There are some 85 million cats in American households, many of which are cherished family members. What is behind felines’ appeal to humans? Could it be their apparently choosy nature? And what is their effect on human health? This Special Feature investigates.
When people say they love cats, that love can be intense. For many, a feline friend is a singularly trustworthy confidant and a comforting presence in times associated with loneliness.
Are such close relationships, however, healthy on a psychological or physical level?
Geneticists, infectious disease experts, psychologists, and others have put forward several theories as to why cats resonate so strongly with some individuals, and exactly what effect felines may have on their humans’ health.
According to DNA analyses , the ancestor of today’s domestic cat was the African wildcat , Felis silvestris lybica , living inside the Fertile Crescent, the particular intersection associated with ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, and Persia.
While it appears likely our own connection with felines began about 9, 500 years ago in the Near East, the earliest evidence of a mutual relationship between cats plus humans dates to 5, 300 years ago in the agricultural village of Quanhucun, China .
Egyptians famously believed that their own feline companions embodied divine energy.
Dr. Eva-Maria Geigl is the French National Centre regarding Scientific Research Director CNRS at the particular Institut Jacques Monod Epigenomics and Paleogenomics group within Paris, France. She told Medical News Today :
“Cats were domesticated as commensals : They approached human being settlements because there has been food — concentrated rodents thriving on grain accumulations. They adapted to this particular specific individual environment, which represented an evolutionary advantage for them. Humans had a real interest in order to have cats around. They were just happy with the pet cats feasting on the rodents that destroyed their particular cereals. ”
One study found that there were at least 13 feline genes that signaled cats’ transition “from feral to friendly. ” The genes relate to cognition and behavior, and may have strengthened felines’ ability to learn based on food rewards, and to feel less fearful associated with people.
The particular widespread geographic proliferation of cats probably occurred during the Middle Ages, according to the
The Nationwide Institutes associated with Health (NIH)
Doctor Patricia Pendry of Washington State University studies human-animal interactions. She has published research describing the especially strong bond between highly emotional people and their cats.
Dr. Pendry speculated to MNT that felines’ discriminating behavior may be irresistible to humans:
“The subtle and somewhat unpredictable responses kittens and cats give us, give all of us the perception that we are chosen — or perceived because ‘special’ when a response from a cat does occur. I also believe that because the response tends to take a little bit more time in order to emerge, we are captivated by a desire to know exactly what the cat will do. ”
“And because the character and timing of their actions are much less predictable, all of us may remain captivated, almost in a good addictive kind of way — you can’t rip yourself away due to the fact that purr, that special rub might be just around the corner, ” said Dr . Pendry.
It is furthermore possible, some research suggests, that we cannot help but find cats to be cute due to features they share with human babies. We instinctively respond to the large eyes plus playful conduct, an evolutionarily beneficial response that has helped ensure we all care for the young.
No discussion of cats’ appeal can exclude mention of their own often hilarious comedic prowess. Kittens, specifically, invest unbridled energy — and much less planning — into their play. Mature kitties can be just as entertainingly ridiculous.
Sometimes it is high-speed hijinks, and other times it is endearingly weird — is there some reason there are nine hair ties hidden under one’s office rug?
Cats have an undeserved reputation for being mysterious and aloof due to the unique and sometimes subtle ways in which usually they express their feelings.
A cat’s face might seem attractive — or even grumpy, as the case may be — but it is actually fixed and largely expressionless. Nor do their particular tails wag to signal excitement or pleasure.
Likewise, cat vocalizations, of which there are many , range from meows to hisses, to nick-nack-ing at birds through a window, to the blood-curdling, deep yowls that presage a fight.
Some vocalizations are clearly meant to communicate with humans — say, meowing at breakfast time. However , cats mostly seem to “talk” or even mutter in order to themselves.
Even so, felines have plenty of ways to signal their feelings through other behaviors.
Head-bumping and marking
For people they take care of or within whom they are interested, pet cats will often offer to head-bump outstretched fingers or a pant leg. This particular behavior is known as “bunting” and it accomplishes two things.
First, they are leaving behind pheromones secreted from cheek glands, marking you since theirs. Second, particularly in the case of pant legs, they are usually gathering olfactory intel regarding your relationships with other animals if they find you worthy of investigation.
People frequently assume that will a purr is a sure sign associated with pure happiness, however it is not. Cats inside distress may also purr. Some experts suggest the cat might deploy the particular soothing sound to comfort themselves in difficult moments.
Some have hypothesized that a purr may even possess healing properties .
Purring occurs on both inhaling and exhaling, producing a thrumming 20 in order to 150 Herz hum. It remains unclear exactly how they do this.
Often a cat’s presence will be the best signal that it is usually fond of a person — this is especially true of timid lizards. A feline will stay away from the person inside whom they are not interested or even whom these people feel anxious about.
Feline eyes are always fairly large, but when they will get very big — sometimes with their irises dilated — they might signal a hyper-excited state or a perceived threat.
Researchers have recently
While they may be made from keratin, the same substance as hair, cats’ whiskers are far more than that. Whiskers are specialized touch organs , each with from 100 in order to 200 nerve cells that provide the cat information about everything they brush against.
Whiskers can also signal a feline’s mood. When a cat is definitely relaxed, these people stick out from the side of the face. When a cat is happy or excited — while being gently petted, to get example — they point forward in a tight little arc associated with pleasure. Whiskers move back against the cat’s encounter when alarmed.
Researchers have found that living with a cat offers health benefits physically plus, especially, psychologically, assuming you are not allergic to cats.
In the 2011 survey conducted by the United Kingdom feline welfare charity Cats Protection, 93. 7% associated with respondents said owning a cat has been beneficial for their mental health .
And one study showed that living with multiple pets, including cats, can reduce a child’s likelihood of
Some have expressed concern regarding the potential zoonotic infection associated with cat owners by Toxoplasma gondii , a single-celled microscopic parasitic organism usually found in cat feces .
A few have even suggested that T. gondii can be a trigger for schizophrenia .
In 2016, researchers
Positive psychological effects
According to Doctor Pendry, cats “give us attention, relieve our loneliness, provide comfort and ease, fun, plus play, affection, and specific unique permission to stroke/ pet all of them and keep them upon our laps, which we know releases oxytocin , which in turn suppresses the production of cortisol, a stress hormone. ”
“And I believe, the benefits are mutual, ” she added. “As long since the affection we give them is welcomed, they derive similar comforts and a sense of belonging from all of us. ”