Cat therapy, an anti-stress treatment with your feline
Cat therapy is a traditional treatment against the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and low mood with the help of domestic cats. The use of this type of therapy based on the company that these small domestic felines provide can help improve physical and mental health and quality of life in general, through the friendly interaction between the cat and the person.
The positive thing about cat therapy is precisely its simplicity: it is based on the company that the cat and the person offer each other and the way in which they interact.
The cat: discovering its personality and its ‘anti-stress properties’
The cat is a very autonomous animal, as is the case with other felines. Their bond with the owners of the house is based on a kind of pact of mutual respect. The company of a cat, unlike what happens with most psychotropic drugs, contributes to achieving good levels of relaxation without the side effect of losing contact with reality or certain levels of consciousness. Petting a cat can reduce stress as well as lower blood pressure and heart rate.
For its part, the characteristic purr of the cat (sound that the feline emits when it is comfortable and safe) has a positive effect on people’s mood, promoting good humor and providing confidence and security. The signs of affection that the cat provides us also have a positive effect on our psyche, helping convalescent patients to cope with their situation thanks to their simple presence.
Mental health, cat therapy, and some facts
The benefits of cat therapy in people with some type of physical or mental disability or with some kind of emotional or mental disorder have been studied. For example, among disorders associated with dementia (Alzheimer’s), autism, Down syndrome, ADHD, and behavioral disorders in children and in mood disorders, the benefits seem clear.
In the United States, several studies revealed that patients with heart disease reported a better and faster progression if they lived with a feline, thus increasing the survival rate one year after having suffered an acute episode such as a heart attack (Friedmann and Thomas, 1995).
People who live with cats at home have a lower chance of dying from a heart attack.
This was the conclusion reached by several researchers led by A. Baun from Nursing Research.
In the case of living with dogs, the same protective effect was not reported, possibly due to the daily care that dogs require: dog owners had close to average probabilities.
Cats are employed as part of therapy by various national associations and foundations dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with severe mental disorders. In autistic children, for example, the therapy cat has different positive effects. Obviously, the cat cannot cure severe psychopathology, but it has been observed that the contact of the sick with the felines brings them good doses of happiness, returns the smile, especially to those who suffer from a rather lonely life.
The case of the elderly who live in nursing homes is also especially positive when it comes to the benefits of living with cats. Different studies indicate that daily contact with an adorable cat, who can be challenged, caressed, and cared for, can help the elderly to verbalize her emotions and feelings, as well as their childhood memories. Stimulating their memory and expressing anecdotes and stories from their past life is something really important in patients with senile dementia or Alzheimer’s because this mental gymnastics is a basic factor when it comes to delaying the degeneration of neuronal quality, responsible for the progressive loss of memory. The tactile sense, being able to caress the cat and notice the purr of him when he is happy stimulates some nerve endings that evoke memories.
Feline company, always welcome
Many specialists recommend to people who live alone the company of a cat. In addition to the positive aspects in mental health that the small felines offer fundamental in cat therapy, cats do not require great care, compared to, for example, dogs. Living with a cat also helps us understand ourselves better and accept ourselves as we are: cats do not judge us, they do not differentiate between handsome and ugly or rich and poor; they only receive affection and return it in their own way, in a completely natural way, and without artifice.
Families living close to a cat also achieve some psychological benefits, since they encourage and reinforce communication between parents and children and between siblings. This is one of the positive aspects of cat therapy. In addition, family living with animals teaches children to take responsibility for certain tasks, to respect and love other species, and this results in the reinforcement of calm, relaxed, and stress-relieving attitudes.