Jason was an imposing 18-pound tuxedo cat with a tail like one of those ostrich plumes that fashionable Victorian ladies decorated their hats with. I’d had him since kittenhood, and he only truly loved 2 people: my dad and me.
The 2 of them had developed a number of rituals over their years together, their chief one being the evening nap.
Dad, who had heart trouble, used to stretch out on the sofa after supper to “recharge my batteries.” He’d pat the space next to him; Jason would hop up, then stretch out full-length on his back, just like his buddy.
Only a few years after both of them were gone did I learn that cats were considered the therapeutic best bet for people at risk for heart disease and stroke. So Jason may have added some precious time to my father’s life.
Good Health Insurance
A 2008 study conducted over 20 years showed that cat caretakers were less likely to die of heart attacks than people who had never had cats. In fact, the latter were 40% more likely to die from heart attacks and 30% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke, heart failure and heart disease).
A study the following year in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology reported similar findings, concluding, “Acquisition of cats as domestic pets may represent a novel strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in high-risk cases.”
The Secret Is in the Purr
“If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room,” goes an old saying among vets, “the bones will heal.”
A cat’s purr vibrations range between 20 and 140 hertz (Hz). It seems that those old-time vets were on to something because frequencies between 25 and 50 Hz are the best for promoting bone strength (second-best frequencies range from 100 to 200 Hz).
The purr can also help to decrease symptoms of dyspnea (shortness of breath because of bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD), lower blood pressure, help cure infection and swelling, and heal muscles, tendons and ligament injuries.
Not to mention, simply stroking a cat with a good purr on soothes the soul — and the nerves.
Many cats do indeed seem to have a feeling for healing.
In his book Your Incredible Cat: Understanding the Secret Powers of Your Pet, David Greene tells the story of Miguel, a stray cat who used to slip in through a comatose 10-year-old girl’s bedroom window.
Maria’s mother, Fransesca, came in one night and found Miguel “curled comfortably on the bed, his head close to the little girl’s wrist, patiently licking her thumb. As she noticed this, Fransesca observed something else as well — Maria’s fingers were twitching slightly under the delicate caress. It was the first movement her mother had seen since the accident.”
Miguel’s visits were encouraged by Fransesca and her husband. Every night he came by and snuggled with Maria, bathing her fingers. Only 8 days after his first visit, Maria came out of her 7-month coma and spoke.
Greene saw cats at a British animal sanctuary display similar behavior to other creatures: a guillemot or sea bird with oil-slicked feathers, a parrot with a broken leg, an owl with a broken leg and a baby hedgehog.
“My cats are natural healers,” sanctuary owner Elizabeth Stuart-Hogg told him, “and they tend for the sick animals who are brought here every bit as carefully as I do. I am sure without their help many who make excellent recoveries might not even survive.”
Cats and Reiki
It has been said half-facetiously/half-seriously that cats invented Reiki, a recognized form of energy-healing.
I have certainly learned a lot about Reiki from working with cats. Some practitioners are taking it further and offering attunements or training to animals. Reiki Master Pamela A. LeBlanc has written about teaching Reiki to horses, dogs and a tabby cat named Kringle. Another practitioner, Mary Blake, attuned her black cat Ebby to Reiki-I shortly before his death.
Perhaps when we stop to think about it, this is a completely natural extension of the idea of cats as healers.