The study looked at 4,435 adults aged between 30 and 75, about half of whom owned a cat. The findings revealed that 5.8 per cent of those who did not own a cat died from a heart attack over 10 years, while the rate for cat owners was 3.4 per cent, the Daily Telegraph reported. Cat owners were also less prone to developing strokes or heart attacks after taking into account other factors like high cholesterol levels, smoking and diabetes.
Prof Adnan Qureshi of Minnesota University, who carried out the study, said he was surprised by the effect that owning the friendly and sociable animal appeared to have.
''The logical explanation may be that cat ownership relieves stress and anxiety and subsequently reduces the risk of heart disease,'' he said.
He said the reason could be that stroking the pet could cut the level of stress-related hormones in the blood, which helps protect against heart disease.
Prof Qureshi added that the type of person who owned a cat was usually already fairly stress-free and at low risk of heart disease.