How Cats Can Be Purrfect for Your Health

Why you should rethink how you view cats and consider adopting one of your own.

Cats tend to get a bad reputation about their personality. And unfortunately, this perception can lead people to think that they offer nothing of value to their human companions.

The main reason for this bad reputation, according to the host of Animal Planet’s show, Psycho Kitty, Pam Johnson-Bennett, is that many people unfairly compare cats to dogs. But cats and dogs are two entirely different species, so it’s only natural that they would react differently to similar situations.

Descended from wolves with a not-so-strict-but-still-hierarchical pack mentality, dogs typically act more social. They spend more time trying to work together efficiently as a group, so they interact with each other and people through different body postures, facial expressions, and other positions that are recognizable to people. As a result, both dogs and people have an easier time reading each other’s behavior. And this can lead to people viewing dogs as more overtly social and caring.

While it is true that dogs do emphasize their interest in their human companions, it does not mean that dogs are more empathetic than their feline counterparts. Cats just happen to show their care and interest in different ways.

Cats are not above enjoying the social company of one another in groups. They’ll even occasionally form feral colonies when they want to share a larger territory.

But they don’t form strong attachments to everyone in that territory. In fact, cats are typically solitary hunters, as they can only hunt enough food for one. So it’s more likely that they’ll establish a lone territory that doesn’t conflict with other nearby cat territories.

Because feline socialization is built around the availability of food and territory, cats prefer to feel and know that they’re secure. So domestic cats may seem standoffish at first, but they really just need the space and time to get used to anyone new who enters their territory and sounds, smells, and looks unfamiliar.

Once a cat has gotten the time and space they need to make up their mind about you, you’ll find that they can be very caring creatures who offer a number of benefits to your life and health, including the ones listed here.

1. You gain a furriendly caretaker.

Many cats have gone on to save their human companion’s life, and your future kitty might just do the same. For instance, without any official training, Lilly, a cat in Dorset, England, was able to save the life of her owner numerous times by alerting his family whenever he had an epileptic seizure. Another cat in 1949, Simon, even won the highest military medal available for helping save the lives of Royal Navy officers during the Chinese civil war. Despite suffering from severe shrapnel wounds from an attack on the ship he was on, the HMS Amethyst, Simon continued to protect the navy’s stores of food from an ongoing rat infestation and continued to lift the morale of the surviving sailors.

Now, I’m not saying your future furry friend will, without a doubt, turn out to be your own personal Superman in four-legged disguise. But you may find that your cat will be able to help you in ways that you’ve never thought of before.

2. Cuddling them can improve your heart health.

You might not have considered cats to be war heroes before, but have you considered that they could be your own form of therapeutic help?

All cats offer a number of natural healing benefits.

Just by petting a cat alone, you can improve your cardiovascular health. This is because petting a cat lowers your stress levels, which in turn, lowers any anxiety you might have. Petting is a nice, calming activity proven to be effective by at least one study that discovered during a 10-year period, cat owners, unlike those who did not own cats, were 30% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke.

3. Their purring alone is medically therapeutic.

Another direct benefit to your body that cats can offer is their purring. Purring is not just a delightful sound for you to hear and feel whenever your cat is content to be around you. It’s also a form of healing.

Because cats purr within the 20 to 140 Hz range, they can help your body heal in a number of ways, including:

  • Providing you with an additional way to lower your stress in combination with petting
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Promoting bone restoration and healing in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments
  • Helping you heal from infections and swelling

These benefits can seem a bit New Age-y, but professionals have been given plausible reason to believe that purring can at least stimulate some healing.

4. You’ll rest easier with them nearby.

Due to a cat’s therapeutic abilities, it makes sense that many studies have found that people tend to report sleeping better with a cat than a human.

Having a feline friend close by as you sleep can help you feel less lonely, anxious, or depressed. This companionship can even help you when you’re having sleep troubles. Like many animals, cats tend to enjoy napping near your head or feet. So if your future cat ends up enjoying settling down to sleep at the same time that you do, you’ll be able to take comfort in the added benefit of them acting as a living, breathing weighted blanket. This benefit has been proven to reduce the amount of time you need to fall asleep and to promote healthier sleep cycles.

