The Therapeutic Effect of Cats

The Therapeutic Effect of Cats

A Story by Gwen

This is an evaluative essay about the therapeutic effects of cats to people. It does not have a targeted audience, though it leans in favor of cat lovers, and it is mostly a cultural evaluation.


The therapeutic effect of cats to humans is something undeniable and traceable through history. It can be seen as far back in ancient times when cats were so beloved, they were assigned as sacred animals to many deities in several religions, past or present. It can be seen in the testimonials of therapy animals, as well as through a wealth of stories shared in the communities frequented by cat lovers. It can also be scientifically proven, in the case of cats’ purrs. It can be traced through a massive wealth of pop culture and humor that has existed since the days when comics ruled supreme, and which has spread to the internet in recent years. Not all people find the presence of cats therapeutic, and yes, there are threads in the history of cat to human relationships that are to those cat-haters equally unpleasant as cat lovers find them pleasant. Even cat lovers, though, find a huge part of their joy in cats in the masochism of owning the animals.  It is one reason why it makes its way into the parody humor of the modern era: it is hilarious nonetheless, and having a community full of it brings feelings of kinship and understanding. But those unpleasant threads have never been stronger than the love that cats give to, and have showered upon them by, their humans. The emotional and psychological effect of cats may not be measurable by anything but the results and the common threads that lie in them, but they are still the primary living, thriving line. It is probably impossible to summarize and identify the therapeutic benefit of cats on culture and history without looking at records and proofs that are not factual, but instead experiential and therefore subjective: the only way that such an emotional, intuitive, proud creature and its impact can be properly understood. A textbook and scientific evaluation will not give but a skeleton of what cats can and have done for humanity; experience and analogy are necessary to truly comprehend.


The religious affiliation of cats, as well as their presence in folklore and legends, is easily traceable throughout history. The Ancient Egyptians considered cats holy animals and worshipped them through goddesses such as Bast-Mut and Sekhmet, and that is nearly common knowledge amongst cat lovers now. Freyja, Norse goddess of beauty, love, fertility, and battle, whose battle chariot was drawn by two large black or grey cats, is less known, as is the role of the cat as guardian of the Otherworld in Celtic lore (with the exception of black cats, which were considered evil). In Japan, Maneki Neko are considered lucky, and though favouring them started within the last couple centuries, it is based off of old talismanic practices. You can trace cats in history through Islamic, Hindu, Polish, Greek, Native American, Abrahamic, and varied South American religions and folklores, as well. A significant number of these tales, especially religious associations, were positive: Freyja, Bast-Mut, Maneki Neko, and a Hindu goddess named Shashthi are prime examples; all of these goddesses were well beloved by their followers.


To further understand the implications of the impact of cats on the peoples, one should look at the sources of religion and folklore, especially in centuries past when the answers of how and why the world works that we have today did not exist. They were times when convenience did not exist, life was hard and bloody, where medicine was around but not advanced and therefore where only the strong survived-especially in climates which get cold in the dark seasons. They would look for any comfort they could, find any joy they could, lest they succumb to the depressing nature of life, which inevitably results in death.  In some places, cats were mere mousers kept around a house or barn to keep the pests away, but in some of those same places, places where stories and theatrics were used to brighten the times, stories were created. It can be reasonably inferred that cats made a significant and strong positive impact on the people of the times to be so revered, so written of, and attached to beloved deities and figures as they often were.


In the modern day, metaphorical “worship” of cats can be seen commonly still. Recent religious and literary figures, as well as any number of other famous names, have been heard quoting the cat. Mark Twain, Jules Verne,the Dalai Lama, James Herriot, Ernest Hemmingway, St. George Mivart, Arthur Bridges, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, Colette, Winston Churchill, Rodney Dangerfield, and Abraham Lincoln are some. There exists any number of quotes named proverbs that relate to cats. Some are not referenced, but there are many whose cultures ARE-amongst them, Chinese, French, English, Native American, and Morroccan. There is even a powerful inscription found inside the royal tombs at Thebes: “Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of Gods, the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed…the Great Cat”.


