Evidence suggests cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Evidence suggests cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Evidence suggests cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
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Evidence suggests cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Evidence suggests cats help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
There’s growing evidence that cats can help alleviate anxiety, depression and loneliness associated with PTSD.

Evidence suggests cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Admittedly, most research has centered on dogs, but there’s no reason other pets, including cats, would not be great companions because the unconditional love factor is huge when it comes to anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Paws addressed this subject in an article written for a national pet magazine, and we wanted to revisit the subject because it is an important topic, one that impacts the millions dealing with PTSD.

We had first-hand experience with cats helping a dear friend with PTSD, and that’s what lead us to doing the research for the article. It wasn’t all that easy to find anything about cats helping people with PTSD.
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This subject is particularly timely With the release of the movie Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) featuring the bond between Marine Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) with a particularly aggressive dog, Rex. She trains him, and they complete more than 100 missions. An IED explosion injures them and puts their fate in jeopardy.This blog post is for informational and educational purposes, and is not designed to replace medical advise offered by your physician.

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Our research took us to Cheryl A Krause-Parello, associate professor and director, C-P.A.W.W. (Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded  Warriors) at the University of Colorado, Denver, saying while there are numerous studies correlating the benefits of pets to people with PTSD, there is insufficient funding to sponsor well-designed clinically controlled trials needed to provide the hard-core medical scientific evidence to prove it.

She suggested we speak with Nora Mund, a Marine injured while serving in Afghanistan, then working as a research assistant at C.P.A.W.W. as she was one of the hands-on person doing the research. Mund told us that dogs, with their keen sense of smell, are helpful to people with PTSD, because they can be trained much more quickly. They can be trained to tune into when someone is going to have nightmares or a flashback.

Benefits of pets to people with PTSD

Other benefits of pets to people with PTSD include:

  • When you are tuned into the pet, the focus is on the pet, not your fears.
  • Companion animals help people stay in the present.
  • If the pet is calm, that flashback probably is not real.
  • Pets can be trained to wake people from nightmares.

The numbers of those with PTSD are staggering with some saying it’s almost an epidemic.

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    • My friend Mike is one of the 31 percent of veterans that served in Vietnam diagnosed with PTSD.
    • From 11 to 20 percent  of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom).
    • Up to 10 percent of Gulf War Desert Storm veterans are affected by PTSD.
    • It’s not just veterans – any person who has gone through a trauma can be affected, especially those subjected to rape or domestic violence.

    While depression, anxiety, and isolation are symptoms of PTSD, there can be flashbacks, nightmares, fear, guilt, shame, always being on edge and alert for danger, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Suicide, family abuse, unemployment, broken relationships, addiction and depression can ensue.

    Growing evidence cats can help people code with PTSD

    But can pets, including cats, help people with PTSD? Mike believes his Spike is a centering force in his life, and no matter what, is there for him. While there is insufficient research to show that pets are effective therapy for PTSD, pets can be helpful in many ways, and many say that pets help with PTSD symptoms. What we don’t yet know is if animal therapy can make PTSD go away.

    cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    This cat proves a focus for my friend Mike who has PTSD.

    Living with PTSD, Mike’s best friends can become his worst enemies on a flip of a dime. Would a cat be good for him? He adopted the cat some 10-years-ago. From the moment they met, he and the big black cat, Spike, became best buddies, giving Mike a purpose in life and a daily routine. Every morning at 4 am, he gets up, maneuvers his wheelchair to the kitchen, and gives Spike breakfast. Then, he and Spike go back to bed to nap a few more hours.

    At 55, Mike had a second stroke, leaving him unable to walk or use his right hand. Spike knows this and never tries to get into Mike’s lap. He knows that his human friend needs his space as well as his unconditional loving companionship.

    Evidence suggests cats help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
    The mirror effect of looking into a cute cat’s face can help you feel better.

