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Cat ownership enhances mental well-being: A case study by Amaliah


Imagine coming home from a busy day at work and being greeted at the door by big, bright eyes and an upright, bushy tail. A string of melodic meows can be heard before you even turn the doorknob. You pick up your furry feline friend and instantly, your heart rate slows and you feel a sense of ease wash over you. What were you just stressing about twenty minutes ago? Whatever it was, it seems like a distant memory now that you have a little lump of fur purring ecstatically in your lap. 

If this scene doesn’t sound familiar to you, you may not yet have experienced the joys of pet ownership. While owning a cat definitely comes with added responsibilities and occasional blunders are inevitable, the pure joy and blessings they bring into your home are priceless. Personally, owning a cat for the last two years has been instrumental in helping me cope with anxiety, stress and teaching me to nurture and care for another living being. I have learnt to empathise with animals on a new level, living so closely with one and often seeing life through his unique lens. Furthermore, not only am I a strong believer in the benefits of cat ownership, but many hadiths and recent studies confirm these benefits as well. Feel free to take notes as you keep on reading, so that you can later convince the stubborn loved ones in your life to finally warm up to the idea of getting a cat.

Cats can be comforting companions 

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If you are a cat owner, you certainly know the feeling of having your pet cozied up against you in bed or on the couch. Even if your spouse, kids or other family members aren’t home, you suddenly feel less alone. Arefa Bulbulia of Scarborough, Ontario, is no stranger to the warmth of a cuddly cat. She regularly enjoys visiting her in-laws who have an 8-year-old cat, Piku. Over the years, spending time with Piku and cat-sitting him has created a strong bond between the two. 

“Piku isn’t just a pet, he’s family. There’s never a dull moment with him around”, says Arefa. “Caring for Piku helps us forget our problems and stress. He brings a sense of calm and fills the empty space in our lives. Watching him play and run freely reminds us that we aren’t alone. Whenever we’re stressed or anxious, he’s always there for us to cuddle.”

Proud cat owner and healthcare student, Jhameel Khan of Richmond Hill, Ontario, calls his precious cat the “queen of the house”. She helps to lighten the mood in between Jhameel’s stressful online courses and exams. “No one should ever have to be alone and sometimes we find friendship where we least expect it”, Jhameel says. “My cat, Zara, is able to take my focus away from anxiety and stress by giving me peace and by being silly. She loves popping her little head on the video chat while I’m doing online classes, which makes everyone laugh. She always micromanages my case studies and sits beside my laptop while I prepare for exams.”

And if humour, entertainment and unconditional love weren’t enough, Jhameel also adds, “I haven’t seen a single spider since she’s been around either.” Seems like a win-win situation for everyone involved –except the spiders, of course.

As you can imagine, there is also good evidence to back up the claim that having a cat at home can decrease feelings of loneliness and enhance well being. In a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center, psychiatrists studied 830 patients over the age of 60 to find that older adults living with pets were 36% less likely to report feelings of loneliness than those without pets in their homes (1). The study concluded that pets can give people a sense of purpose and help seniors feel more motivated to connect socially, play regularly and ultimately help beat depression and isolation (1).

Another study from the Baker Medical Research Institute, found that those who owned pets had notably lower systolic blood pressure than those who did not, decreasing their risk for cardiovascular disease (2). Not only does this prove the stress reducing effect cats can have on us, but also shows the tangible health benefits associated with owning a pet.

Cats are clean animals

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In Islam, cats are beloved for their cleanliness and can roam freely in our homes and mosques without worry. In fact, Abu Hurairah (RA), one of the companions of The Prophet Muhammad , was given the nickname “father of the kittens” due to his affection for cats. When asked about his name, Abu Hurairah (RA) said:

“I used to tend the sheep of my people, and I had a small kitten; so I used to place it in a tree at night, and during the day I would take it with me and play with it. So they named me Abu Hurairah.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 3840)

Due to this love and attachment to kittens, cats have become a popular pet for many Muslims.

Resident of Toronto, Ontario, Asoomii Jay, adopted her cat four years ago as a 4-month-old kitten. “I was living alone at that time and wanted a furry companion who would also be low maintenance, as I worked 8-12 hour days,” Asoomii recalls. Her cat, Misty, was the perfect addition to her home and lifestyle. 

“As long as Misty has food, water and a clean litter box, she manages everything else herself,” says Asoomii. “Cats don’t need to be taken out for walks, they can entertain themselves at home with stimulating toys, and I only have to maintain my cat’s grooming occasionally, such as trimming her claws. Because she’s an indoor cat she doesn’t need to be bathed, and I never worry about ticks, fleas or parasites.” Like many other cat owners, Asoomii is grateful for her cat’s persistent cleaning habits, independence and her uncanny ability to rid the home of spiders, insects and unwanted intruders. 

The Prophet Muhammad said, “Cats do not invalidate the prayer, because they are one of the things that are useful in the house.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 369

On average, a normal cat can spend about 30-50% of their waking day grooming and licking themselves (3). Due to their natural inclinations to cleanliness and their revered status in Islam, cats should be treated kindly and with respect regardless of whether they are pets in our homes or those that are on the streets. 