There are an endless number of cartoons, comics, and blogs (many of which expand into books, as there are still very many people who like to hold a paper book despite the convenience of e-books and tablets) which illustrate very, very many of the common and mundane but much beloved qualities and traits of cats, their humans, and the life lived by both house cat and their human alike. Garfield, a well-known character and comic started by Jim Davies, has been around since 1976, originally describing the life of a lazy, snarky, fat cat and his human. It has expanded from a comic alone into a vast enterprise, and now merchandise such as books, clothing, and accessories can be found, and it has even been made into a movie. Garfield is not the only one, though it is now considered a classic in terms of modern cat pop culture. Others include Simon’s Cat-an English series of short films and then a comic strip and game about the frustrating but endearing things living with cats comes with, in the fashion of lovely dry British humor and Cat Versus Human-an American web-comic and books detailing the hazards of being a Crazy Cat Lady in deceivingly casual wit.


What is perhaps the most curious and most apparently addictive (and, therefore, widespread) branch of feline pop culture is the phenomena called “cat macros” and “lolcats”. These are pictures of cats-usually, but not always, amusing in and of themselves-accompanied by brief captions (almost always with incorrect grammar and spelling) that serve to further the amusement of the viewer/reader. “Caturday” is a beloved weekly event amongst the frequenters of these forums, websites, and locales, in which the areas explode with mass influx of new cat macros and lolcats to freshen the amusement of the feline lovers. Favorite “characters” include Basement Cat and Ceiling Cat, which serve as parallels to the Devil and God (and which are, respectively, black or white). There are often comparisons to Spy vs. Spy, and cheeseburgers (always spelled “cheezburger”, or closely so) and “lazurs” (the nickname for the reflective surface of the cat’s eye when the camera flash meets it) are favourite references in captions. The most visually stimulating pictures are considered the most ideal for captioning, though others are considered equally useable. Kittens are also highly sought after, and lolcats and cat macros are often made to enhance perceived cuteness of them (and add humor to it).


Cat macros and lolcats are, given the condensed and basic humor used in making them, the best specific focus to scrutinize if one wants to understand the most of the connection between humor, cats, their seeming insanity and strangeness, and the therapeutic effect of them. The comics above are also good sources for understanding this, but for those that do not understand the often irrational love for the creatures that cat lovers have, it may prove difficult-the comics focus largely on the contradictory and often frustrating parts of owning a cat and turn it into humor. Those are the precise reasons that those who are not fans of cats, have formed the opinion they have, and so it is not the best choice. Lolcats and cat macros, however, are purely sources of humor and endorphins, created solely for entertainment and the “feel good”, cuddly, warm feelings that many associate with kittens and cats, and with subject matter that is little else (and certainly rarely a parody of the unpleasant parts of cat ownership), very often.  It is rarely mentioned in the communities themselves, this nature and primary function of lolcats and cat macros-the majority of the viewers of which seek them out for “therapy”, for precisely the emotions they bring out. It is not mentioned, because it is not considered that it needs to be: the immediate effect of the content, to newcomers and to veterans of the pages, is so obvious and so deep that it doesn’t need to be said. The combination of visual stimuli and foolish but very theoretically feline commentary induces a very intense positive effect. It is rare that a cat lover comes away from a website such as or in a poor mood.


This does, however, lead to the more literal therapeutic effect of cats on humans. This is a branch of the effect of cats on humans that people do not speak of alone, and which they seek out like minds and communities to speak on. The effect can be and often is profound, deeply emotional, and often so intense that the memories alone can overwhelm. Emotions such as these are difficult for many people to embrace, but as they are ones that are happy, and pleasant to remember (even if there was pain to be healed). The community of like minds provides a safety net for those to converse and open up about their experiences, assured of understanding and comprehension, of freedom from judgement, and of support.


In the cases often found after injury or illness is healed from, or after a beloved cat has passed and therefore in memory of the creature, one can look to communities such as the one found around Homer The Blind Wonder Cat. He was a blind cat with an inspirational story whose book became a best seller and whose legacy pioneered the way for special needs cats internationally. The community on Facebook has become a place which is primarily a hub for sharing stories of beloved cats, special needs and otherwise. There are eulogies posted, stories of kittens, stories of adult cats, and stories of their owners. These are usually written by the owners of the kitties, from the perspective of the cat, as has seemingly become traditional when writing to Homer-it is from cat to cat. The more touching the story, the better (though all are welcome!) and there is never a lack of sympathy, compassion, love, giggles, or support as needed in the responses to all the posts. The international comfort and optimism and love brought to so many from this one cat and his human mom is amazing and wide stretched.


