In the collective imagination, dogs and cats have nothing in common. However, these mammals can both contribute to our well-being, but at different levels. Explanations.
Year after year, the enthusiasm of the inhabitants of Europe for pets does not weaken. Nearly six in ten French people welcome at least one cat or dog into their home, according to a Royal Canin/Ifop survey. The most numerous remain cats (43%), far ahead of doggies (30%).
Cats have a therapeutic purr
For good reason, cats are very compatible with our lifestyles. They are often autonomous, discreet and much more independent than their best enemies, dogs. But that’s not all: sharing your daily life with a feline has many advantages.
Because contrary to what their haughty pout might suggest, cats can be very beneficial to us. In particular, they have the power to de-stress us. Japanese researchers claim in a study, published in 2017 in the journal Anthrozoös, that contact with cats greatly improves mood. The scientific community has also discovered that regularly petting one of these mammals helps lower blood and blood pressure, as well as heart rate.
This is because cats emit very low frequencies when they purr. These sound vibrations have a soothing and beneficial effect on our body, just like music. Listening to this noise causes the production of serotonin, the famous happiness hormone, which explains why it calms us almost instantly. The French veterinarian Jean-Yves Gauchet is accustomed to comparing the effect of a cat’s purring on humans to that of “a medicine without side effects”.
As if that weren’t enough, some studies claim that cats strengthen the immunity of children who grow up alongside them. It has long been thought that being around cats and other domestic animals from a very young age could, on the contrary, provoke an immune response in children and thus cause allergies or illnesses. However, in recent years, scientists have believed that exposure to germs during childhood could promote the development of the immune system.
Australian scientists argue in a study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Immunology Research, that the presence of a furry animal, such as a cat, during pregnancy and the first month of life protects against the development of allergies. But they argue that this phenomenon is only observable in families where there was no history of allergies. The same year, a European research team came to a similar conclusion after conducting a study of more than 22,000 children. However, the results of this work are not unanimous within the scientific community given that several factors can have an influence on the development of allergies.
Dogs are real therapists
Just like cats, dogs can be real therapists. Of course, these animals are known to be loyal companions. They celebrate you when you come home from the office or shopping, which gives you a feeling of well-being.
But the benefits of Médor do not stop there. Petting a dog is proven to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate. And, in the event of a stressful event (bereavement, divorce, dismissal, etc.), Man’s best friend also helps reduce the level of anxiety, the perception of loneliness and the risk of depression.
This is because dogs have a significant impact on several types of hormones, such as cortisol (the famous stress hormone) and oxytocin. Japanese researchers discovered in 2009 that the simple act of looking a dog in the eyes triggers the secretion of oxytocin in humans. This molecule plays an essential role in cognitive development, emotion regulation, pain management, social interaction mechanisms as well as strengthening bonds between parents and children.
Growing up alongside a dog is a most enriching experience for little ones, but also one of the most beneficial for their development. Indeed, the presence of a doggie in the home helps young children to flourish psychologically, emotionally, educationally and socially. Australian scientists write in a study, published in 2020 in the journal Pediatric Research, that 3-5 year olds who own a dog are 30% less likely to have behavioral problems than their counterparts who do not have one. They are also 40% less likely to have difficulty establishing relationships with their peers, and are 34% more likely to exhibit pro-social behavior.
If dogs have such an influence on a child’s development, it is because they give him the opportunity to test certain behaviors. He is a non-judgmental and reassuring partner who helps him become more empathetic with others. And that’s not all: canines can motivate little ones to become… readers. It may seem surprising, but experts encourage children to read to their four-legged companion to gain confidence. This practice, born in the United States in 1999 through the “Reading Education Assistance Dogs” program, is tested in several countries, including Europe.
But the great advantage of dogs is that they encourage their owner(s) to be more active. These animals need to exercise to be happy, which pushes their owners to take them out regularly or play with them. Ideal for having regular physical activity without realizing it! Outings with your dog are also an opportunity to socialize with other “dog parents”, but not only that.
Both guarantors of the good physical and mental health of their owners, dogs have their place in our homes, just like cats. Choosing between the two is, above all, a question of personality, but also of lifestyle. Having a doggie is often much more restrictive than having a cat. But these two animals need attention to thrive. Having one in your home must therefore be a carefully considered decision.