Cat Therapy Training Tips
Many people ask me “how can I train my cat to be a therapy cat”? I have outlined all of the cat therapy training tips you will need to know to make that decision based on my personal experience. It takes a special “team” to do animal therapy work. Both the cat owner and the cat, have to have a unique temperament. The rewards are extraordinary, so if you think you may have those qualities here is everything you need to know.
Begin Socializing Your Cat At A Young Age
First work on socializing at inside your home. Begin by getting your cat accustomed to being petted all over by you. Start slowly, with areas that it likes and proceed with other areas. Gradually, over time, pet the cat’s paw and hold it for a few seconds. Move on to its tail, etc. Your cat needs to be accustomed to being stroked all over. If your cat gets upset then stop for the day. Always give your cat a verbal reward “good kitty”, and say its name when petting it.
If some areas come up that your cat doesn’t like then note those. For instance, Kali-Ma does not like her very back-end touched. So, when I take her to the nursing home I instruct the patients to pet her face and front area only. I provide a brush for them and other tools which I will go into later.
Then begin introducing strangers to your cat in your home. Let your cat approach the stranger first. You can give the stranger a treat or a toy to encourage the interaction. Again, always reward your cat verbally. This will help develop the relationship with your cat. If your cat does well then proceed outdoors. If your cat does not do well then perhaps your cat does not have the temperament to be a therapy cat and that is ok. Do not force anything.
As soon as six months old I would begin teaching your cat to walk on a leash. I have a detailed article on that training here: Teach Your Cat To Walk On A Leash. I advise getting your cat used to a stroller as this an excellent cat therapy tool. Your kitty will need to be accustomed to riding in the car with you. This all can be done little by little, step by step.
With these tools, you can begin to take your cat outside and socialize with others in parks, farmer’s markets, local events, etc. I take my cat with me everywhere I possibly can. In the beginning, I took her to quiet events such as small social gatherings with fewer than five people. Ease your cat into socializing and see how they do. This will be a work in progress for you and your cat.
Socializing with others will teach you what your cat likes and doesn’t like. Kali-Ma likes older people and dogs. She backs away from children and she will not tolerate another cat. This made nursing home cat therapy a perfect fit for us. Day by day, one step at a time your perfect cat therapy will unfold.
Developing A Communication Method With Your Cat
Some experts advice clicker training to teach your cat to sit and stay. My personal experience is loving your cat and developing a relationship with it. You and your cat are a ‘therapy team’. People have watched Kali-Ma and me together and it as if we are in total synchronicity. That did not come from clicker training.
Kali-Ma comes when I call her. She stays when I tell her to and she knows when to sit. We have been together for seven years. She has a very calm, trusting temperament. When I first got her she used to fly across the room and I thought she was wild. Once I got her out and about I discovered what she wanted to do was socialize. I share this as when I took the time to get to know my cat she turned out to be a therapy cat. It took time and patience.
When Kali-Ma is overstimulated, ready to go, or in any way has “had enough”, she gives me a head bump. She presses her head to mine. That has been the communication we developed but it took about a year learn it from her. Every cat is different. I believe that each bond between cat and owner is a unique blend to be discovered.
Basic Registration Requirements
Before you can become a registered therapy animal team and enroll in further training if you choose, there are some basic requirements.
Your cat must be at least one year old and you must have had your cat for a minimum of one year. It must be current with all of its vaccinations.
Therapy Cats are not permitted to eat a raw food diet. This is because raw food diets can increase a cat’s chance of carrying dangerous bacteria or parasites to people with immune compromised systems.
Registration and Further Training
There are numerous ways to become a registered cat therapy team. The ASPCA has a training program and registration for cat therapy called Pet Partners. You can read more about that here ASPCA Pet Partners. Pet Partners has a required training course you must complete before they will complete your registration with fees starting at $95.
Pet Partners was not available in my area of the US so I registered my cat privately here Register My Animal.com They are approved by the Better Business Bureau and the nursing home I volunteer at accepts their registration. They also did not require any additional training. The cost was $79.95
Cat Therapy Final Tips
Your Cat Comes First
There have been moments when Kali-Ma and I have encountered a dementia patient yelling at us not knowing what they were doing. Also, moments when everything didn’t go “perfectly” and Kali-Ma became distressed. YOUR CAT COMES FIRST BEFORE ALL THINGS! It is ok to politely say “we are going to come back tomorrow”, or “go for a walk” or leave. Never distress your cat or yourself.
