The benefits of owning a cat keep growing. While many cat owners bring these furry, four-legged friends into the home for sheer companionship, it's important to note the healthy side effects that come along with owning a cat. Scientists are increasingly proving what we've known for years -- cats can be good for us. Here's how...
They defend your ticker.
Looking at nearly 4,500 people between the ages of 30 and 75, University of Minnesota researchers found cat owners enjoyed a 40 percent lower risk of having a heart attack and a 30 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease. The heart-healthy benefits appear to come from cats' stress-lowering magic.
In fact, one study found that patients discharged from a Coronary Care Unit had a better survival rate over the next year if they had companion animals to come home to.

Five cats (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

They help you connect.
A French study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found the stress-lowering hormone oxytocin, nicknamed the love hormone, helped mildly autistic children and adults feel calmer and socialize more easily. Since the release of oxytocin is triggered by touch, researchers say petting your cat works to increase oxytocin, and in turn, feelings of trust, love, and connection with others.
They bolster your immune system.
Any cat owner will tell you that lots of laughter is part of the experience of having cats in the family. (Ever watch a cat chase its tail?) And laughter, as it turns out, can boost your levels of disease-fighting immunoglobulins by 14 percent, according to a Loma Linda University study. Cats also help keep us balanced, helping wandering minds shift their focus back to the present.
They help you breathe better.
Multiple studies from Sweden, Finland, and beyond suggest that exposing a child to a cat or dog during infancy can help him or her build up natural immunity, making the child less likely to develop pet allergies later in life. It seems babies and young children who are at a higher risk of developing asthma as they grow older enjoy a lowering of that risk if they grow up with a cat in the home. (The exception? If their mom is allergic to cats.)
They ease away loneliness.
Having a cat could help you heal after losing a loved one. A UK study found recently widowed people showed fewer physical symptoms, such as crying, if they owned a pet. Miami University researchers say pet owners likely feel less lonely because a pet serves as a social support. In fact, some people report wanting to talk to their pets more than other people at times! (Can you blame them?)