Domestic cat substitutes anti-anxiety medication

Therapy cat Tod with Justine at university

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

This is an interesting and positive cat story that throws up a host of discussion topics and some hurdles.

Justine LaViolette is a student living on campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She suffers from anxiety.

I think she was wise to consider an alternative to anti-anxiety medication especially when the alternative was a cat companion.

There were some hurdles to overcome. Her therapist agreed it was a good idea – a good start. The big hurdle it seems to me was to obtain the agreement of the university to allow her to keep a cat while on campus.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Her therapist presented her client’s case to the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and they approved, which was an enlightened approach.

The university refer to Justine’s cat, Tod, as an ‘assistance animal’. Justine calls Tod her ‘therapy animal’.

The terminology is important because only assistance animals are allowed in residence halls. The terminology; ‘service animal’ is reserved for dogs and horses.

I am probably missing something but this seems to be about semantics.

SSD have to follow the Fair Housing Act in respect of assistance animals. Perhaps they have to use the phrase ‘assistance animal’ because it is in the Fair Housing Act.

Tod was adopted from the Richardson County Humane Society, Falls City; another nice aspect of this story.

Justine sums up nicely the benefits of caring for a cat companion,

“Tod acts as a tether to reality for me, in case I’m feeling overwhelmed,” LaViolette said. “Just having a warm body there in the room with me alleviates some of my dread.”

The other students are generally positive about a cat living at the halls of residence. I would expect one or two though to be against it; there always will be.

Here is the downside for me; Tod must stay in Justine’s room and it must be a small room. Also Justine can’t leave Tod with another student or alone overnight. She has to pay a surcharge and agree to pay for any repairs that might be required due to Tod’s presence.

I love the story and the attitudes of the people involved. It is formal recognition of the benefits of caring for a cat. To substitute medication with a cat might inspire others to do the same. It is far more healthy to avoid anti-anxiety medication if one can.

The mutual benefits are there for all to see; a cat saved from a rescue facility and a person saved from taking long term medications which can be addictive and affect performance.

I also like the idea of a cat ‘working’ in a sense. This is good for the cat’s public profile. Dogs are known to be more useful in terms of serving people so this tells people that cats can do the same work sometimes.

The problems relate to the practicalities of looking after a cat who is confined to a small room while the owner is young and liable to away from her room quite a lot of the time. Tod really is providing a service.

There is probably one last point to make. Justine will probably complete her university degree in three years. At that time she’ll have no other option but to take Tod with her to her next home. I will presume that has all been thought through.

Original story

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

    Definitely choose the cat over the meds.

    Benzodiazepines damage your central nervous system over time in the same way Cipro damaged mine (although that happened quickly.) The withdrawal from Benzo’s (popular anti-anxiety meds) is horrific. People online say it is worse than withdrawing from many illegal drugs and most other legal ones. I’d agree, having been through it, though I never took a Benzo. I seem to be getting better, but my psychological symptoms and insomnia were absolutely horrific.

    If you are on anti-anxiety meds and would like to try cat therapy instead you need a doctor’s help to get off those meds. Trying to quit cold turkey with a severely damaged nervous system could be fatal. Seizures or convulsions are possible and psychosis as well. It’s not a matter of a psychological addiction or needing the drug as a crutch, the drugs actually damage you.

    The sad thing is there are things like Rhodiola Rosea that are very effective for anxiety and do no harm, but doctors don’t even try natural remedies and most would poo-poo the idea of a cat being able to provide real therapy. But then, they probably can’t make as much money from cat therapy or prescribing herbs.

    There is a company out there (I think they’re called Neuroscience) that has actually developed testing for neurotransmitter levels and then provides nutritional support (basically supplements and a few herbs) to improve levels where necessary. I take their CalmPRT since being floxed and it works, but I didn’t do the testing. My doctor told me that their products are very helpful for people who managed to quit drugs like heroin and cocaine, because doing those drugs mess up your neurotransmitter a big time.

    I think humans are too quick to fix every problem with a drug (legal or illegal) and we end up being hurt by that in ways that make our original problems look like nothing. It’s so much better to cope through enjoying nature and spending time with our animal companions.

    • In the UK there is widespread over prescription of mood enhancing drugs and antibiotics by GPs. We all know it and it is accepted. No one has discussed having a cat as an alternative. Walking for 30 mins to an hour every day is as good as drugs in many cases. It seems humans are addicted to instant fixes as much as they are to drugs and the easy route to “happiness”.

  2. NANCY SCHWOPE says:


    • kylee says:

      Exactly Therapy Cats are wonderful. I Guess it depends how Bad the Anxiety is for her. I guess have to make sure the Cat is well Cared for. Well looked after. I dont think pet therapy is enough,For some. It just depends what kind she has got. I think its a great idea. My Cats sure Help me just by touching their Fur. I surely Prob wouldn’t Be as happy without them. Like the saying goes Keep Calm and Hug a Cat xx

    • Nice to read that your sister had 2 therapy cats. Cats provide a sort of hidden or uncelebrated therapy to millions of people daily. Cats should be praised for it.

      • kylee says:

        Exactly Therapy Cats and Dogs are Very beneficial. Especially when other Things havent worked. I know alot of some Kids/adults with Autism having some form of Pet really helps. Like a Calming affect.

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