Recently, we featured service dogs and their important contributions to the lives of people with disabilities. But here at Enabling Devices, we’re all about inclusivity. Therefore, this week’s blog post is dedicated to therapy cats! Didn’t know therapy cats were a trend? Read on to learn about these feeling felines.
According to Catalogical.com, “a therapy cat is a trained and certified feline who helps youngsters, adults and elders through human-animal interaction.” Therapy cats “offer comfort to those in need of some help while battling either physical or emotional health complications.”
Dr. Annie Valuska, Ph.D., Senior Pet Behavior Expert at Purina Cat Chow, extolled the therapeutic qualities of cats in a recent article in Pet Product News. “While most people tend to associate therapy animals with dogs, cats also provide a variety of mental and physiological benefits. Cat owners often have lower stress levels than non-pet owners, which can improve blood pressure and cardiovascular health over time. Cats can also boost our mental health, decreasing feelings of loneliness and increasing a sense of purpose,” says Valuska.
Likewise, a report by UCLA Health cited research that confirmed how just petting a cat or another animal can promote “the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin—all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods… and reducing anxiety.” Additionally, noted the report, studies of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and brain injuries show improved recall after petting an animal. Moreover, contact with cats and other animals has been shown to lessen physical pain.
Therapy cats also provide significant benefits to children with autism. Writes Betti Wilson for Autism Parenting Magazine: “The introduction of a cat to children with autism creates transformations in their emotional growth.” Wilson says that interacting with a cat can “teach empathy and compassion; relieve anxiety; foster connections; suppress autism symptoms; and provide confidence to children with autism.”
Unlike service dogs, therapy cats don’t enjoy all the benefits provided through the Americans With Disabilities Act. For example, therapy cats can’t accompany their handlers wherever they go. However, you may find therapy cats in a variety of settings including schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and speech/language facilities. Usually therapy cats are accompanied by their owners/handlers and both should take part in cat therapy training.
Think your cat has what it takes to be a therapy cat? Pet Partners, a national organization whose mission is “to improve human health and well-being through the human-animal bond,” says the best therapy cats are “sociable, easygoing, comfortable on a leash, and enjoy new experiences.” If your cat meets those criteria, visit Pet Partners’ website to get started. It is required that your cat has lived with you for at least a year and has a clean health record. You’ll need to take an online or in-person handler’s course and then pass an evaluation. If you do, you’ll benefit just as much as the people you help!