Why You May Want to Be a Cat Person (Or Have One Around)

Putting the myth of the Crazy Cat Lady to rest

Posted Jul 14, 2015

Copyright Leslie Fry
Source: Copyright Leslie Fry

Ever since they were falsely blamed for the Black Death and were branded as witches’ familiars, cats have always been in need of a good publicist. In the United States, dogs rule, outnumbering their feline brethren, with 36.5% of households (over 43 million) saying aye to canine companionship, with 30.4% or 36 million saying hello kitty. But, as cat people know, felines rock in their own specific way and it turns out that being owned by a cat (yes, that accurately sums up the relationship) reveals some important things about those who are definitely and positively cat folk.

While the oft-repeated statement “Time with cats is never wasted” was apparently not said or written by Sigmund Freud (in fact, according to the Freud Museum in London, he added insult to injury by writing his friend Arnold Zweig,” I, as is well known, do not like cats”), psychology has not ignored our feline friends or the qualities of those who consort with them.

Following are some scientifically-based observations about cat people and a few that aren’t quite so scientific but interesting to ponder nonetheless. In the pursuit of objectivity and truth, I now identify more as a cat person, even though I have owned both for most of my adult life. This shift has more to do with the sobering reality of walking a dog late at night in winter than anything else.

And, Dog People, you will get a post of your own. Most of the research mirrors the trends in ownership: it’s largely about dogs.

Copyright Patti Pitcher
Source: Copyright Patti Pitcher

1. Cat people are more open to experience

That’s what a study by Samuel D. Gosling and others found, although it’s also true that this team also found them to be more neurotic and less extraverted than dog people. Unless you feel you always need to be out socializing or in the company of the life of the party, the independent thinking and curiosity of a cat person might just add a spark to your intellectual and emotional life. You might, when you join a book club or other discussion group, want to inquire discreetly about pet preferences, for example. Another study, this one by Denise Guastello and others, did not find cat people more neurotic, by the way, but did confirm that, like their pets, they tend to march to a different drummer. Not surprisingly, they also felt that a cat’s independence was his or her best quality. If you want to opt out of the rat race or swap a cookie cutter life for a metaphysical romp, a cat person may be your get-out-of-jail card.

2. Cat owners love affection

If warm and fuzzy is what you’re missing in life, then a cat person may be your ticket. Interestingly, in Guastello’s study, she found that while dog owners loved the companionship of their pet, cat people prized the affection.

Here’s what one person who lives with both cats and dogs—her husband is a dog person—had to say: “ I love cats because they are so non-demanding but then so soft and cuddly when they want to connect. I love sleeping with cats. I love cats because I am their slave. I love how commanding they are about their needs and needing things now. I love petting cats, purring cats, playful cats, haughty cats.”

Copyright Jeri Greenberg
Source: Copyright Jeri Greenberg

3. Cat owners are less stressed

While other studies have shown that pet ownership generally reduces stress—a proven boon to health—one study specifically focused on cardiovascular events and found that cat owners had a distinct advantage. It’s not quite clear why cat ownership has a protective effect but the authors opine that perhaps it has to do with a “spontaneous relaxing effect” which then buffers “autonomic reactivity to acute stressors.” Then again, the personality of the cat person may be protective as well.

One friend of mine, a fellow writer, told me that, “There is, indeed, something incredibly calming about a cat (as long as said cat isn't running around the house like a dervish, which isn't calming at all).  When I'm stuck with something I'm writing, or simply exhausted by it, my first inclination is to find the cat and rest my face on her fur.  If I'm lucky, she'll reward me with a purr, which I believe resonates along with the fundamental note of the universe.  So yes, it's a little like meditating without any of the work of clearing your mind.  A cat will do that for you.  Of course, with meditation you don't risk a claw in the nose, but meditation isn't warm and furry with little black and white spots on its pads.”

4. Cat owners may hone their emotional intelligence more

This is an extrapolation, but dogs wear their emotions on their metaphorical sleeves while cats actually force us to pay close attention to shifts in emotion, except perhaps when they are angry or threatened. (It doesn’t take much skill to decipher the meaning of a hiss, flattened ears, or arched back.) Studies show that dog owners are confident they know what their pets are feeling (although science knows better) but cat owners aren’t given to that kind of grandiosity. One thing, though, that cat people are sure of is why they love and need their pets. As one woman, married and the mother of two sons, wrote me of her adopting a female kitten: "Sophie has saved my sanity...filled a hole in my heart when my last baby left for college. plus i needed more estrogen to even out the score.”

Copyright Leslie Garisto
Source: Copyright Leslie Garisto

5. Either a cat or a dog person is unlikely to be relationship-phobic

Yes, that’s what a study by Gretchen M. Reevy and Mikel M. Delgado showed, which actually looked at pet owners and measured both the Big Five personality traits as well as their propensity for avoidant or anxious attachment to their animals. If you’re feeling that you’re a magnet for those who appear as though they want to be in a relationship but are really silently screaming “Distance, distance, distance!”—the avoidantly attached among us—it might serve you to ask a question or two about his or her pets, after you’ve plumbed the depths of childhood and the need for closeness. The good news? All those who identified as Dog people, Cat people, or Both showed decreased avoidance. But, on the flip side, pet owners high in affection (especially those with cats) also scored high on anxious attachment. In human one-on-ones, anxious attachment manifests itself with clinginess, jealousy, and a watchful alertness for any cue of abandonment. It is not a good thing. But, if you’re an anxiously attached person’s pet, it may well be the best thing that ever happened to you. After all, pets aren’t concerned with clinginess, and owners don’t worry about their pets falling in love with someone else

Here’s a toast to all you cat people and your cats! You may not rule but you certainly add a bit of spice to our world.

Copyright © 2015 Peg Streep

VISIT ME:   http://www.Facebook.com/PegStreepAuthor

Gosling, Samuel D., Carson J. Sandy, and Jeff Potter, “Personalities of Self-Identified Dog People and Cat People,” Anthrozoo (2010), vol. 23, issue 2, 213-222.

Sara Braun, Jose Gutierez, Kristen Jolsten, Brianna Olbinski, and Denise Guastello,“Personality Differences of Self-Identified Canine and Feline Lovers,” courtesy of Denise Guastello. 

Qureshi, Adnan, Muhammad Memo, Gabriela Vasques, and M. Fareek Suri,”Cat Ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases," Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology (2009), Jan.2, (1), 132-135.

Zilcha-Mano, Sigal, Mario Mikulincer, and Phillip R. Shaver, “An Attachment Perspective on Human-Pet Relationships,” Conceptualization and Assessment of Pet Attachment Orientations, “ Journal of Research in Personality (2011), 45, 345-367.

Reevy, Gretchen M. and Mikel M. Delgado, “Are Emotionally Attached Companion Animal Caregivers Conscientious and Neurotic? Factors that Affect the Human-Companion Animal Relationship,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (2014) DOI:10.1080/10888705.2014.088333