5. Your kids will likely enjoy their presence too.

You’re not the only person who can benefit from owning a cat. Your kids can too!

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, children who are raised in a home with multiple pets, such as two or more dogs or cats, are less likely to develop allergies to pets and other common allergies, such as ones to dust mites, ragweed, and grass.

It is important to note, though, that the cat parasite, toxoplasma gondii, while usually harmless and not likely to produce symptoms, can be a threat to young children. However, you don’t have to worry too much because health officials note that simply changing your cat’s litter box daily and keeping your cat indoors should keep you and your kids safe from allergies.

In short: consider adopting a cat!

A cat may seem uninterested in earning your affection at first. But over time, they’ll prove to be caring in their own feline way. And you’ll find that they not only provide you with a furry friend, but they’ll also provide you with several health benefits.

Intervention: A Show Worth Intervening?

On the ethics of sensationalized reality shows cashing in on dysfunction.

In one episode of Intervention, a young woman rocks back and forth on a couch in front of the camera, cigarette in hand. Nonchalantly, she speaks: “I smoke crystal meth. Mostly on Tuesdays.” In another scene, she’s curled up on the ground crying. But just moments before, she was roaming aimlessly around a parking lot, lashing angrily with nonsensical phrases of nouns and verbs. Trapped in a methamphetamine-induced psychosis, she’s 19, wearing dark skinny jeans with a black hoodie, and covered by a head of wild, curly brown hair. But it’s her eyes that grab you the most — as blue and beautiful as the sky on a sunny day, these aren’t the eyes of a senseless lunatic. They’re the eyes of a kid who likely danced in front of the TV on Christmas morning or of one who brought back an A+ on her spelling test to her mother, beaming with pride.

Such stark scenes from the American reality TV show Intervention have been running since 2005, and the show continues to enjoy immense popularity from a dedicated cult following.

Heavily dramatized with quick scene cuts and ominous music, the show documents the lives of drug abusers and their families, who stage a televised intervention for them to seek help. The drugs discussed during these interventions have included everything from alcohol and heroin to eating disorders and autoasphyxiation.

By delving into these stories for 45 minutes at a time, you come to know both the addicts and their families. Tragedy is frequent. Abuse is rampant. Happy endings occur, but so do relapses.

There’s something strangely addictive about watching a show like Intervention. I admit that I felt compelled to binge-watch some episodes on certain nights. Motivations aside, fans all over enjoy the show. Frequent comments on YouTube videos echo this sentiment. “I need an intervention for watching Intervention!” is an oft-repeated phrase.

What draws people to the show in the first place?

I often wonder what makes Intervention so entertaining.

Mind you, this post was written by a person with minimal health problems who comes from a relatively well-adjusted, middle-income background.

Watching Intervention, I’ve always felt a small shadow of guilt at the edge of my mind. It’s like I’m doing something unethical by getting a kick at watching other people’s suffering. Still, I would rationalize it: well, this show is educational; well, thanks to this show I’m never going to try heroin; well, thanks to this show I’ll be a lot more grateful for the circumstances I was born into.

Still, I don’t understand the source of the rush that comes with watching morbid entertainment like this. Perhaps it is a form of reassurance that no matter how difficult my life gets, it’s not going to be as bad as that. Maybe it’s a way of reminding myself that worse things can happen.

Is it just morbid curiosity?

Perhaps my feelings are not so excusable. Perhaps it’s similar to the feeling you get from watching shows like Maury or scrolling through the r/trashy forum on Reddit, a sort of schadenfreude. There’s a pleasure — a sense of relief — that comes from watching others’ misfortune. Perhaps I like the feeling of being able to point at someone and say, “At least I haven’t failed that hard in life!”

How many times have you driven by a car accident and been tempted to stare? You want to know what happened, possible grisly sighting be damned.

Are humans just naturally nosy animals that delight in the misfortune of others?

