The health benefits of owning a pet are well known: Having a furry friend around the house can lower your blood pressure, help you maintain healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and make you feel less lonely, boosting your mood and sense of well-being. But as anyone who finds herself wheezing, sneezing, and rubbing her itchy, itchy eyes at the first whiff of dander can tell you, pets can make you miserable from a health standpoint as well.
Sadly, a new study adds a new health twist for people who are longing to adopt a cat for the first time: If you've never owned a cat and you adopt one as an adult, you are almost twice as likely to develop an immune reaction to your kitty than people who owned cats when they were kids. The rates of response are even higher in people who have other allergies, prompting the researchers to recommend that those people consider avoiding cats altogether.
I'm no cat person, but this news strikes me as almost tragic for all those cat lovers out there who may have put off taking the big fuzzy plunge without ever imagining it might be too late. Will these people now avoid cats, as the researchers suggest? I'm guessing they will not, and I find that remarkable. I'm always amazed at the health sacrifices people will make for their pets. I enjoy spending time with other people's pets (and mercifully, I'm not allergic ... yet), but a lifetime of sniffling, itching, and reaching for the Claritin does not sound like a good time to me. Yet people who love their cats love their cats – and seemingly would put up with almost anything to keep them in their lives. I find that somewhat mystifying, but very sweet.
Which is why there's one detail in the study that I find particularly heartrending: Researchers found that people became sensitized to cats specifically when they allowed them into their bedrooms. (Consequently, they recommend that people not allow cats into their bedrooms.) That finding points to the intimacy people feel for their cats: They're more than just pets. They're beloved companions -- even if they are companions who make some of us sneeze and sniffle and itch. Cats knead their owners, and their owners need them. Sniff.
Does this study change your perspective on cat ownership?
Image via Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi/Flickr