “Building a bond with a cat requires 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 Pointy-Ears not only think we feed automatically, but actually love us. “Cats make a very special face when they are sad,” she reports. “When their humans have died and come to the shelter, the eyebrows press on the eyelids in such a way that the almond shape of the cat’s eye disappears. This creates an unusual sight: the cat’s eye develops a drooping eyelid that spreads like a wave over the eyelid. “The drooping eyelid disappears when the cat has recovered. Or re-forms a bond with a person. Many animals are grateful to their “rescuers” who then welcome them with special affection.

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