Cat owners appear to have a much lower risk of dying from a heart attack than their feline-spurning counterparts, a study suggests.
Researchers looked at nearly 4,500 adults and found that cat ownership was related to a 40% lower risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.
The team speculated that having a cat may reduce stress and anxiety, and so protect against cardiovascular disease.
The study, led by Professor Adnan Qureshi at the University of Minnesota, suggested that even those who no longer owned a cat benefited from these protective effects.
But specifically, some 3.4% of those who owned a cat during the duration of the study died from a heart attack, compared with 5.8% of those who did not.
The benefits held true even after the researchers adjusted for cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol.
However the authors warned against impulsive cat purchases.
They said while cats may indeed have a calming effect, it was unclear whether the kind of people who opted for a cat in the first place may have a lower risk of heart attack.
This study did not examine the advantages of having a dog, although previous research has suggested this too may have health benefits above and beyond taking them for walks.
The Pet Health Council notes "there is an increasing amount of research proving that contact with animals can bring real physiological and psychological benefits including reducing stress, helping to prevent illness and allergies, lowering blood pressure, aiding recovery and boosting fitness levels.
"Research has also shown that pet owners make fewer annual visits to the doctors than non pet owners proving the saying, 'a pet all day keeps the doctor away'."
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