Have you ever wondered if your cat could be a therapy cat?
Any animal lover knows the unique healing power of our furry friends. We’ve even written a whole post dedicated to the Mental Health Benefits of Having Cats in particular.
Cats are a source of comfort, love, and support; they help us handle the stress of whatever life decides to throw our way. And science has shown that these effects aren’t just in our heads; animals can lower our blood pressure, improve our heart health and even help us with psychological challenges like PTSD.
But have you ever looked at your feline friend and wondered… can my cat be a therapy cat? What do therapy cats actually do? And how do I get my cat therapy certified?
This guide to therapy cats will help you answer all of these questions, and get an insight into what life as a therapy cat handler could look like. Whether it’s to train up your own emotional support companion or to fulfill your wish of becoming a therapy cat volunteer.
The Low Down On Therapy Cats
- Cats provide some unique benefits as therapy animals. Their low maintenance lifestyle, low energy levels, and healing effects are the most impactful.
- There are two types of therapy cats — Certified Therapy Cats and Emotional Support Animals (ESA).
- Certified Therapy Cats and their handlers are specially trained to offer comfort, support, and healing to those in clinical settings or care facilities.
- To become a therapy cat, you will need to have your kitty assessed for eligibility. This ensures they have a suitable temperament and are experienced enough before applying.
- Once approved you will enroll in a training program, to get your cat certified as a therapy cat.
- Not all cats have what it takes to be a registered therapy animal. But this doesn’t mean they can’t still have a positive effect on the lives of others.
- To support your own wellbeing, you can register your cat as an Emotional Support Animal. This will grant them the right to accompany you in all living situations.
- To do this, you’ll need a letter from a registered health professional — such as a doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist.
Let’s dive deep into why cats make great therapy animals, what their job looks like and how you can certify a therapy cat or get involved yourself.
What Is a Therapy Cat?
Similar to other therapy animals, such as service dogs and therapy horses, these specially trained cats and their handlers can offer comfort, support, and healing to those in need of help.
This training allows them to offer a calming presence, become adept at traveling to new environments, and welcoming of new people. They will be able to stay calm during medical emergencies and offer companionship in potentially unusual settings.
What Do Therapy Cats Do?
Therapy cats are often found in a range of clinical settings, care facilities & group therapy centers. Including:
- Nursing homes
- Centers for intellectual disabilities
- Autism centers
- Drug or alcohol rehabilitation centers
- Patients in recovery from injury or illness
- End of life hospices
- Seniors living with Alzheimer’s
- Groups who have experienced crisis events
They can be used to help all age groups, from young children to elderly adults, and with a range of physical and psychological issues. They offer playtime, cuddles, and a soothing presence.
In this way, therapy animals are used to reduce stress, loneliness, anxiety, and depression, as well as encourage physical movement and playful joy!
Owners can also train their feline companion to be their own therapy animal on a day-to-day basis. This is known as an Emotional Support Animal.
Why Are Cats Therapeutic?
While much of the therapy world focuses on dogs, our feline friends offer a range of unique benefits that make them super special:
- Cats have minimal needs, which can provide a gentle, untaxing, and accessible comfort for those with conditions that severely affect mood and mental well-being.
- Many kitties can sleep up 18 hours a day, which makes them ideal snuggling partners for those who aren’t able to be very active.
- A hospice care study found that cats provide a reduction in loneliness and a sense of comfort.
- Another study found that, particularly for those living alone, a pet like a cat can offer companionship that boosts wellbeing.
- This study found that cats can help decrease anxiety in children with autism, making them ideal as a low stimulus therapy animal.
- Another study found that elderly cat owners rated their depression symptoms the lowest, which shows promise for their use in nursing homes.
- Amazingly, this study found that following a serious medical diagnosis, pet ownership equated to lower levels of depression. This meaning their use in patients with serious ongoing health issues could be incredibly impactful.
- That special purr we all love? Well, researchers have found that cats purr between 25 and 150 Hz. This is a frequency proven to improve healing time, strength, and mobility of joints and bones. Isn’t that incredible!
One thing we really love about our Fluffy Yoda is his ability to exude an aura of complete and utter calm! Even through his recent cancer treatment, Yoda has proved just how supportive cats can be, with their ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life so freely.
What Makes a Great Therapy Cat?
Are you thinking about using your kitty to make a difference to people’s lives? Then your next step will be to get your feline friend registered with a relevant organization and begin their training.
Here are some things you might want to consider, to make sure you and your kitty are ready for this step:
- Does your cat have all its relevant vaccinations? All therapy cats need up-to-date shots to be considered for a training program.