Where does this morbidity come from?

When I was a kid, I was told by every adult that doing drugs was bad. That the kids who did drugs were bad. Which led me to believe that anyone and everyone who did drugs was bad.

When you think about a drug addict, what comes to mind? A millennial dressed to the hipster nines who’s coding for a start-up? A frazzled mother head bent over her children, ushering them impatiently onto the bus? A professor sitting on a park bench with one leg over the other, reading a novel? No, you likely think of a gaunt, dirty character — most likely male — with dishevelled hair and stained, mismatching clothes, walking up and down the highway meridian brandishing a sign that reads ANYTHING HELPS.

We’re so keen to conflate drug abuse with failure, but if you watch a show like Intervention, you’ll learn that very rarely do they involve characters like the guy with the sign. Many drug abusers are intelligent, come from middle-class families, were incredibly ambitious as young people, and accomplished great things. They’re attractive and beautiful with soft voices and bell-like laughter. Of course, there are a few people here and there that match the stereotype, but they tend to be in the minority.

You begin to learn the reasons for their addiction. Most of the time, it’s not their fault, at least not entirely. Broken families. Abusive parents. Death of a sibling. Or simply, because it runs in the family. Your feelings of disgust begin to change; if at first they were directed at the abuser, you begin feeling disdain for the enabling boyfriend, the abusive mother, and the sister in denial.

Contrary to popular belief, drug abuse is seldom the consequence of bad parenting or a lazy character. It has a strong genetic component. Addicts beget addicts. This doesn’t mean that certain people are doomed per se; this only means some people are naturally more vulnerable to addiction than others.

Should we change our perception of drug abuse?

What of the people who had no reason to try a drug but did so anyway for kicks?

Consider the Redditor who went to the local junkie park with the intention of buying weed but ended up trying heroin for the hell of it. He ended up getting addicted, and his life — once relatively normal — spiralled out of control.

There’s another thing people get wrong: sometimes, the drug is simply stronger than you. Even if you had the strongest human willpower in the world, if you make just one mistake, you can tumble into the greedy clutches of a substance.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold people like the Redditor above unaccountable — after all, they did make a bad decision to “just try.” It simply means that perhaps we should get off our high horse and stop assuming that we’re better than them.

That guy on the meridian? You don’t know how he got there.

What’s your heroin?

Most of us have an addiction.

It might not be heroin or cocaine, but it might be sugar, coffee, cigarettes, video games, or cheeseburgers. Benign as these addictions may sound, some can (and have) ruined people’s lives. For instance, experiments on rats have shown that a sudden withdrawal of sugar can cause withdrawal symptoms similar to heroin. Of course, some things (i.e., heroin, cigarettes) are more addictive than others (i.e., weed, ice cream), and not everything gives nasty withdrawal effects if you try to quit, but the psychological mechanism is similar. Irritability, short-temperedness, restlessness, and even boredom seizes your day when you can’t get your fix. You’ve probably tried to cut out a junk food thinking it would be easy, only to think about it more times during the day than you’d admit.

So, how does ethics fit into all this?

Back to Intervention: to watch or not to watch?

Ultimately, it’s up to you, but do ask why you watch the things you watch, and slow down throughout the day to think about how it affects you, your emotions, and how you see the world. Media is powerful. We think of TV and film as things to relax to at the end of the day, but in reality, they reach far into our psyches and influence the way we think, feel, and act. Subconsciously, what we consume directs our perspectives and our perceptions, our opinions and ideals.

Perhaps that’s your intervention: to question yourself. Next time you see a drug abuser writhing in psychosis, teeth chattering, eyes wide as dish plates, remember the story of the girl you saw on TV who says she “smokes meth. Mostly on Tuesdays.”

The Dog Who Saved Alaska

During a diphtheria outbreak in 1925, teams of sled dogs saved lives by transporting life-saving serum through harsh arctic conditions to Nome, Alaska. The most famous of these dogs was a husky named Balto.

