When we hear about cat therapy, we might think of a scholarly cat, seated upright and wearing bifocals, scribbling notes on a clipboard as a human reclines on a couch and recounts her problems. And that may not be far from the truth.
The fact is, cats are therapy animals. In September, a report in The New York Times focused on the growing acceptance of cats as stress-busting therapy animals. It also said scientists were calling for more research to determine whether cats could serve well in such a role.
The outcome of the experiment is already well known (possibly for centuries) because it has been conducted a million times before. Now, I know I am no Madame Curie, but I also know that this scientific endeavor has been performed in my home every day! And, likely, yours too.
You’ve had a stressful day at the office, slogged through a long commute, and finally get home. You sit down on the couch, turn on the TV, and watch talking heads report on the day’s disturbing news. And then guess who comes along to sit beside you on the couch, purring softly as her silky fur brushes against your skin? Cats can be so loving, sweet, and cuddly that their unique manner of showing affection, emphasized with head butts and nudges, is just about the best therapy there is.
Sometimes a little cabernet helps, too. But even a teetotaler knows that felines trump just about any comfort food or beverage on any given day.
There’s no better anti-anxiety drug. And they need not be the cats in your home. For those of you caring for outdoor cats, you know how enjoyable and peaceful it can be to interact with and observe community cats who share their habitat with other felines. Their fascinating interaction with each other and with people can be a relaxing—and therapeutic—way of winding down.
It’s good to know science is catching up to the empirical data we’ve all experienced up close and in person.
A recent study led by scientists at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California-Davis looked at interactions between family house cats and kids experiencing autism. The research found that cats in families with a child with autism-spectrum disorder often provided valuable bonding, attention and calming effect to the child, according to The Times article.
In addition, James Serpell, Ph.D., a professor of ethics and animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and director of its Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, attributed some of animals’ ability to successfully serve as therapeutic healers to a hormone called oxytocin.
“Physical contact with something warm and fuzzy and soft is a good trigger” for oxytocin release, Serpell told The Times.
Amen to that! If you’re like me, you’re glad to offer yourself for as a lab subject for any study researching the therapeutic effects of cats on people.