- Are they comfortable in a harness? For safety, therapy animals are often sporting a leash and harness when working.
- Are they confident in new surroundings? Perhaps take a few trial runs and see how your cat reacts to exploring new places and encountering new people.
- Is your cat happy traveling? And do they have a secure and safe way to travel?
Check out our Travel Guides for ways to build your cat’s confidence and safety on the road.
- Are they old enough to start? For most organizations, cats must be at least a year old and the handler must have known the animal for at least six months to qualify.
- Do they have the right personality? The ideal therapy cat is laidback, friendly, and easygoing around all kinds of people and animals.
- Are they used to frequent handling? Often older or senior cats make great therapy animals as they are so used to human interaction.
- Are they on a raw food diet? Often therapy animals cannot be fed raw food diets, as this could increase the risk of them bringing bacteria into environments of immune-compromised people.
To have the best chance of gaining your certification, make sure to socialize your cat with other animals. Also, familiarize them with unusual sounds and unfamiliar places. Begin with some basic obedience training, or use the services of a professional trainer to begin building desirable behaviors in your cat.
Equally, if you want to get a therapy cat but don’t yet own a furball of your own, keep the above in mind when choosing an adoptee or kitten to add to your home. For example look for a laidback, gentle kitten or cat, as opposed to a more energetic or rambunctious one!
This will boost the chances of being accepted onto a training course and the successful completion of the course itself!
How to Certify a Therapy Cat
Once you think your kitty fits the above criteria, you might wonder how to get your cat therapy certified. There are a few options and different organizations available to help you with how to train a therapy cat, and how to register your therapy cat officially.
The training and certifications required will be different, depending on whether you want your kitty to be your own personal support animal, or if you’d like to volunteer to take them to facilities where they help a larger number of people.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most commonly used organizations:
- Pet Partners — Is one of the largest organizations for animal therapy in the US. Pet Partners ‘teams’ visit a huge range of facilities to improve human health and well-being through the human-animal bond.
- You can visit their site to check your cat’s eligibility, and apply online to join their scheme.
- Love On A Leash — A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an accessible certification process that creates qualified therapy teams. This helps them provide effective pet-provided therapy services in their community.
- You’ll need to complete an evaluation with your veterinarian to begin the application process.
- Some areas have local organizations, so don’t be afraid to ask your local vet, humane society or pet store to see if they know of any schemes close to home.
Usually, once the organization has established that you and your cat meet requirements, you’ll start your training course! These can be in person or online and will end with a supervised visit to gain your certification.
Once certified, you can begin changing lives one purr at a time!
Emotional Support Cats:
- If you’d like your cat to work solely with you, you can look into registering them as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). ESAs are not considered service animals, but you might still want to look into a registered ESA trainer if you want to finetune your cat’s behavior and support.
- To register your cat as an ESA, you’ll need a letter of prescription from a licensed mental health professional (a therapist, doctor or psychiatrist). This states they are part of your treatment plan. While they can no longer travel on flights with you (thanks to new legislation), it does mean that you and your support kitty cannot be turned away from no-pet housing situations or charged pet security deposit fees.
Therapy Cat Accessories
If your kitty is busy working, or with you for a special reason — you might want to be able to let the general public know that.
These handy accessories can help you subtly inform others that your cat has an access-all-areas paw pass and that they are with you to provide support so might need some space.
- Emotional Support Harness — This might have ‘dog’ in the title, but countless reviews show it fits felines perfectly (just be sure to measure for the right size). A handy way to give your cat some visibility in public.
- Emotional Support Tag — A great addition to your cat’s collar, ensuring that their status is easily seen.
- Emotional Support Bandana — More visible than a tag, you could use this with any existing harness you already have.
- The Supakit Harness — Our favorite harness to use with Yoda, it’s comfortable and secure for any travels. Plus they do a cute selection of leashes too!
So, Can Your Cat Be a Therapy Cat?
While it may seem like a long road to certification, being the owner of a professional therapy cat or trained ESA has amazing benefits for you and those around you. Not to mention the sense of purpose and deep bond it can give your cat too!
Unfortunately, while each cat has potential, not every furball is cut out for a therapy cat. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still the most special fur-friend in your own life. Plus, they’ll likely be providing some much-needed love to any visitors to come to your home too.
So soak up all those joyful times, healing purrs, and nighttime cuddles knowing they are doing wonders for your own wellbeing too. Meaning you can go out and spread happiness and joy into the world yourself!
Have you ever thought about certifying your cat? Does your kitty give you much-needed therapy? We’d love to know! 🙂
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