A National Center for Biotechnology Information study found that spending time with an animal can increase the hormone oxytocin. Sometimes called the “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin increases pet owners’ sense of well-being. In addition, playing with a pet can increase serotonin and dopamine levels, two chemicals key in regulating mood disorders such as depression.
.. the fact that cats are more independent and individual than dogs is actually the very reason they make for such valuable therapy animals.
.. “We actually find dogs kind of limiting. The fact that dogs are so accepting and non-judgemental is really good and helpful in the beginning of therapy,” says Linda Chassman, co-founder and executive director of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado. “But it’s not very realistic when you’re trying to help a client who has social skills issues or who has anxiety, problems in the family, communication issues, [or] boundary issues. The dog just kind of puts up with bad behavior, whereas the cat won’t.”
.. While working with severely traumatized children, Chassman’s cat Norman got involved in the process. Through learning what behaviors Norman wouldn’t tolerate — such as rough housing or yelling — the children began to understand how to interact in a healthy relationship.
Like humans, cats won’t tolerate all behavior, making them useful mirrors to human interaction.
.. “They have enough interest in people, but can also assert themselves. And they have quiet dignity,” Chassman says. “They won’t let people walk on them. … I just think they’re wonderful role models for good relationships.”
.. relationship role modeling can play out in couples and family therapy when clients observe how the cat reacts to what’s happening in the room:
“If you have a cat in the room, when there starts to be a fight or the tension starts to rise, it is going to get up and want to leave, or is going to at least pick its head up and signal that it’s getting uncomfortable. It’s really easy to watch the cat’s behavior and say, ‘That’s interesting, what did the cat just do?’… And then you can say, ‘Let’s see if we can have this same conversation and have the cat in the room. Let’s see if we can talk about this in a way that allows the cat to go back to sleep.’”
.. Cats aren’t just helpful for mirroring couple and family dynamics; they are also critical in helping people who struggle with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety learn about emotional regulation.
.. having clients strive to get a cat to purr can make all the difference. Unique to cats, not only does purring provide a tangible goal for emotional regulation, it has its own health benefits as well.
.. “[Scientists] discovered that the purring frequency of cats is a hertz rate that is equal to what they call the gamma waves, which are the meditation waves,”
.. Cats also fulfill the human need for touch, especially for those whose mental illness prevents them from easily forming attachments with other people. Contrary to popular belief, cats can be affectionate and attached to their humans as well.
.. There were nights where I wouldn’t realize I was crying in my sleep and I would wake up to him licking my tears. He was my bridge back into the human world, because he kept me from shutting down altogether.