Therapy Cats Are Your New Favorite Travel Companion

Therapy cats offer more than snuggles.

Jet lag and flight delays are a little easier to handle at Denver International Airport because of its Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS). Although this therapy animal program has 100 dogs, one of the favorites is a cat named Xeli. She is part of a growing trend of therapy cats who provide emotional support to stressed out travelers.

Helping Travelers

At Denver International Airport, Xeli wears a "Pet Me" vest to identify her. The domestic shorthair cat received her therapy certification from Pet Partners, so she can help stressed out travelers relax by letting them pet, hug, or cuddle her. Xeli only works two-hour shifts at the airport, so you have to be pretty lucky to get a picture with her.

Therapy Cats to the Rescue

Xeli was the first cat to join the Canine Airport Therapy Squad at Denver International Airport, but she isn't the first feline to become a therapy cat. According to Pet Partners, a non-profit organization, less than 6% of its registered therapy animals are cats, but the numbers are slowly increasing.

It's important to note that therapy animals are not the same as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law. Therapy animals don't have the same training, and they're not limited to working with people who have disabilities. Instead, therapy animals offer emotional support and comfort. They may help people who are lonely, sick, depressed, or suffering in another way.

Supporting Research

Although dogs are usually the focus of most therapy research, studies on cats are available. For example, one study found that positive interactions with cats could help children who have autism. Parents shared that the cat provided comfort and soothing support to the children, while some acted as feline guardians or protectors.

In general, research shows that pets can reduce stress and blood pressure levels in owners. One study looking at the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, found that owning a cat reduced the risk of dying from stroke or other cardiovascular conditions considerably.

Getting a Therapy Cat

Therapy cats officially don't require training because they aren't service animals, but many people prefer to have them trained and registered. If you want your therapy animal to visit hospitals or other locations, having certification is a necessity.

Pet Partners has specific criteria for registering therapy animals. Your cat must be at least one year old and have lived with you for at least six months. Other requirements include making sure the animal is house trained, vaccinated, obedient, not aggressive, and able to wear a harness, leash, and collar. Owners must take courses in person or online to train their animals. After passing the test, they must participate in an evaluation.

Therapy cats can provide emotional support and comfort to people in need. They can become companions for both children and adults. If you're interested in training a therapy cat, make sure the animal has the right temperament for the job.