Can cats help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Yes.

The question is asking whether domestic cats can help a person get over PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). And the answer is going to be a qualified yes. The reason why I have introduced the word “qualified” into the last sentence is because people reading this want hard evidence through a scientific study that cats can help them get over PTSD. This is where people like you and me encounter a problem because historically dogs are used in this kind of study because they’re easier to handle in a study. However animal assisted therapy (AAT) includes cats! And AAT works 😊.

Animal assisted therapy for PTSD
Animal assisted therapy for PTSD. Photo by Enrique Hoyos from Pexels. Note: This image is to illustrate the article. There is no suggestion that this person suffers from PTSD or any other trauma. It’s a nice picture.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The science that I am able to research and discuss here concerns dogs and horses. But, of course, these are both animals and the same principles, under AAT, apply to any domestic animal. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether we are referring to a cat, dog or a horse. So, I will answer the question by saying, yes, cats can help a person get over PTSD but I will refer below to studies concerning dogs.

Study 1

In 2015 a study was conducted in which they reviewed systematically what they describe as Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) for Trauma. In other words they were looking at all the information they could find on animals used as therapy for people suffering from trauma. They found that the most common animal species employed were dogs and horses.

They also found that the studies reviewed were of a poor quality because they employed a “low level of methodological rigour”. The conclusion of this study was that AAI “may provide promise as a complementary treatment option for trauma”. They recommended that more research was carried out.

Sphynx Therapy Cat Piglet
Sphynx Therapy Cat Piglet. Photo in public domain.

Study 2

A scientific magazine online, ACTA Scientific Neurology published an article on 3 March 2019 on animal assisted therapy and trauma survivors. Once again they refer to the effect of dogs with patients. They state that, “The results of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) in the treatment of PTSD patients have seen significant results”. AAT has been found to lower anxiety and increase trust building. Petting a therapy animal releases endorphins making the person feel better. This diminishes pain, depression and loneliness. They refer to petting a dog or a cat (it’s nice to see a cat being referred to) for just a minute initiates the production of oxytocin which is a hormone “that enhances trust, cooperation and love between a parent and their child“.

They also refer to another study in which it was found that owning a companion animal helps the owner to establish a loving relationship and “regain control of their lives and provide them with a sense of safety”.

Study 3

I will refer to another study dated January 1, 2018, published on the National Library of Medicine website (see below). In the abstract (the summary) of this study the scientist suggested that media reports of animal assisted therapy for PTSD can be regarded as case reports and on that basis they found that AAT “can be dramatically effective in improving PTSD symptoms…and [it] may have a role in preventing suicide in patients with PTSD”.

Cat immersion therapy
Cat immersion therapy. Image in public domain.

My conclusion

It doesn’t surprise me that companion animals can help a person manage or overcome PTSD. It doesn’t mean that pet therapy necessarily cures PTSD. I don’t think it does but I am not a scientist or a doctor. However, there is strong evidence that animal therapy alleviates the symptoms and improves the participant’s life. It is recommended, and I’m sure doctors in almost any country would recommend that a patient try it. To anyone who has read this, I would suggest that you contact your doctor and ask them what they think about animal (cat) assisted therapy for PTSD and take their lead. I would be very surprised if they didn’t agree that you should try it. I suspect that drugs of various kinds are less effective and there are side effects with drugs. There will be no side effects in interacting with a beautiful companion animal be they a horse, dog, cat or any other species.

The only regret I have is the one I mentioned namely that although the researchers refer to “animals” and “pets” the research is normally conducted with dogs for the sake of convenience. Although, this does not mean that cats cannot be equally effective.

Note: The third study referred to is: Animal-Assisted Therapy for Post-traumatic stress disorder: Lessons from “Case Reports” in Media Stories by Eric L Altschuler.

P.S. With great sadness it has to said that it is likely that there will be many Ukrainians suffering from PTSD who are still in cellars enduring the unendurable because of Putin’s war crimes. AAT will be useful, I am sure.

Below are some more articles on AAT:

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