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A therapy cat is a cat trained to help ailing humans in a medically beneficial way to take advantage of the human-animal interaction for purposes of relaxation and healing. A therapy cat provides affection and comfort to people in retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, and other human service care facilities.
Therapy cats come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy cat is its temperament. A good therapy cat must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy cats must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. Cats must demonstrate that loud noises and barking dogs do not bother them.
A therapy cat's primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the cat. The cat might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual's lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there. In hospice environments, therapy cats can play a role in palliative care by reducing death anxiety.
Therapy cats have been used as companions to help the recovery and well-being of stroke victims, lower blood pressure, decrease patient anxiety, increase sensory stimulation, ward off depression, inspire a "sense of purpose", and assist teens at juvenile detention centers and children with developmental disabilities and to help children with language, speech and hearing problems. Some nursing homes have therapy cats that are used as companions to their elderly residents. Therapy cats are also sometimes used in hospitals to relax children who are staying there. There have been arguments made that therapy animals can work as well as or better than conventional pharmaceutical medicine for helping people relax, lowering stress levels and blood pressure decreases, causing the heart rate to slow down. According to one report, the cats can help children and teens with special needs to "feel relaxed", and that the human-cat communication is beneficial. One researcher reviewing 25 studies found positive effects of pets on patients in nursing homes, and found evidence that the animals helped patients be more alert, smile more often, and that the presence of the pets helped physically aggressive patients to calm down and allow other humans to be near them.
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