Cats teach us to empathise and be responsible

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I have never empathised with animals more than after owning a pet myself. Learning to navigate my cat’s feelings and trying to communicate with him daily has opened up a whole new level of understanding. I can tell when he is hungry, full of energy or ready to pounce on me. I can also sense when he is happy, comfortable or ready for a good night’s sleep. I share these feelings with him and feel most relaxed when he is purring happily alongside me. 

According to one study done on children with household pets, I’m not the only one developing these feelings of compassion. Researchers tested the impact of pet ownership on elementary students to find that children who were more attached to their pets had higher empathy scores than those who weren’t as attached (4). When we are able to establish a strong bond with our pets, we can empathise with them on a deeper level and often learn to be more responsible and diligent in our upkeep of them as a side effect. 

Asif P. of Scarborough, Ontario, knows well the joys, challenges and responsibilities of having a cat for almost fifteen years. “Noor became a vital member of our family. He was treated equally to everyone else in the house. If he wanted space, we gave him his space. If he wanted attention, we were ready to provide it.” 

Unfortunately, when his cat passed away earlier this year, his entire family was left grieving. “It sent a shockwave through our family. Even the nephews and nieces were upset,” Asif says. “A lot of tears were shed and prayers were made. Although he’s gone now, he will never be forgotten.” Not only do our pets touch our lives, but they make a lasting impact on the lives of those around us and even well into the next generation.

Cat owners Mosina Painter-Patel and Akib Patel of Scarborough, Ontario, are enjoying the precious moments between their young son, Ibrahim, and their two cats, Dobby and Hedwig. “Dobby is typically the more quiet and cuddly one and Hedwig is just a goof, but he can be affectionate as well”, Akib says about his cats’ different personalities.

“I remember when my wife was pregnant and vomiting, Hedwig would always come and sit next to her as if to show support,” he adds. “Sometimes we catch Hedwig sleeping in Ibrahim’s crib when it’s empty, as if to remind us that he was the first baby!” While cats are definitely cute and comforting, it seems they certainly aren’t above a little sibling rivalry.

Cats aren’t the only pets that can bring us joy

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While cats can teach us a lot, they aren’t the only animals that can be beneficial to our well-being. Three sisters from Ajax, Ontario; Hafeeza, Aysha and Latifah Patel, are passionate about caring for their multiple pets. They are owners and caretakers to two birds named Leo and Cookie, and two guinea pigs, Smoki and Peanut.

“When I first got the guinea pigs at the start of the pandemic, they became a lifeline for me. I was struggling with chronic pain and feeling so unmotivated to get out of bed. They brought joy back into my life, gave me motivation and were definitely a source of comfort”, says Hafeeza, the oldest of the three. “My birds also bring me joy, make me laugh and help distract me from anything stressful”, she says. After all, it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re waking up to the sweet, cheerful chirping of birds every day.

Giving charity and gaining good deeds by caring for pets

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As Muslims, we understand that kindness to animals, regardless of whether they are house pets, strays, or farm animals, is integral to our beliefs. By keeping cats as our beloved house pets and prioritising their care and maintenance, we can gain rewards and good deeds similar to that of giving charity.

As the Prophet Muhammad said, “There is a reward for serving any living thing.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 2363)

Although feeding our pets, giving them space and time to play are very mundane aspects of pet ownership, these can be the very deeds that help to elevate us and grant us the forgiveness of Allah SWT. 

The Prophet Muhammad said, “A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3321)

More than just lumps on the edge of our beds, cats are truly amazing companions and can end up being our dearest friends. With all this being said however, it’s important to remember that owning a pet is a huge responsibility and ensuring proper care and attention to them should be your utmost priority. 

Even if cat ownership is not the right fit for you, there are lots of opportunities out there for you to spend time with cats, such as volunteering at your local animal shelter or cat sitting for your friends and family. While it may not seem like much, there are many animals that are in need of a helping hand and would benefit from even a couple hours of your time and attention. At the end of the day, it’s in these small acts of care and compassion that we make the lives of those around us better and ultimately, pave our own path to Jannah.


References:

  1. Stanley IH, Conwell Y, Bowen C, Van Orden KA. Pet ownership may attenuate loneliness among older adult primary care patients who live alone. Ageing Ment Health. 2014;18(3):394-9. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2013.837147. Epub 2013 Sep 18. PMID: 24047314; PMCID: PMC3944143.
  2. Anderson WP, Reid CM, Jennings GL. Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Med J Aust. 1992 Sep 7;157(5):298-301. PMID: 1435469.
  3. The organisation and control of grooming in cats. Applied animal behaviour science. 68. 131-140. 10.1016/S0168-1591(00)00094-0. 

An investigation of human-animal interactions and empathy as related to pet preference, ownership, attachment, and attitudes in children, Anthrozoös, 19:2, 113-127, DOI: 10.2752/089279306785593801

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