We don’t see a whole lot of news stories about cats who visit sick children in hospitals or help traumatized veterans feel safe in their own skins, not to mention cats who alert their caretakers to an imminent seizure or other medical events. But that doesn’t mean such miracle cats don’t exist — it just means the dogs get all the press. After a lifetime of living with cats and dogs, I’m convinced that cats really are the perfect therapy pets, and here are seven reasons why.
As I lay in my bed this morning while my back throbbed, my cat, Siouxsie, crawled under the blankets, curled up right next to the hip where the pain was the most severe, and started purring. After 15 or 20 minutes of "purr therapy," my back was feeling 100 percent better. This isn’t the first time a cat has offered me this kind of treatment. One day as I was nursing a bad case of food poisoning and my stomach was horrifically sore and I was so nauseous I was drooling, Siouxsie and her sister Sin├®ad lay down on either side of my abdomen and began to purr. I felt better in about an hour. A cat’s purr has a vibration of about 25 cycles per second, which is said to be a frequency that speeds healing.
When you’re in great physical pain, you definitely don’t want some big galumphing galoot of a canine to warm up your broken arm by positioning himself on top of it. An average cat, on the other hand, weighs about 8 to 10 pounds. Sure, there are small dogs, but cats are much more flexible and can maneuver themselves into positions that are comfortable not only for themselves, but for you, too.
Cats are fastidious creatures and spend a great deal of time grooming themselves. This causes them to have a pleasant fresh-cut-hay smell, which is very comfortable when your cat is curled up next to your head helping you cope with your migraine. Sure, dogs can be bathed, and they tend to like baths much more than cats. But if you’re sick, the last thing you want to do is give your dog a bath so you don’t have to bask in the delightful aroma of corn chips or old sweat socks while you’re trying to recover from an illness — especially one that involves nausea.
If you’ve got the flu or you’re having a flare-up of a chronic condition that causes massive fatigue and pain, taking the dog out for a walk can erase all the recovery you’ve made while resting. On the other hand, all a cat needs is a litter box and he’s good to go. Of course, the box needs to be emptied, too, but that task is nowhere near as demanding as taking a dog outside to do his business.
If I’m finally drifting off to sleep through illness or pain, I don’t want to be ripped out of the arms of Morpheus by the frenetic barking of a dog who’s most likely trying to say something like, "The mailman’s here! The school bus just went by! A squirrel is in the yard! And oh, you just have to come and say hi to the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door!"
Sometimes you want love and affection, and sometimes you just want to be left the heck alone. Generally speaking, cats have a better sense of what their people need, and I’d judge that they also have better boundaries than their canine cousins. When your cats decide they’re going to give you affection, you know it’s because they want to, not because they’re trained and bred to do so.
I’m not the only person whose life was saved by a cat who simply refused to give up on me when I’d given up on myself. In the depths of my depression, the last thing I wanted was any kind of physical or emotional connection with anyone — not even my cats. But Sin├®ad and Siouxsie wouldn’t have it: They kept sitting on me, no matter how many times I pushed them away, until I finally gave up resisting them. Even when I couldn’t see anything to love about myself, I could see in their eyes that they saw a lot to love about me. I couldn’t abandon any creature that loved me even when I hated myself.
I don’t mean to diss the dogs — I am "bipetual," even if I’m not currently acting on my dog-owning inclination — but I am a bit tired of cats getting dissed by the tiny percentage of the population that thinks only dogs can be good companions or therapy animals.
Do you think cats are the best therapy animals, like I do? Share your reasons, no matter how serious or silly, in the comments!