Cats: but why do we love them so much?


“DGod created the cat to give man the pleasure of petting the tiger. This phrase from Victor Hugo, inspired by his cat Chanoine, sums up the paradox of owning an animal that is not completely domesticated at home. “Yes, sometimes we have the impression that the tiger is not far away…”, affirms Claude Béata, veterinarian, specialist in behavioral medicine and author of Madness of cats (Odile Jakob).

Selfish, lonely, haughty, ungrateful, unpredictable, unstoppable… The cat’s reputation is second to none, and yet we love it, we even love it! It fascinates the whole world, it is the most popular animal on the Internet and the favorite of the French. With more than 15 million domestic cats, France is the first country measured in the ratio of more than 1 cat to 5 inhabitants; and as a French exception, the feline largely outsells the dog (7.5 million).

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The cat remains, even as an owner, a predator. “But why live with such a weapon by destination? asks Claude Béata, before giving the beginning of an answer. Those who recognized the hunter also saw the ability to connect, the sense of choice and not automatism, which makes the relationship so valuable . ” That Felis catus is a complex beast, and that’s probably why we love it. He does not allow himself to be tamed by whoever wants to, and gives the relationship – when he puts his trust in – a kind of exclusivity. To the point that some masters want to be buried with their pets – a bill has just been introduced to authorize this practice in France, which is already possible in Switzerland, Germany and the UK.

“Purr Therapy”

Behind his proud attitude, the cat can be generous or even become our best therapist. It is enough that it rubs against our feet or curls up on our knees while producing this very special sound for some people to feel a sense of calm and well-being. The “spinning box” would therefore function as “a medicine without side effects”, believes veterinarian Jean-Yves Gauchet, father of “spinning therapy”. “When the body is fighting against painful situations, such as stress, the cat’s purr emits soothing and beneficial sound vibrations, a bit like music,” the specialist explained to AFP.

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The purr is also the first signal that the mother sends to the kitten; it is a cry for recognition and reconciliation. “It is through the tympanic membrane, but also the Pacini bodies, nerve endings located at the level of the skin, that we perceive the purr, which emits low frequencies, between 20 and 50 hertz”, specifies Dr. Gauchet, who in 2002 had tested on 50 volunteers the effects of these magic waves. “Positive thoughts and feelings of well-being are then transferred to our brain. Through these vibrations, spinning triggers the production of serotonin, the happiness hormone, in the brain, which affects the quality of our sleep and our mood.

In addition to its anti-stress effect, this unique noise would have a regulating power of blood pressure and would boost the immune system. But beware: the cat does not always purr for pleasure or altruism, it also does it when it is hungry, or more seriously when it is in pain, either just before it dies or during birth.

Living with a cat will also reduce the risk of succumbing to cardiac arrest or having a stroke. This is the conclusion of a very serious study, conducted for ten years on more than 4,000 Americans by researchers from the Stroke Institute at the University of Minnesota (2008): Cat owners had a risk of dying of heart attacks 30% lower than non-owners.

Unexpected capacities

The cat’s serenity would be contagious, and even though it belonged to a non-social species, the animal would help some people regain their confidence. No wonder cats are being introduced more and more often to vulnerable target groups in nursing homes, offered as emotional support to autistic children or to patients in psychiatric hospitals.

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The animal has fascinated since the dawn of time, but its behavior and social skills have only recently been the subject of research. This cat is much more difficult to decipher than other mammals. In the documentary Our language for cats (Inside a Cat’s Mind) on Netflix we discover some of his unsuspected abilities: he recognizes his name, he can be trained and even perform real feats, he might be able to perceive our emotions… But the question is important, as torments all cat owners remain whole: are they able to love us? For the Japanese psychologist Saho Takagi, one of the greatest experts in the world, the answer is undoubtedly yes!


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