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.