    The mirror effect of cats

    The mirror effect could be a major factor in this connection For over 20 years, there have been indicators proving that mirror neurons in our brains fire back, or mirror, what we are experiencing and watching at that moment. If you smile or laugh when looking at a cute kitty face, that smile ignites a sense of happiness throughout your whole body. A series of chemical and physical changes that occur with positive pet interactions including the release of a number of feel good hormones, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.

    A whole host of different Animal Therapies

    There’s a whole host of different Animal Therapies from specifically trained psychiatric dog to service animals, therapy pets, and companion animals, all of which can play into helping those with PTSD symptoms.

    We also talked with Animal trainer, Clarissa Black who founded Pets for Vets in California some seven years ago after making therapy visits with her dog to a VA Hospital. She started the program after seeing how the veterans’ faces lit up when she brought the dog in for a visit. Pets for Vets, is in over 19 states and the District of Columbia. It is all about matching the veteran with the right pet, whether it be a cat, dog, bird, or something more exotic.

    Someone might think they want a certain breed because they are cute or cuddly, only to find, they don’t fit their lifestyle at all. Trained volunteers profile what’s best pet personality for the vet, and then work with shelters to find the right fit. It’s matchmaking at its best.

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    Do you think cats, or other pets, can help people with PTSD? Do you know anyone with PTSD that has benefits from a pet? Do you know anyone that might benefit from owning a pet, even if it’s not a cat? Please weigh in on this thought-provoking discussion and share your thoughts.

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    4 COMMENTS

    1. I know this was published a few years ago and my comments may be way too late to be useful but I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2016 due to a kidnapping stalking incident that I still have been unable to talk about with anyone, particularly the details and find it slightly easier (both painful but unable to even think about parts of it yet and trying just sends me into severe panic). But my little cat was there with me when I got out of the hospital and was sent to my mothers home. my home and everything I ever owned was completely gone and I was so frail and scared I was not able to do simple functions. I was deeply thankful to God and my return to church for my recovery but without my cat I would not be sure if I would have been able to get through my hardest days and nights. He is Burmese and his breed is known for having a need for close interaction with humans and they become depressed in an environment where they don’t get daily attention and affection, so he kind of forced me to get out of my darkness with gentle consistency and the trust I so dearly needed to make the tiniest effort. The trust is so important that it has to be 100% solid and unconditional I was not sure if a human could (capability and expectation being both a huge responsibility and often burden as PTSD can wear out the most strong and initiallly hung-ho motivated volunteer/partner/friend/family-member etc) and failure is not an option as it’s consequences are severe often grave. He was calming and loving and although it may seem silly or artificial or possibly worrisome to some, it means the world to a person who loses all trust in human kind and sees such horrible sides of life that most people thankfully don’t have to see, and most PTSD sufferers would rather not revisit, talk about or make others aware of. It allows you to feel again in a safe place and start to trust again. It’s seems like such a tiny step but at that time you don’t think you will ever be able to climb that huge mountain. My kitty is 13 and we have been through a lot. He will always have me to be there for him and I will be devastated when he goes. But I know what love feels like and that gets me through every day now.

      • Thank you so much for sharing. These comments are not too late, as this is an ongoing issue that continues to be researched. I am so glad you found comfort with your cat, and that he has been able to help you. PTSD comes from any trauamatic event, and many of us find us falling back into the panic if something similar or extremely stressful happens. Quite a few people still come to my PTSD post, and I hope it is helpful, as pets can bring so much comfort and joy to our lives. Would you mind if I shared your comments (we can make your anonymous if you like – I would just like to have an age and country). I think it would be appropriate to do an updated with links back to the story from a few years ago. Good luck with everything, and blessed be your lovely kitty.

    2. I just got a cat recently to help with my panic attacks and high anxiety after being held up by gun point 18 years ago. My panic attacks have lowered to almost none and I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning because of my little furry friend.

      • I am so glad you shared this. Cats can be so helpful when it comes to panic attacks and anxiety. And indeed they do give us a reason to get up in the morning because they insist upon breakfast. No, is not an answer.

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