Despite the popularity of dogs as therapy animals (and, yes, sometimes even dolphins!), therapy cats can also be amazingly powerful when it comes to providing a warm and comforting presence to those who are ill or suffering from psychological distress.
Cats have consistent demeanors, kneading paws, and purring that is soothing and almost meditative in nature. Nevertheless, they are known for being somewhat persnickety in personality when it comes to how they are touched and handled. Yes, they are more independent and usually less expressive than dogs, so the jury is still out as to what cat breeds are the best therapy pets.
Therapy Cat Traits
According to petcarefacts.com, a therapy cat should enjoy being held and handled and exhibit some form of patience, ease and gentleness under all situations. They should be willing to have strangers pet them and even hug them without becoming irritable.
Certainly personalities in cats vary, but there are a few breeds that seem to have the traits consistent with what is required of therapy cats:
Typically less high-strung than purebreds, these felines are less finicky, a bit more affectionate, docile and relatively low-maintenance. These are great qualities to have when working with the elderly who are struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s or even assist with children dealing with social fears, speech impediments or challenges expressing themselves.
These are snuggly and affectionate cats! As their name suggests, they tend to go limp when picked up and love to just spend the day quietly on their human’s lap. Even when surrounded by children and groups of people, Ragdolls tend to maintain a calm demeanor and are well-suited to assist therapy patients.
What a socialite, this breed! They love to be the center of attention. Intelligent, outgoing and willing to interact with humans, this breed is comfortable around strangers and also make for fun loving house mates. They love affection but are not the type to just sit on a lap for hours.
Such an inquisitive nature makes this breed quite engaging. Their low body temperature encourages them to enjoy being held close and are known for their loyal disposition to their owners, even following them room to room like a dog.
The American Shorthair
This cat has an amazingly balanced temperament and is pretty good-natured, especially patient with children. Because this cat develops a strong attachment to his owners, he can provide a nurturing presence and much comfort.
What other breeds of cats do you think would make great therapy pets?
As a postscript to this story, a member of our Facebook community, Suzanne MacDougall, shared this picture of her Ragdoll cat, Coco. Coco is a certified therapy cat that has been visiting hospice patients for 7 years!