There are many places like this that exist, not all of them real-time social hubs. Cat quote books, such as Cat Cuties by Karen Prince, are considered coffee table books and kept by many but not often read. They contain phrases, proverbs, quotes, and snippets about cats by a wide expanse of famous persons, cultures, religions, and religious figures, almost always accompanied by adorable or amusing pictures of the animals to which they refer. Other books, such as Chicken Soup For The Cat Lover’s Soul, are compilations of stories and testimonies about the creatures. They can be humorous, painful, feel-good, touching, or of a variety of other tones, but they are all meant to function as “chicken soup for the soul” (as the series by the same name suggests) through the mode of literature, which has a strong historical pattern of doing just that.


Therapy cats also exist and provide immense help. They are not nearly as common as dogs, with their personalities not being considered regular enough to handle the commute and high-stimuli environments that they would be working in. But those few that can fit the profile do marvellous things. There is one such cat named Scooter, who in recent years was named ASPCA cat of the year. His back legs were paralyzed as a kitten, and his human (who is also a veterinarian) takes him for weekly visits to a nearby hospital, where he travels with his hind legs in a little set of wheels strapped around his middle. He has a profound effect with all patients, but especially those who find their ability to walk challenged by injury or illness.


The most poignant effect, however, is in daily life with cats. That immeasurable and indefinable treasure, unseen to the public eye and only written about by those likeminded souls, is the simple love of a cat. The creatures seem to inherently know when their owners are not in a normal state of mind, and when that state of mind is one that can be mended by comfort. Not all cats have the personalities to actually wish to cuddle with their owners in these times or any, but VERY many do. Even those cats which are generally not as affectionate will often at times come up to their human for physical contact. The comfort and benefit from one’s cats and their affection and love for one is immeasurable, scientifically, but the results can be plainly seen. Cat lovers are happier, more relaxed, and less stressed than other people. The percentages of this when echoed in animal therapy can be easily measured, the increases being massive. According to an analysis of 83 written patient testimonials of animal assisted therapy done by the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, of which 18 were discarded due to irrelevance, there was an 85% increase in relaxation, and a 49% reduction in pain. There was a 29% positive attitude increase as well. The percentages of this when referring to everyday life? That is not measureable, but I believe it can be safely inferred by the testimonials, stories, shared experiences, and communities of cats out there that the everyday life of a cat person is extraordinarily bettered by that relationship.


The scientific reason for this therapeutic effect is in the purring. The vibrations range of a cat’s purr is between 20 and 140Hz, which is a frequency already proven to be medically therapeutic. There are other various studies that support proof that cat owners have a 40% lower chance of heart attack, lower blood pressure, and lower stress. Other studies support positive effects of purring such as a decrease in symptoms of dysponea in both cats and humans, and aid in healing infections, swelling, bones, and soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments). It is probable that the psychosomatic effect of a cat is increased over time, as the human becomes accustomed to the positive effect of the creature and anticipates a repeat of it. This makes the person more receptive to the effect, pre-emptively happy at the thought-very similar to the processes in the brain that learn to anticipate anything else appealing or pleasant, such as favourite foods or favourite past-times and hobbies. The depth and extent of this is really best understood when viewed directly. It is difficult to grasp the full impact of a cat until you see a person miserable or simply neutral, approached by a loving cat, and see the effect on their face, to their emotions, and to their state of mind. There are few words capable of fully expressing the completeness of such an effect, especially if you are a cat person yourself.


For reasons both scientific and experiential, the therapeutic effect of the cat is profound, undeniable, and ancient. It has been seen in religion, it has been seen in folklore, it has been seen in culture, and it has transformed and persisted into the common day. It has added to its ranks pop culture, humor, and medical benefit. The creatures, and the feeling and positive effect that they bring to their loved ones is undeniable, well-loved, and famous- so far as any cat lover is concerned, for very good reason.

© 2014 Gwen

Author's Note

As I have received instructions from my English professor to receive reviews on my work, I would strongly appreciate constructive criticism regarding whether or not the goal of my essay (to successfully and clearly communicate the information that was delivered) was successful. I would also appreciate feedback regarding the construction of the essay itself: articulation, eloquence, grammar, spelling, turn of phrase, etc.

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I really like your clear writing and detailing, very much enjoyed it:) hope you can check out of my stories and give me your opinion.keep up the good work:)

Posted 8 Years Ago

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Added on April 28, 2014
Last Updated on April 28, 2014
Tags: cats, essay, college, healing, evaluation




Hello! I'm Gwen, a massage therapist and Fine Arts major and occasional hobby writer. Some of what I write are short stories of personal or fan fiction, some of them are essays for college or for the .. more..