A Frozen Town

Imagine living in a remote town landlocked by ice, in a time where communication was limited to the radio telegraph and the nearest train was more than 600 miles away. In this town, where temperatures dropped way below freezing, your most reliable form of transportation was a sled pulled by dogs.

This was life in Nome, Alaska in 1925. To add to the harsh, unforgiving climate, the small town’s only doctor had just diagnosed diphtheria in a patient. A highly contagious disease, diphtheria would be especially dangerous to the local Inuit who had only recently recovered from a measles outbreak. Fortunately, effective treatment existed in a life-saving serum. Unfortunately, this serum was a thousand miles away in Seattle.

An Extremely Contagious Killer

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection spread through respiratory fluids like coughing and sneezing. The bacteria that cause diphtheria emit a toxin that causes weakness, fever, sore throat, swollen glands around the neck, and destroys respiratory tissue. This dead tissue then forms a thick, grey pseudomembrane that blocks airways, making swallowing and breathing painful and difficult. If the toxin enters the bloodstream, it will also cause serious damage to the heart, kidneys, and nerves. Other complications include nerve damage, paralysis, and pneumonia. About 10% of victims will die.

Today, diphtheria is prevented by vaccination and is now rare in countries with sophisticated healthcare systems like the USA. However, this was not always the case. In 1925 Nome, diphtheria quickly spread among its residents, who were likely living in very close quarters to stay away from the cold.

A Dog Breed with Exceptional Prowess

The Siberian Husky is not your average dog breed. Developed thousands of years ago by the Chukchi people of Siberia, they had been used for transportation and companionship for generations, and were highly respected in Chukchi culture for their hardiness. The breed remains beloved today.

Huskies are unique in that they can run seemingly forever. In fact, in terms of distance running, huskies will outrun every other animal. (Interestingly, humans are in second place, thanks to our unique ability to sweat). Unlike most mammals, huskies can change their metabolism to burn fat and protein without glycogen. This allows them to run for extremely long periods, and they express similar vitals when they finish a journey. They also don’t require extensive downtime to recover.

A Town Saved

The closest train station to Nome was in the town of Nenana. Between Nenana and Nome was 674 miles of treacherous terrain. The two towns were connected by the Iditarod Trail, which becomes the only route of transport during the winter season. If you needed to a package to be delivered from Nenana to Iditarod, it would take approximately a month. The package would be passed from dog sled team to dog sled team in an unbroken relay until it got to you. In 1925, the package that required delivery was the life-saving diphtheria serum, and it was transported to Nenana in a mere 6 days. This meant dog sled teams traveled, on average, 6-9 miles an hour.

Leonard Seppala and his lead dog Togo were responsible for perhaps the most dangerous leg of the race. Today, their contribution remains overshadowed by Balto’s. Unlike Balto, Togo was a more experienced sled dog and was able to safely lead his team across the frozen ice of Norton Sound just three hours before it broke.

Musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, completed the last, critical leg of this relay. At the time, Balto was an inexperienced team leader, and if Kaasen had anticipated the stormy journey they were about to embark upon, he may not have chosen him as lead dog. However, Balto quickly proved his worth. The team endured vicious attacks from Mother Nature; at one point, Balto refused to go forward, saving the team from freezing in the Topkok River. At another point in the journey, the sled and team were lifted off the ground by an extremely powerful gust of wind.

Balto’s team had originally been assigned the second-to-last leg of the relay, but when they arrived at their destination, the next musher was sound asleep. So, they decided to mush the rest of the way to Nome, making the length of their journey total to around 53 miles.

Aftermath

The dogs were lauded as heroes around the world. Unfortunately, after a series of disputed financial dealings between Kaasen and filmmaker Sol Lesser, who produced a documentary with the sled dogs, Kaasen had no choice but to tour a vaudeville circuit with his dogs to make ends meet. Two years later, Balto was found in inhumane conditions at a “dime” museum by a businessman named George Kimble. Kimble, who had sympathized with the dogs’ heroic story, was rightfully outraged. To buy and rescue the dogs, he had two weeks to come up with $2000, a lot of money at the time.

