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Do Children With Cats Have More Mental Health Problems?
A study finds kids with cats are more likely to suffer from attention problems.
Posted Mar 22, 2018
Hal Herzog Ph.D.
Psychology Today © 2018 Sussex Publishers, LLC
Source; excerpts follow, drill down for hyperlinked references:

MADG Disclaimer: Psychology Todayis not a scientific journal; it is a pay-to-publish outlet for psychology-related content. Any published research should be considered preliminary; and readers should not accept anything therein to be sound, clinical advice. (This is especially true of the Psychology Today blogs.) Consult qualified professionals for advice or therapy.


Cats don't get much respect – at least among researchers who study the relationships between pets and people. For example, at the 2017 conference of the International Society of Anthrozoology (link is external), 32 presentations reported results of studies on the bond between humans and dogs while only four were devoted to cats. This neglect of our feline companions is puzzling. After all, more cats than dogs live in American homes.

The dog/cat mismatch is particularly pronounced when it comes to research on the links between pet ownership and health. Hundreds of studies have examined the impact of dogs on the health and happiness of their owners. In contrast, only a handful of researchers have investigated links between owning a cat and human well-being. Further, the results of these studies have been decidedly mixed. For example, Dutch researchers found (link is external) that elderly cat owners were more likely to use mental health services and less likely to get regular exercise than elderly people without pets. And while this study (link is external) found that cat owners were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, another study (link is external) reported that cat owners with heart conditions had higher death and hospital readmission rates than non-cat owners. And this study (link is external) found that cat-owning women were more likely to be heavy drinkers than non-cat owners…

Based on their dog results, the researchers hypothesized that kids with cats would have fewer mental health problems than children without cats. They were wrong.

  • Children with cats were nearly three times more likely than children without cats to have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.
  • Cat-owning kids had significantly more attention problems, even after the researchers statistically controlled for factors like poverty, age, and parental depression.
  • Finally, unlike with dogs, there was no evidence that having a cat was associated with lower rates of anxiety.

But why should living with cats be linked to mental health problems in young children? I can think of several reasons…

Full editorial

The cited "expert opinions" seem to agree that human/dog relations are a FAR more popular study subject because of MONEY (I.E.: research funding), with the health benefits of WALKING your dog(s) as an underlying driver. (In my experience, if you chaperone your cats outdoors, then you will get PLENTY of exercise! Go ahead, ask me, I DARE you!) IOW: There is far less of a research- and data-base on kitties; and, therefore, it's much more difficult to draw conclusions and extrapolate findings.

I challenge the mentioned "recent study" which supposedly found: "… compared to dog owners, cat-owning adults scored lower on measures of positive emotions and conscientiousness and higher on scales measuring negative emotions and neuroticism." My companionship with my kitties (former and present) has resulted in far more positive emotions than negative. Yes, the freely-chosen responsibilities of domestic animal husbandry can be wearing at times; yet, I submit that said responsibilities are (on average) more challenging with dogs than with cats.

Dogs are like children, they need management; cats are like teenagers, you're more of a consultant. I like that!

Cats versus dogs as "therapy animals" is not an entirely fair comparison. Cats (especially females) tend to be homebodies; and they love you because you are part of that safe, secure space. Contrarily, dogs love you because you are the alpha of their "pack"; they'll follow you to the ends of the Earth. Cats are more "place" whereas dogs are more "cult of personality".

Think of all the recent, commercial airline "comfort animal" news items; how many of those animals were cats? Hmm?

This preliminary research does not "prove" any kind of causal element between kids and cats. Speculating, I would say that kids with cats are more likely to learn that not everyone is going to worship you; that good relationships require diplomacy and effort. Those who are critical of the supposed "self-esteem" cultural movement should appreciate this.

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