Kali-Ma and I have been together over (7) years now. The relationship we have has taken time to build. She is a cat and sometimes she will do what she wants to do. Cats are not dogs. They are brilliant beings and capable of so much love, all in their time, not your time or anyone else’s time. Don’t try to rush anything. Let everything unfold and it will work out beautifully.
Cat Therapy Tools
I have found that the “Inaba” treats in a tube work great at the nursing home. You can find them on our shop page here Shop Kali-Ma. Residents can hold the tube pass it around for Kali-Ma to come to them. it promotes the use of their hands and much laughter usually happens.
Also, I found a small brush for the residents. The smaller the brush the easier it is for them to hold. The one pictured here I found at Wal-Mart for $1.87!
The stroller by far the best tool there is. I can carry my drink on it (as nursing homes are very warm year round). It’s easy to navigate everywhere. It collapses in the car. The one I have from our shopping page has lasted me over three years.
As you progress with your cat you will learn what works for the both of you. Remember, it’s a work in progress. Have patience and enjoy!
I’ve always said that Kali-Ma has changed my life, but Cat Therapy has given me a reward I cannot even describe. I have a bond with my cat I never knew existed until we entered the nursing home together, that first time. We are a team now and when the residents see us their face lights up like it’s Christmas morning every other Saturday. I get goosebumps every time I hear “Oh look, it’s the cat lady and there is the kitty, I want to see the kitty….” That never gets old.
Happy Tails to you.
I have enjoyed reading all this information. I have a 6 month old kitten who I believe someday could be a wonderful candidate as a therapy cat. My question is about going to the bathroom…can cats be away from any access to their litter box for the time it would take to go to a facility and spend some time with the residents and then drive home? I don’t think they are meant to ‘hold it’! How do you deal with this?
Hi Kathryn and kitty 🐱. The most important rule for me and Kali-Ma is that “Kali-Ma” always comes first especially in cat therapy. I found that Kali-Ma eats, plays, and uses her litter box in the morning. She is usually resting in a sunny window by noon. So I scheduled her cat therapy in early afternoon. It was always limited to 2hrs and was close to home. Kali-Ma communicates with me through “head bumps”. If she head bumps me it’s time to go! She has either had enough or needs to be home. In the beginning I had no issue cutting her therapy time short if she wanted to leave. Cat Therapy was a learning process. Consistency is imperative with cats. Same time, same place, same area within the hospital/nursing home etc. Just remember cats are NOT dogs. It takes a relationship with your cat 🐈 to understand their signals. Each kitty 🐱 is different. I hope this was helpful. Thank you for stopping by our site. Happy Tails to you and your kitty 🐱
This is such an excellent guide, so full of good information about socializing cats even if they don’t make it to therapy cat levels of being sociable. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up!
Truth be told – Kali-Ma honestly seems to me like a little bit of fairy dust. I can’t believe such a wonderful little thing exists on this planet!
Thank you, Elise :). To me, she is an angel, but I know there are many more like her out there if just given a chance. I believe that Cat Therapy is where you find it. Kali-Ma and I often meet people at the park, in our apartment complex, at the Farmers Market – all just needing a little “kitty love” for various reasons. Some can’t have a cat, or just had a cat pass over the rainbow, or some are children that desperately want one and then as soon as they see that pink polka dot stroller they are all smiles! I wish there were more cats in strollers. What a wonderful world it would be! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here. Kali-Ma and I appreciate it. Meows of appreciation to you!
I love reading about the two of you. What a team you are. My question is there a certain container I should get my kitty use to to take her out and about?
Thank you, Liz! For transporting your kitty in the car I have several choices listed on our shop page located here:https://www.tailsofkalima.com/shop/. It is important to secure your cat and not be distracted while driving. The pet booster seat allows your cat to look out (if they choose) and it also has a leash to secure them inside the seat. There is a loop outside the seat for the car seatbelt, adding extra security and safety for the cat. I have several choices and a link to purchase on Amazon with reviews you can read.
For transporting your kitting outside of the car when not on a harness and a leash, in my opinion, nothing I have found works better than the pet stroller! It too has a leash inside to secure your cat so it cannot jump out of it. You can put the top down with a screen or leave it open. Cats seem to adjust to it very well, and it makes walking around with your cat comfortable and easy.
Thank you again for taking time to comment. Happy Tails to you!
I am adopting a 7 yr old male is it to late for him?
I don’t believe it’s ever too late Patricia. A lot will depend on your kitty’s temperament and his history. As long as the kitty doesn’t have a history of abuse, then you have a chance. Just be patient. Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do to help. The best advice I can give you enjoy getting to know your kitty and bonding with him. Any new adoption is an adjustment period for both of you. One day at a time and everything will be fine.