Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

by Curious Cat People August 21, 2022 5 min read

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

Therapy animals for emotional support have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Locally within Singapore, organisations like AAISG (Animal Assisted Interactions Singapore) have been actively promoting and facilitating dog-assisted interaction programs within selected community groups. If you’d like to know more about AAISG, click here to learn more about what they do. Many are familiar with the concept of therapy dogs, but the idea of therapy cats is still new and not as well-known as therapy dogs, but cats make wonderful therapy animals too.

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

Therapy cat vs Emotional Support cat: What’s the Difference?

A therapy cat is trained to do therapy work, and this includes providing comfort and support. The cat and its handler have passed an evaluation that tests for skills suitable to work in therapy environments. Together with their handlers, therapy cats visit community places such as schools, nursing homes, and hospitals to provide comfort for residents and attendees.

Unlike therapy animals, emotional support animals or sometimes known as “comfort animals” do not have special training requirements. They have not been trained specifically to work with others. Emotional support animals are there to provide companionship. Through companionship, these support cats (and dogs) help to relieve loneliness and sometimes, even alleviate the depressive symptoms of their owners.  

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

What is a therapy cat?

A therapy cat is trained to provide support, emotionally, physically, or medically, to humans in need. Therapy cats are still rare, and the opportunity to interact with one is a novelty. People love to have the cat sit and rest on their lap.

These cats are trained to maintain a mild, tolerant demeanor and to stay calm during their companion’s stressful periods or medical emergencies. Therapy cats are often employed by nursing homes, schools, and other care facilities. They are beneficial for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Not to mention that having a cat around, may encourage the residents of these care facilities to increase their exercise, through play, walks, or other means.  

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

How do you and your cat become certified?

Firstly, your cat must meet the minimum requirements designated by the training program to be accepted into the program. Most often, these requirements include age, level of aggression, diet, and ability to comfortably wear a leash or harness.

If you think your kitty has the demeanor to become a therapy cat, here’s what to start working on:

  • Get him used to going traveling and meeting new people.
  • Start training him to wear a harness and walk on a leash.
  • Get him used to regular bathing and grooming—important for safe visitations.  

Leash training

Most cats are not trained to wear a leash. Unlike dogs, most cats are indoor cats and parents typically do not see the need to train their cats to wear a leash. However, therapy cats do require to be leash trained and be comfortable wearing a harness as they will be traveling to different locations for their therapy work.

One important thing to remember: Get a well-fitted cat harness and not a puppy harness!

Red Dingo offers a 2-in-1 cat harness and lead combos that come in a variety of colours. Here’s one combo in sweet pink - Red Dingo Classic Cat Harness and Lead (Pink).  

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

Here’s how to train your cat to walk on a leash

Start indoors and have treats ready. Here’s an excellent low-calorie treat for training - Fruitables Crunchy Chicken with Blueberry Cat Treats. It’s only 1.25 calories per treat so you feel good about rewarding your cat.

Place the harness on your cat without the leash attached. Give him a treat with the harness on. Allow a few minutes before slowly taking the harness off. Only give treats when the harness is on, do not give treats when the harness is off. Repeat this process while gradually increasing the amount of time your cat wears the harness.

Once he is comfortable with the harness on, attach the leash. Allow him to walk around with the leash on as you follow with the leash hanging loose. You want the leash to “hang loose” so that he doesn’t feel the leash tension. He may panic if he feels the tension and thinks that he has caught something and is unable to move freely. Once you see that he is comfortable and walking freely with the leash hanging around him, add a little leash tension. Start with a little tension and gradually increased the leash tension.

Finally, it’s time for you to walk your cat. Up until now, your cat is taking the lead and you are merely following him. This time try to lead your cat in the direction you want him to go. Use treats either dropped on the floor or held in your fingers to lure him and then reward him for moving. Do not rush the training. Take it slow and continue to praise and reward your cat for his efforts. Train indoors before going outdoors.

Go outdoors only when both you and your cat are confident to walk on a leash.  

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

On raw cat diet

Do be aware that some training organisations do not accept cats on raw diets. This has nothing to do with you or your cat. This is because therapy cats frequently interact with people whose immune systems are not optimal due to age, or other medical issues. The raw meat diets consumed by a cat can be contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella, E coli, and Listeria. Though the cat may seem unaffected and healthy, the animal may transfer the bacteria to their human companion due to their proximity. To protect these immunocompromised individuals, care must be taken to reduce the unnecessary risk of exposure to these zoonotic diseases. While a healthy individual may associate Salmonella with an unpleasant but simple incident of food poisoning, that’s not the case for these immunocompromised individuals. For those with compromised immune function, a zoonotic disease can turn deadly.

Some organisations do accept freeze-dried raw or dehydrated cat diets. There are some really great freeze-dried cat food options in the market today! For a freeze-dried cat food that is completely grain free and uses only natural ingredients please check out MEOW Freeze Dried Raw Chicken and Salmon Cat Food. If your kitty is a chicken lover, our top pick is Stella & Chewy's (Chick Chick Chicken) Dinner Morsels Freeze Dried Cat Food because it's a biologically appropriate freeze-dried, raw cat food. Remember, when it comes to raw cat diets, please confirm with the training organisations on their requirements.

If only non-raw diets are allowed, consider a lightly cooked diet or a diet on wet canned food instead. The Feline Natural Chicken & Lamb Feast Grain-Free Wet Cat Food is a premium quality wet cat food that is grain-free and free from any gelling agents.  

Does Kitty Have What It Takes to Be a Therapy Cat?

Therapy cats must be trained and certified to gain their status. A variety of organisations train and certify animals for therapy work and the training will involve both you and your cat. Training requirements, duration, and fees will differ from one organisation to another, so please contact the respective organisation for more details. It is important to take note as well that a more mild-mannered feline will be more suited for therapy work than a rambunctious one.









Katherine Khoo
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.

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