The comfort of cats during the coronavirus crisis

Stroking a cat has the power to calm us, easing anxiety and stress

Stroking a cat has the power to calm us, easing anxiety and stress - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In times of uncertainty our pets have never been more valuable to us. Turns out our cats in particular have special powers.

Cats can trigger calming chemicals in your body which lower stress and anxiety levels

Cats can trigger calming chemicals in your body which lower stress and anxiety levels - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With their comforting companionship and mood-boosting ways, you don’t need to be a feline expert to know cats are good for our wellbeing. So it’s no wonder our pets are even more treasured during the coronavirus crisis – whether you are stuck inside or coming home after a busy shift as a key worker. Spending time stroking a cat has benefits for our mental and physical health. It is scientifically-proven to lower blood pressure, can ease laboured breathing and aids relaxation – reducing stroke risk and lowering owners’ chances of heart disease.

Then there’s the power of the purr. Cats purr within a frequency range of 25 and 150 Hz, which is known to be medically therapeutic for both themselves and their human housemates. Amazingly, the frequency of a purr promotes healing of muscles, bones and infections.

Just having a cat close to you can trigger calming chemicals in your body which lower your stress and anxiety levels. Few need this more than frontline worker Abigail Turner-Morley, from Wheathampstead, who works in a high dementia unit in a residential care home in Hertfordshire. She looks after residents dying from coronavirus, comforting them as they take their last breaths.

‘I dread going into work because every time I go in, it seems there has been another death,’ she says. ‘I know I have to keep going into work, to help everyone. It is so stressful.

Research has shown cats purr at a frequency that can help heal bones and wounds

Research has shown cats purr at a frequency that can help heal bones and wounds - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘A lot of patients have do not resuscitate agreements. We try to comfort them but we can’t get too close because we have to protect ourselves. Often their family do not visit to say goodbye, because they do not want to put others at risk or get it themselves. It’s horrible.’

The 22-year-old says when she gets home she tries to switch off, but with the virus affecting every area of life and across all media, it is hard. But this is where Pearl comes in. ‘Nothing is normal at the moment – except my cat, who is always the same. She is always a calming loving presence who loves to be stroked and is happy to live a simple life. She doesn’t go to work or watch the news and she isn’t worried about any virus pandemic. She helps me to focus on the here and now and, while I am with her, I am not worrying about anything else.

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St Albans’ Justine Wall, currently working from her home like so many others, is finding joy in the increased contact with her cat. She has noticed she is beginning to identify with her more due to spending so much more time around her.

‘Our rescue cat Phoebe loves human company, so for her isolation is a bit of a bonus. After an initial suspicion as to why we were suddenly always at home, she seems to have mellowed in nature.

All cat owners will recognise this helpful characteristic

All cat owners will recognise this helpful characteristic - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘She has taken it all in her stride, proving to be a most charming and entertaining member of the household. Whereas we, now confined to the house and garden, perhaps understand why she is always eating or sleeping all day!’

In some areas of the UK there have been reports of owners abandoning their cats or giving them to animal shelters, sparked by fears that cats could bring the virus into the home on their fur. Cats Protection states there is no evidence that cats can transmit Covid-19 to humans, so ‘owners should not worry unnecessarily’. Happily the Blue Cross animal rescue centre in Kimpton near Stevenage hasn’t experienced a jump in animals being handed in. The centre is currently closed for refurbishment, meaning pets in their care are being looked after by foster carers and staff members in their own homes. A rehoming service matching cats with new owners has been temporarily put on hold as part of the lockdown.

Kellie Brooks, rehoming manager at Blue Cross Hertfordshire, said: “Blue Cross has not seen any increase in abandonment of pets during the pandemic. During the refurbishment we had been rehoming pets through our home direct service, but we have had to pause this service during the lockdown.

‘All Blue Cross rehoming centres have been temporarily closed to new admissions, apart from pets admitted via our animal hospitals and emergency cases who are in urgent need of our help.

‘We are accepting applications to rehome a small number of our pets while adhering to the government’s social distancing guidelines. Once the lockdown is lifted we will reopen admissions and will once again be looking for loving new homes for all our pets.’

A high-flying St Albans businesswoman was fortunate to have double the luck amid the C-19 emergency, as she has received two black kittens during the lockdown from St Albans Cats Protection.

Carol and Adam Twidell currently run their PrivateFly aviation company from their home, which they share with chickens, a dog and their latest additions, AJ and Amber – although Adam, 48, had wryly suggested renaming them Covid and Corona.

They enquired about kittens and received a response within a day, with the offer of two – who urgently needed a permanent family after being rescued along with their sibling and mother. They were all with elderly foster carers, who had to isolate because of the virus.

Carol, 47, made the decision to get a cat to help lift her mood and provide a fun, loving distraction after battling life-changing health problems which caused a sudden and total loss of hearing last year. Thankfully, she was able to regain some hearing in one ear after a successful cochlear implant operation.

‘We made the decision to get a cat after a difficult year, but ended up with two! We had always wanted cats, so quarantining seemed like the perfect time to introduce some kittens. We are working from home with some great pets for company.

‘I’ve since found out the mum and other kitten were rehomed too, which I am so relieved about. We would have taken them all if we could. I always pictured cats in my life at some point, having grown up with cats and a dog, so this almost felt like fate, when we had no chance to think, and just had to take them quickly.’

And let’s not forget big cats too. Hertfordshire is home to tigers and lions at Paradise Wildlife Park. In a very rare case, tigers and lions at Bronx Zoo in New York are thought to have caught Covid-19 from a keeper, so there was some concern at the Broxbourne zoo. Thankfully, all are well. While these big cats may not be receiving cuddles on Hug Your Cat Day (June 4), they are certainly keeping their keepers busy. Like those caring for dependent humans, those who care for animals must continue to go to work too.

Posting on Instagram, staff reassured well-wishers the cats were their ‘usual happy healthy selves, enjoying spring and the weekend full of sunshine’.

Advice from Cats Protection

Do I need to be worried about transmitting Covid-19 to my cat?

There have been a very small number of reports in the media suggesting transmission of Covid-19 from people to cats may be possible. Currently the evidence is limited and the number of cats involved is extremely low, implying transmission from humans to cats is extremely rare. Therefore, it is important that owners should not worry unnecessarily.

As a precaution, it is advised that owners should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling their pet and those infected with coronavirus should be particularly mindful by minimising contact.

Can cats transmit Covid-19 to people?

There is currently no evidence that cats can transmit Covid-19 to humans and so owners should not worry unnecessarily. However, as it is known that the virus can survive on surfaces such as door handles, it may be possible, despite the lack of evidence, for the virus to survive in a similar way on a cat’s fur. As a precaution it is advised that owners carry out good hygiene and wash their hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after handling their cat.

What is Feline Coronavirus and should I be worried about my cat getting it?

It is important to note that Feline Coronavirus (FCov) is not associated with the current coronavirus epidemic. It is a common, contagious virus that can be found in the faeces of cats. It is more common in multi-cat households and does not affect other animals or people.