Video: ‘Kitten Therapy’ Is Heartwarming, Cute, and Effective

A kitten peers over a young woman's shoulderIf you’ve ever tried to escape the misery of a stressful day by looking at photos of adorable animals, you’re not just procrastinating. In fact, animals offer myriad mental health benefits, so those hilarious photos of ironic cats and clueless dogs you love searching for just might be part of the recipe for a happier life.

To demonstrate the stress-relieving effects of interacting with an animal, SoulPancake developed the first “kitten therapy” room in a recent video. Chronically stressed “patients” enter a glass room, where a recording lulls them into a peaceful state of meditation. And that’s when the kittens make their grand appearance, much to the delight of the previously stressed visitor.

So-called kitten therapy isn’t just a gimmick, though. Scientists are steadily amassing a mountain of data showing surprising—sometimes even unbelievable—benefits to simple interactions with animals.

Pet Owners: Happier and Healthier

When you contemplate how pets can benefit people’s lives, you might think primarily about service animals who are specially trained to complete specific tasks for people who are physically disabled. But a pet can benefit any person’s life.

Some people consider their pets to be emotional support animals and register them as such. Emotional support animals don’t require any special training, and they don’t come with any special privileges or access to public places where pets are not allowed the way service animals do—they simply provide companionship and unconditional love to their owners and may help their owners deal with mental health challenges. One 2011 study, for example, found that pet owners had better self-esteem, better physical fitness, and were less likely to be lonely, fearful, and preoccupied than their peers who did not own pets.

People with depression report being happier after getting a pet, and with good reason. Pets keep their owners active, and can serve as social ice breakers, making it easier to talk to other pet owners at parks and pet stores. They also provide an incentive to get up, get moving, and face the world—a powerful antidote to the isolation people with mental health issues sometimes experience.

Benefits of Animal Interactions

If you’re not up for the costs and time constraints of pet ownership, though, you don’t have to miss out on all the benefits of human-animal interactions, as SoulPancake’s kitten therapy makes clear. Research shows that even a few moments interacting with pets can boost well-being. Children who interact regularly with pets have lower allergy rates, likely because they become desensitized to pet dander.

Teens who participated in a study that allowed them weekly interactions with horses showed higher levels of personal responsibility, improved self-awareness, and better relationship skills. Another study of 40 elderly adults found that dogs could help stave off dementia and, in some participants, improve cognitive skills. 

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Interacting with animals requires little effort, but yields big benefits. It should come as no surprise, then, that animal-assisted therapy is increasingly popular. We tend to think of dogs and horses when we envision animal-assisted therapy, but cats, llamas, and other animals can fill the role too. Pet owners can pursue certification for their dogs and cats to become visitors at nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care facilities where patients report that just a few minutes with an animal can make an entire week better.

Though animals have been used to enhance the physiological, psychological, and social lives of humans for many centuries, the practice of using animals in therapeutic settings has not been widely accepted until recent decades. Many mental health therapists find that using pets as a source of therapy for their clients can enhance therapeutic outcomes. Children, for example, may feel more comfortable telling a dog or cat about a traumatic event, and adults can reap the calming benefits of petting an animal while discussing the stress of everyday life.

If you’re interested in working with your own pet to help others, check out one of the many organizations that offers pet therapy programs. Pet Partners is a nationally recognized organization, and the American Kennel Club maintains a directory of local and national organizations dedicated to preserving human well-being through interactions with animals.

References:

  1. New research findings highlight benefits of human-animal interaction. (2013, July 22). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-07/aw-nrf072213.php
  2. The Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://pleasedontpetme.com/differences.php
  3. The truth about cats and dogs: Pets are good for mental health of ‘everyday people’. (2011, July 11). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/07/cats-dogs.aspx
  4. Townshend, A. (2014, June 20). 5 ways pets benefit your health. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/20/health/pets-health-benefits/
  5. Vormbrock, J. K., & Grossberg, J. M. (1988). Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11(5), 509-517. doi: 10.1007/BF00844843

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  • Julian

    Julian

    November 11th, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    I am a believer in pet therapy if for the only reason that my dog is the only thing that brings a smile to my face some days!

  • andrea o

    andrea o

    November 12th, 2014 at 3:40 AM

    I am curious as to whether everyone would be impacted in such a positive way when using animal therapy or if it was only those who already liked animals. I know that it is hard for me to understand but I know that there are people out there who do not want to have any animals around because they just don’t like them. My mom is like that so I am not sure if this would even be a medium to try on someone like that. I think that for her it would only make her even more stressed out.

  • Freddy

    Freddy

    November 12th, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    The one thing that I have noticed since getting a dog, and I am pretty new at this having a pet thing, this is not something that has always come naturally to me, anyway it has made it easier to have conversations with people. Like when we are out walking, it allows me to be a little more social with other people than what I may have been previously, and not that I initiate conversation but people will with me and then the conversation starts just over them asking about the dog. It’s still a little uncomfortable for me because I am naturally a pretty shy person, but I think that in a lot of ways it has been good for me too.

  • stressmom

    stressmom

    November 13th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    No one can be unhappy around a sweet pup or kitty!

  • LO

    LO

    November 14th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    I think that the reason that most people will respond so well to this is that it feels like when you are with an animal that the love and the attention that they are giving to you is unconditional. It doesn’t matter if you do this or that for them, they are going to try to be by you and make you feel better. That for me is what all of my pets have always been about and I know that there are many others who feel that exact same way. So yeah, I can definitely see how this kind of pet based therapy would truly be good for the soul.

  • cory

    cory

    November 16th, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    Are the effects long tern or just for the moment that the animal is actually engaged in the therapy process?

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