Dogs are often described as "man's best friend".
But when it comes to fighting stress, petting a cat may be just as beneficial.
Researchers from Washington State University and Belgian university KU Leuven have found that many people - especially those with "strong and highly reactive" emotions - would benefit from feline interactions at animal-assisted interventions.
"Our study shows that we may be able to reach a larger audience by offering interventions that include dogs and cats. People who are on the higher end of the emotionality trait may be more likely to participate and benefit from these interactions," co-author Patricia Pendry said. "We're looking for ways to help more people reduce their stress levels. Adding cats may be another way to reach a broader audience."
Universities implementing animal-assisted interventions like "Pet Your Stress Away" events have proven benefits but more than 85 per cent of them only include dogs.
Following a survey of more than 1,400 university students, the team noted that having the option of being able to choose interaction with a cat or dog, or both, may increase the number of people interested in attending an animal-assisted intervention, which is shown to lower stress and make people feel better.
"There's a perception that dogs exist to please people. While I may describe cats as 'discerning,' they are often perceived as unpredictable, aloof, or finicky - traits that can be difficult for some to be around," added Pendry. "Anecdotally, we've always been told that cat people are different from dog people, and that most students are not interested in interacting with cats. Our results revealed that students are interested in interacting with cats and that this interest may be driven by personality traits."
Full study results have been published in the journal Anthrozoös.