Cats can be good therapy, study shows

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Universities implementing animal-assisted interventions like “Pet Your Stress Away” events has proven benefits. While more than 85%  only include dogs, a new paper published in the journal Anthrozoös supports using therapy cats as well.

student petting therapy dog on campus
Students getting the opportunity to pet a therapy dog at East Carolina University.

therapy dog

Researchers at Washington State University explored the level of interest in adding cats to the interventions, plus how human characteristics may influence that interest. The researchers surveyed more than 1,400 university students and staff for the paper from over 20 universities.

Cat people and dog people

University interventions might currently tend to be dog-focused because of a common view that cats may be unsuitable for therapy roles,  said co-author Patricia Pendry, a professor in Washington State University’s Department of Human Development.

In previous studies where results weren’t divided into different animal species, Pendry said it was easy to tell cat people from dog people.

“Some people came in and made an immediate beeline for cats and others for dogs,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were interested in interacting with cats, which made me interested in learning more about why they made those choices.”

While cats might be considered aloof by some, many know that a petting a cuddly cat can be a relaxing experience for both human and cat

Having the option of being able to choose an interaction with a cat or dog, or both, may increase the number of people interested in attending an animal-assisted intervention. In turn, these interventions are shown to lower stress and make people feel better.

“Our study shows that we may be able to reach a larger audience by offering interventions that include dogs and cats,” Pendry said.

Benefits of therapy cats:

The research not only indicated an interest by students and employees in interacting with cats. The researchers also noted that “engaging cats in AAIs may provide a way to incorporate interventions that need less extensive training – which is the case when credentialling dog teams.”

Researchers also suggest that people with “more emotional personalities might express greater responsiveness toward cat visitation programs,” than others because  they are likely to be more willing to form an attachment bond with a companion animal.

The paper’s authors state that suitability from an animal well-being perspective should be considered first and foremost: “It is important to conduct rigorous temperament assessments by qualified professionals to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals involved.”


Featured image from: Eight Great Cat Quotes


  1. I love your artwork with the cat, dog & Christmas tree! Do you have that posted anywhere I could buy it?

  2. Our blogging pal Summer is a tremendous Therapy Cat and visits hospitals, nursing homes and college campuses. South Carolina is anti-cat too and only permits therapy dogs.

    • That’s great to know about Summer! I love that idea of not only visiting colleges, but also hospitals and nursing homes.

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