There are a number of benefits to humans (and of course cats or other animals) when considering the Psychological Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions.
I am going to focus on cats but this applies to all companion animals. There are people, sometimes legislators (i.e. government) who disseminate the negative aspects of the domestic cat. They are, though, usually talking about feral cats. But even then they forget that feral cats or their ancestors were once domestic cats and a companion. One negative apsect that I think is rather exaggerated is the spread of disease from cat to human. There are very few cases and very few diseases that do this. One is Toxoplasmosis. This disease is usually talked about in respect of pregnancy. See cat feces and pregnancy. The danger, I say, is exaggerated.
There are some great benefits to owning or living with a cat. Here is a list of some of the Psychological Benefits:
I am not talking about mental illness but promoting mental well being; feeling better. Caring for and interacting with a cat is a great stress reducer. It takes you away from a silly problem that is causing stress. It produces calm and relieves anxiety.
It could be argued that pet (including cat) owners are more independent, and have better self esteem.
Children can greatly benefit from pets. There is a dog sanctuary in China (a rare place) where both the dogs and children are healed by interacting together. Abused children can receive the healing nature of contact with another animal. This is a brilliant idea. Children react positively to animals. Why then do too many adult people behave aggressively towards them? Children feel that their pets love them. This is beneficial to the child. Dogs, cats and other animals have been used in hospitals to improve the morale of the patients.
Then there are guide dogs. Guide dogs are not available in many countries but they dramatically improve the life of a blind person by leading them down the pavement and across roads and more. They are companions and a source of interaction with passers by. This helps with socialization. In fact pets can be trained to do a wide range of tasks to assist the disabled. This normally applies to dogs and in some countries monkeys. Cats are more difficult to train and not as strong as dogs. Cats though can assist in providing comfort and can indicate when for example the door bell goes off (if the owner is deaf).
For the elderly the companionship of a pet cat or dog is invaluable and can provide a substitute for a lost partner. Pets can help to keep the elderly more alert and responsive. In retirement homes pets can help with patient interaction and help create a more pleasant environment.
There are reports that mentally disturbed prison inmates (and there are many) can benefit by the presence of animals in communal areas. The animal helps to reduce stress, fighting and suicidal thoughts.
I myself have found thousands of hours of pleasure interacting with my cat, stroking her, checking for fleas, brushing her, talking to her, letting her in and out, feeding her, listening to her demands and responding and getting to know her likes and dislikes. I see her as a person, a part of the family no less. She has enhanced my life.
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