Cats, humans and mental health: Dr Lauren’s thoughts on wellbeing and reciprocity

I remember watching the news with some curiosity and a sense of impending change. “Hold on to your socks,” someone said, “this is going to be huge.” »

China had just implemented a national lockdown in the face of a rapidly spreading virus. We all know now how this will irrevocably change our lives over the coming years, full of twists and turns and just plain change. SO. A lot. Change. Cats, too, have had a life-changing experience as a species, gleaning from the virus a life-saving treatment for a previously uniformly fatal disease, but that’s a topic for another day.

Many stories have arisen from the pandemic – veterinary medicine and life within the profession are no exception. We still went to the clinic, while almost everyone else stayed home. The face of the veterinary profession changed overnight, something we are usually slow to do as a profession, so this was eye-opening for me.

Telehealth with cats and dogs suddenly became acceptable, even commonplace, cats came to visit but no owners were allowed into the clinics, so “curbside service” became a new word fashionably, clinic opening hours were shortened and the outside world became quiet, peaceful, ghostly. The roads were empty. Abandoned parking lots. Almost everyone worked from home.

But for cats like Pancake, that just meant I stayed home a little more, and maybe there was some extra food to give?

I have always found a feeling of serenity in the presence of a cat. They embody peace. They sleep the way I wish I could: easily, anytime, anywhere, in the most uncomfortable positions, all with ease. Likewise, they have developed in amazing environments as a species: at the foot of the Great Wall of China, cats lounge.

In Thailand’s temples, cats meticulously clean their unmentionables in front of glittering golden Buddhas and Buddha worshipers. They live in some of the driest parts of Western Australia, and a pandemic? What pandemic? For them, life goes on.

But for humans, the pandemic has taught us many things about ourselves: how to deal with difficulties and how to learn to be kind to ourselves, while we have spent our lives mainly learning to be kind to others, at our own expense? Mental health became a hot topic as we tried to answer this question.

So, what exactly is mental health? An accepted definition of mental health is that it encompasses our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It impacts our thoughts, actions and feelings and determines how we respond. This concerns all stages of our lives, from childhood to death.

For me, I see mental health as the image of a cat in front of a warm home on winter’s eve. It’s stopping, recharging, living in the present moment. It is said that happiness comes from living in the present and unhappiness comes from living in the future or the past. Cats are masters at this.

Pancakes more than most. Currently asleep on the bed with Tiller, both in a late morning nap (now progressing into late afternoon as I write): they have, after all, slept through the night and most of from the previous day, but woke up at 4 a.m. to check religiously. THE automatic feeder every 15 minutes until it opens and a new day’s food spills out. So they are exhausted.

Pancake and Tiller take a nap together

But another interesting aspect of mental health has emerged recently: the reciprocal nature of cats, or any other pets, on human mental health. The term is zooeyia.

Zooeyia is derived from the Greek for animal (zoion) and the Greek goddess of health (Hygeia). It incorporates the positive health benefits that humans derive from their interactions with animals. Research suggests that pet ownership has a positive impact on the entire national health economy, to the tune of millions of dollars saved in health care costs, and that the actual physical health benefits are being studied and postulated for decades.

On a personal level, this is easy to see. After a long week, when Saturday evening comes, I’m happy to be home with the cats. Last weekend, for example, I built a cat-feeding puzzle from a roll of used gift-wrapping paper. This was the largest version of this particular candy puzzle ever recorded in the history of homemade treat puzzles (IMHO), and it entertained the cats (ok, mostly me) for about two hours! In the end, we had a cheap night. And I think the cats were happy. At least they had Dreams.

Tiller interested in homemade toy

Ultimately, mental health may be about the simple things in life. Perhaps the crux of it all is that laughing, having a cat, and taking time to live in the moment are good definitions of mental health. Of course, a Dreamie or two never hurts.


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