What Are Therapy Cats?

In the last few years, therapy animals have become increasingly popular. The idea of getting emotional support from a pet is becoming increasingly accepted. While therapy dogs are not new, therapy cats are just gaining popularity. Discover what therapy cats do and why they're so essential to the people they help.
What Are Therapy Cats?

In the last few years, therapy animals have become increasingly popular. The idea of getting emotional support from a pet is becoming increasingly accepted. While therapy dogs are not new, therapy cats are just gaining popularity. Discover what therapy cats do and why they're so essential to the people they help.

What Does a Therapy Cat Do?

a woman wearing stripes long sleeves hugging a cat

While cats can't be certified for rescue operations or in-service capacities like dogs, they successfully provide peaceful companionship. Anyone who has spent a night with a great book and a feline on their lap knows the serene benefits of having a purring furball nearby.

A therapy cat is any cat trained to provide mental, medical, or physical assistance to humans in need. Typically, these pets are relied on for emotional support and provide comfort to people with impairments or disorders. Therapy cats are trained to be tolerant and calm during their companion's anxious periods or medical emergencies.

Nursing homes, colleges, and other treatment centers often employ therapy felines to care for children, older people, or those with impairments. Others follow the paw prints established by therapy cats in more public environments. Pioneering cats such as Xeli at the Denver International Airport, Stitches at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Terminal and Duke Ellington at the UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco show how much happiness and relaxation-friendly felines give.

What's the Distinction Between a Therapy Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?

a top shot of two cats inside a brown cat bed

The significant distinctions between therapy and an emotional support animal are 1) training and 2) who the pet helps. A therapy cat is trained to visit public places to help various individuals; an emotional support cat only supports their owner.

Therapy pets do not have any special permissions other than those of regular pets. For example, no legislations allow you to take your therapy animal to a restaurant, resort, or work environment with you. So if you have a therapy-trained feline, it is wise to schedule visits with community facilities beforehand and get authorization to bring your registered therapy pet.

Depending on the owner's condition, emotional support cats can be admitted in some public locations in some states. If you have an emotional support cat, it's best to check with local government agencies to see what legislations say in your area.

When it comes to service animals that help a person with a disability, only dogs (and some miniature horses in specific situations) can do that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Can Therapy Cats Help Their Companions?

a woman wearing plaid carrying a cat on their shoulder walking on the woods

The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) reports that contact with cats has comparable therapeutic benefits to contact with dogs (minus the adorable sloppy damp kisses). Some of the benefits are as follows:

  • Better heart health;
  • Lowered stress and anxiety levels;
  • A stronger body and immune system;
  • Lower symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood and behavioral problems;
  • Lessened feelings of loneliness and heightened ability to develop social connections.

Furthermore, HABRI mentions that people who interact with animals laugh more! Laughing increases "feel good" brain chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin.

How Can I Get a Therapy Cat?

a woman hugging a cat

Therapy cats must be trained and certified. Some organizations help prepare and certify therapy animals, like cats. If you wish to get a therapy cat but don't yet own one, you can adopt a mild-mannered kitten because they're more likely to adjust to the training easier.

A prescription from a physician for an emotional support animal (ESA) may be needed to ensure that you can house and bring your therapy cat with you. Otherwise, your therapy cat may just be permitted to supply support in areas where they are employed.

Check local legislation and regulations to ensure felines are legally acceptable as emotional support or therapy animals. This way, you can ensure they are protected by the Fair Housing Act, which permits you to live with emotional support animals even in places with no-pet policies.

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