By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery Channel
News headlines over the past few years have linked cat ownership to everything from cancer to craziness, but new studies suggest that cats are actually beneficial to human health, and may even reduce our risk for cancer and other diseases.
Reports in this week’s issue of Biology Letters, for example, counter the tabloid-suggested link between cats and human brain cancer.
Marion Vittecoq of the Tour du Valat research center and her colleagues conclude that cats should not be blamed for human cancer. In fact, studies show just the opposite.
Vittecoq told Discovery News that “according to our knowledge, studies that have focused on the link between cancer and cat ownership so far have found either no association at all or a reduced risk of cancer in cat owners.”
As an example, she and co-author Frédéric Thomas cite a National Institutes of Health Study by G.J. Tranah and colleagues. It found dog and cat owners have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The longer the duration of pet ownership was, the less chance the individual would suffer from this type of cancer.
Why cats and dogs may benefit human health remains a mystery, but another study from earlier this month provides some intriguing clues. It found that infants having pets at home suffered from fewer respiratory tract illnesses.
“Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood,” wrote Eija Bergroth and colleagues in the paper, published in the journal Pediatrics.
Countless other studies demonstrate the mental health benefits of pet ownership, particularly for students, seniors and people with chronic illnesses. In such cases, pets can provide much needed comfort and companionship.
Next: What about cats and Toxoplasma gondii?