Animal-Assisted Therapy Thrives, Enter the Cats

Canines have more recently been in the spotlight for their ability to provide comfort and assistance as a part of animal-assisted therapy. There have been multiple research studies conducted about the associated benefits, but a group that has been sorely overlooked as candidates for the job has been the felines. Can cats be used in therapeutic treatment programs with as much effectiveness as dogs?

A program that’s gaining momentum

Animal-assisted therapy programs are on the rise because evidence suggests that dogs offer a great benefit for some victims. With this in mind, we’re seeing interest in the investigation of using cats in the same capacity. Although research has mainly focused on dogs, there is a reason to look towards cats as therapy animals. The case of Kate Benjamin shows us that cats can have an amazing impact on cancer patients and give them support during treatment and on the bad days.

Kates story

Kate Benjamin was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radiation treatments along with a lumpectomy. She was hit with a second round of the disease that resulted in a double mastectomy and eight weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Throughout her struggles, she was surrounded by her eight cats and she attests that having them around, helped keep her centered and helped her through the surgeries, treatments, and discomforts. She explains that the cats who live in the moment without worry about tomorrow or yesterday offer her comfort and an unbiased point of view because their behaviors are not affected by the fact that she’s grappling with a frightening disease, as some friends and family tend to do.

The diversity of therapeutic animal breeds

In addition to dogs, there are other animals being used in human therapies. rabbits, cats, miniature horses and others help to bring comfort and speed healing for people who are hospitalized, sick depressed and more. Although the research for this type of therapy is still in its early stages, the results are actually quite encouraging. Evidence shows that animals are useful to help college students relax during exams, and they’re also valued as being therapeutic at a variety of clinics and in the workplace. The demand for this type of service animal is rising, but statistics show that around 94% of these working animals are dogs.

Characteristics of a good therapy cat

In order to qualify as a therapy cat, the furry feline must have some special traits and temperament. Most cats are born with interesting and amusing personalities, but a therapy cat must have no problem with getting into a vehicle and traveling. It should also be able to adjust well to new environments during the visits. In order to qualify as a registered therapy cat, it must be okay with hugs and attention from strangers. Finally, the cat must not be prone to biting and scratching it a mellow personality is another big plus. It’s one thing for a cat to bring comfort to its owner, but quite another when placed in a setting with one or more strangers.

More research is needed

Ms. Benjamin pointed out that cats have a way of bringing people into the present as they model it in a carefree way. They teach us how to live in the present moment and to let go of the fear of the future. There hasn’t been much work done to determine the usefulness of cats in animal-assisted therapy settings, but it’s something that definitely needs to be pursued. There is a rush to run headlong into animal-assisted therapy situations without the proper research to back the process. While it’s true that some studies show that stroking an animal’s fur or spending time watching them play has positive physiological and psychological effects on some people, there is much more that is still unknown. This type of research is expensive and this is part of the reason why more has not been investigated.

Final thoughts

Those who understand the natural connection between humans and some animals go through the process to have their amazing pets registered as certified therapy animals. Cats are also eligible to apply and it isn’t that they’re taking a back seat to the canines, it’s a matter of not having enough data to support their usefulness in the field, yet.


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