Do Cats Help With Anxiety?

sleeping cat in womans armsThere are many stories out there today of cats helping their owners overcome difficulties or challenges with their mental health. In fact, many cat owners are convinced that their cat knows when they are anxious or experiencing high amounts of stress and will act accordingly to comfort them.

However, it is often wondered if these behaviors by your cat during times of high anxiety are coincidental or because your cat genuinely wants to help you feel better as they sense changes in your mood.

Below, we discuss the many benefits of owning cats and some studies that back up how cats help may with anxious or stressed moods. We’ll also give you a rundown of some signs that indicate your cat is attempting to comfort you and information on whether or not your cat can be used as a therapy animal to help combat anxiety symptoms.

The Benefits of Cat Ownership

There are many research studies out there today that indicate cats bring significant health benefits to their owners. One particular Australian study published in 2015 indicated that cat owners had greater psychological health, including a reduction in the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, than those who don’t own cats.

Another study suggested a correlation between cat ownership and more competent handling of stressful situations; in the study, the owner’s heart rates and blood pressure remained healthier when presented with stressful scenarios than those who did not have cats.

With regards to helping anxiety, it has been shown that the presence of a purring cat can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, decrease feelings of stress, and release the hormone oxytocin in your brain, something that helps to reduce your overall anxiety, stress, and feelings of panic. Cats may also act as reliable companions for their owners, with their presence and helpful, healing purr allowing them to provide comfort and routine, greatly decrease signs of anxiety, and provide something to rely on during moments of anxious moods.

All of this is to say that yes, cats can help you with anxiety and with controlling stressful or panicked moods. In the case of mental health disorders, a cat, when combined with proper therapeutic attention, can support you through the symptoms of anxiety and help provide relief.

Signs That Your Cat Is Attempting to Comfort You

There are a few signs to look out for that may indicate your cat is trying to comfort you when they pick up on an anxious or stressed mood. They usually detect this by picking up on visual and auditory clues such as crying, anxious motion, or pacing.

  • Your cat may quietly sit close to you or gaze at you
  • Your cat may insist on snuggling up with you wherever you are or allow themselves to be held and cuddled
  • Your cat may sit on you or near you
  • Your cat may present you with their favorite toys in an attempt to distract you or cheer you up

It is still unknown why cats make attempts to relieve anxiety in their owners, but limited scientific studies and first-hand accounts from owners seem to indicate that this is their intention. Their reasoning may be that your anxiety or stress makes them feel stressed themselves, and they want to return you to a peaceful, happy baseline.

Your cat may also enjoy the positive attention they get from being near you when you are anxious, such as cuddles, hugs, and playtime, and start to recognize the visual or auditory clues that come along with anxiety; they will then move towards you during these times in order to receive the attention they want that serves a dual purpose of calming you.

Can Cats Be Therapy Animals?

woman holding cat on shoulder

Cats can certainly be therapy animals, though your cat is unlikely to be classified as a service animal. This is because service animals are trained to help their owner relieve a specific mental health or chronic condition by performing certain trained tasks, such as fetching items or interrupting negative behaviors.

Cats are often not able to be trained to complete these tasks, nor are they equipped with the size and dexterity needed for these tasks, which is why they are often categorized as emotional support animals (ESAs) instead.

Emotional support animals are therapy animals that help their owners out by providing comfort during periods of low moods, stress, or anxiety. They may comfort their owner with their presence or provide a distraction as the owner works to find relief from their anxious moods and the symptoms that come along with them.

Over time, your ESA cat can help to provide consistent comfort and support that allows you to regain relief from anxiety or other mental health conditions; ESAs are especially beneficial when combined with proper medical treatment for any condition you may have.

Why Register Your Cat as an ESA

If you own a cat that calms your anxiety already or are considering adopting a cat to calm your anxiety, you may want to register them as an emotional support animal. This will allow you to bring your cat with you into living spaces that are pet-free and avoid any pet deposits.

Having a registered emotional support animal can be beneficial as it helps you to go about your daily life with your cat as your companion to help you relieve anxiety. More information on registering your cat as an ESA can be found here.

Where Can You Adopt a Cat to Help With Anxiety?

Fortunately, adopting a cat is fairly easy. You can visit local rescue organizations, animal shelters, or even cat cafes to select a cat. Make sure to take your time before adopting an animal and choose one that you feel a bond with and that will fit into your lifestyle (for example, adopt an older cat if you want a pet with a developed personality and no surprises, or adopt a playful one if keeping your cat entertained will distract you from your anxiety).

You may also adopt a cat from a breeder, but this is often much more expensive. If you do decide to go this route, make sure you use a reputable breeder that puts the animals’ needs first.

At first, your cat may need some time to get adjusted to their new home. Allow them to settle in and play with them or spend time with them often to start building the bond between the both of you. This alone can start to help reduce symptoms of anxiety by providing a distraction and a constant companion.

Over time, the bond between you and your cat will strengthen, and they can start to pick up on your emotional cues, allowing them to provide you with extra comfort during times of anxiety.

Reducing Anxiety With the Help of Your Cat

Many cat owners can attest to the fact that their cat helps them out and provides comfort in times of negative moods, stress, or periods of anxiety. Scientific studies have backed up these accounts, as cat ownership has been shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and overall stress levels in the body.

So, the next time you feel anxious, turn to your cat for a play session or a simple, quiet moment of cuddling them and benefiting from their comforting purr.