Cats are as good as dogs at helping us beat stress | UK News

For too long cats have been overlooked when it comes to stress-busting programmes in American universities, say researchers, who believe they could make a big difference.

Dogs are most often used as assistance animals but new research suggests that cats could also help to reduce stress in very emotional people.

More than 85% of “Pet Your Stress Away” events at American universities feature only dogs, but a paper published in the journal Anthrozoös suggests more people would benefit if they also had cats.

The study found a strong correlation between the personality trait of emotionality and a preference towards cats.

Patricia Pendry, co-author of the study, said: “Emotionality is a pretty stable trait; it doesn’t fluctuate and is a quite consistent feature of our personalities. We found that people on the higher end of that scale were significantly more interested in interacting with cats on campus.

“Given that prior research has shown that such individuals may be more open to forming strong attachments to animals, it makes sense they would want cats to be included in these programs.

“Anecdotally, we’ve always been told that cat people are different from dog people, and that most students are not interested in interacting with cats. Our results revealed that students are interested in interacting with cats and that this interest may be driven by personality traits.”

The study involved more than 1,400 students and staff from more than 20 universities.

Mother and son playing with cat at home

“There’s a perception that dogs exist to please people,” said Pendry, who categorises herself as both a dog and a cat person. “While I may describe cats as discerning, they are often perceived as unpredictable, aloof, or finicky-traits that can be difficult for some to be around.”

“Some people came in and made an immediate beeline for cats and others for dogs. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were interested in interacting with cats, which made me interested in learning more about why they made those choices.”

“Our study shows that we may be able to reach a larger audience by offering interventions that include dogs and cats. People who are on the higher end of the emotionality trait may be more likely to participate and benefit from these interactions. We’re looking for ways to help more people reduce their stress levels. Adding cats may be another way to reach a broader audience.”