Thanks to fervent advertising, the money was quickly raised by donors touched by Balto’s story. Kimble was able to bring Balto and six other dogs back to Cleveland, where they lived the rest of their retirement in better conditions at the Brookside Zoo.

Balto died in 1933, aged 14. His body was taxidermied and remains displayed today at the Cleveland Museum of National History. A statue of Balto was erected in Central Park in New York City to honor the serum run, with Balto himself present for the unveiling.

The heroic story of Balto and the “Great Race of Mercy” remains an inspiring tale of cooperation between humans and dogs. Today, “The Iditarod” is a race of over a thousand miles between Anchorage and Nome, undertaken by enthusiast mushers and their dogs. To learn more about Balto, you can refer to the Cleveland Museum of National History brochure here.

6 Physical Features Unique to Homo Sapiens

As humans, we tend to think of our bodies as being less capable than many others in the animal kingdom. We can’t run as fast as most animals, nor can we track prey by scent or fly. Yet, we human beings actually have a number of physical features that are unique to us. At times, these features even enable us to out-cool our fellow animal brethren.

  1. Superior vision

While many other animals have color vision, many others do not. Our cats and dogs have very limited color vision compared to us. Scientists believe humans and other primates developed color vision as a means to discern ripe fruit in forest habitats. We also use the color of our faces to express ourselves to others, blushing when we’re shy and going pale with fright. It’s true that our vision is superior to many animals. After all, vision plays a large role in reading, writing, and art – forms of communication not found in any other animal – as well as deciphering intricate facial expressions.

Still, many animals have us beat when it comes to vision. Animals like reptiles and insects can see infrared and ultraviolet light.

2. Sweat and long distance running

Did you know you can outrun a horse? That’s right! Humans are one of few animals that can run continuously for long distances. This is perhaps due to our unique ability to sweat, a mechanism that lets us cool off while we run. Other animals don’t sweat or sweat differently, so although they may outrun us at the beginning of a race, they cannot maintain a constant speed.

Scientists posit that our long distance running ability may have helped our ancestors tire out prey in the savannah. However, our running prowess is no match for huskies, which can change the way they burn fat and run long distances seemingly without pain.

3. Menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle womb-bearing humans are familiar with is strangely absent from most mammals with the exception of primates. Your dog or cat has something called an estrous cycle. When an animal is in estrous, it is referred to as being in heat. These animals will only copulate during time periods when they are in heat, and most can reabsorb their endometrium (lining of the uterus) if fertilization does not occur. Humans, on the other hand, shed their endometrium, a process those of us with periods every month are familiar with. We also don’t go into heat, allowing us to get it on all year round.

4. Dextrous hands

Many primates have opposable thumbs just like us, but humans are unique in that we can bring our thumbs all the way across our hand to touch our ring and pinky fingers. This gives us exceptional dexterity. So, while monkeys and apes can pluck fruit from trees with ease, we humans are capable of far more intricate handiwork. This has allowed us to weave cloth, write down information, and construct intricate pieces of technology.

5. Musicality

It is no coincidence that music exists in every human civilization. From the grand orchestras of Europe to the percussive complexities of Africa, nearly everyone finds comfort, community, celebration, and more in music.

Humans are unique in that we can process melody, harmony, and rhythm simultaneously. A few animals have shown signs that they can too, but only anecdotally. We humans also use our vocal cords in unique and complex ways, singing songs and pronouncing words.

6. Bipedalism

It’s no surprise that few animals walk on two legs the way we do. While two legs are slower than four, scientists believed our two-legged habit gave us unprecedented evolutionary advantages. For example, when our ancestors left the forest for the savannah, having two legs allowed them to stand up and look over tall grass. Bipedalism also allowed us to free our hands to grasp tools and carry things. It has even been posited that bipedalism helped us thermoregulate more efficiently.

Our traits allow us to adopt a unique niche

Humans may seem clumsy and slow next to, say, a graceful antelope or even a prowling housecat, but we have specialized traits that have allowed us to excel in our unique niche. With our ability to manipulate tools, communicate through complex means, and of course our brainpower, humans have successfully dominated the planet. However, we’re still far from being the most successful; earthworms, algae, and bacteria have been here a lot longer than us and take that honor. At least for now.

How to Exercise (for Lazy People)

Do you hate exercising?

Did you hate gym class as a kid? Do you dread being sweaty and hot? Do you loathe all the exercise advice you get from your friends, the internet, and that over-achieving guy at the gym who’s convinced all your life’s problems will be solved if you “just lift, bro”?

People who give advice about fitness are usually people who love fitness. But gimmicks like “you just need to find a sport you enjoy!” and “once you get into it, you’ll love it!” don’t work on the chronically lazy. Moreover, not everyone has hours to kill and bucks to spend on a fancy gym membership or have a suitable place to jog in their neighbourhood.

Thankfully, there are cheats around this. What we need to understand is that no matter how much you hate it, exercise has a myriad of benefits. You may literally live longer. So here are a few tips to get some exercise into your day without sweating (too much).

1. Walk everywhere. And build walking into your day.

Many of us don’t want to exercise because we don’t want to carve out a portion of our day for it. It doesn’t count as waste, though, if you build exercise into your day.

For example, you need to get to work anyway, so why not build walking into your commute? If you transit, you can get off several stops earlier and walk the rest of the way. Live within 30 minutes of your workplace? Walk the whole damn way! And choose the stairs, not the elevator, when you get to the office.

2. Do tiny little workouts throughout the day.

You don’t have to slog through a 5km jog to reap the benefits of exercise. Doing a little thing here or there counts, and you may even end up expending more effort and energy into each 10-minute chunk than if you’d grinded through an hour-long run.

3. Watch your favourite show during a workout.

Admit it: exercising is painful. But you can mind-over-matter that by distracting yourself with a TV show. Just put on your favorite comedy or thriller while doing squats and push-ups. While studies suggest that entertainment during workouts may lower your rate of exertion, if you’re aiming to just get off the couch, it’s worth trying without missing the much-awaited season finale of your favorite binge. Just be careful not to injure yourself if you need to crane your neck to see the screen!

4. Hang outside with a friend

Instead of inviting your friend over to sit down on the couch and gossip with you, why not go on a walk and gossip instead? Much like the TV trick, when our brains are occupied by something interesting, we often forget about physical discomforts like aching legs and sweaty arms. If you live near a park or a trail, even better. More studies show health benefits of simply being in nature. In fact, there’s even an Association of Nature & Forest Therapy that trains people to guide others in nature for the therapeutic effect.

5. Get a DDR pad.

If you’re a fan of video games, you might want to invest in a Dance Dance Revolution pad. Garage Band isn’t bad too, especially if you bang on the drums. DDR, however, can really get your heartrate up. Loads of people, mostly gamers, have touted the benefits of the popular rhythm-based video game and its offshoots, such as StepMania.

6. Find an active activity you like.

Okay, I know I said in the beginning that for many of us, this is worthless advice, but have you really explored all your options? Have you tried…

  • Birdwatching?
  • Skimboarding?
  • Cricket?
  • Archery?
  • Darts?
  • Rock climbing?
  • Horseback riding?
  • Roller derby?
  • Fencing?
  • Scuba diving?
  • Skateboarding?
  • Ultimate frisbee?
  • Capture the Flag?
  • Laser tag?
  • Tai Chi?
  • Juggling?
  • Curling?
  • Paintball?
  • Quidditch?
  • Dining table table tennis?
  • Skipping stones?
  • Jumping up and down on a trampoline?
  • Running around screaming?

(Okay, avoid the last one).

Yes, some of these sports are more expensive and less accessible than others. Some of them will also require you to join a team. But there’s a reason why weird sports like Quidditch exist – they have a following, people think they’re fun, and who knows, you might agree!

Now, while these are all great ways to get you moving, you probably shouldn’t rely on walking the dog as your main workout. It’s still important to do the odd hike, jog, or swim. But if you’re struggling just to motivate yourself off the couch, every little thing counts.