Therapy Cat 101: Let Your Cat Share Its Calming Cuddles with Others!

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pet therapy cat with paw on persons hand

Is your cat a loving people-cat that enjoys cuddling, getting petted, and meeting new people? A therapy cat is a feline friend who shares its affection with those in need of comforting. Cats as therapy animals visit can an assisted living facility, hospitals or schools, just like therapy dogs.

Animals improve health in people by sharing their love and affection. Humans need interaction, especially with animals. People who can not have a pet where they live greatly benefit from spending time with therapy animals as part of their treatment. Your cat can be a part of helping people in need while enjoying the attention. Perhaps your emotional support cat can join the therapy animal club!

 

What is the Difference Between ESAs, Service, and Therapy Cats?

Although ESAs, therapy, and service animals are all assistance animals, there are distinct differences between them. Not only do they differ in their jobs or functions, but they are protected by different laws.

Emotional Support Animals

To have an emotional support animal, you need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) that states the animal improves your mental or emotional health and helps you cope with a disability. Emotional support animals often help owners cope with anxiety or depression.

Any animal can become an ESA. There is no training required for these animals, although it is always a good idea to do basic obedience training with them! They may not be allowed in public places like service animals, but they do mingle with the public at airports and in housing, so they need to be well behaved!

Service Animals

Service animals undergo extensive training and perform specific tasks for disabled persons. These animals are generally dogs or miniature horses, and help people living with a physical or psychiatric disability. Common service animals are seeing-eye dogs.

By law, they may accompany their owners just about anywhere, even in restaurants, grocery stores, or other places that do not allow pets. Felines are not recognized as service animals even if they have training. A disabled person attains a service animal through special organizations that provide specific training for the animal. Service dog training changes depending on what disability the dog’s owner would have.

Therapy Animals

Therapy cats are working cats, whose owners volunteer their time in nursing homes, school, and other facilities. These cats spend time with people in these places, giving them attention, cuddles, and company. Cats are great at reading body language and can tell when people need extra love.
a therapy cat taking part in animal assisted therapy

Just petting a cat reduce blood pressure and help with anxiety and depression. Therapy animals can help even those with Alzheimer’s disease. People can interact with therapy cats without fear of judgment or rejection. For many people, it is easier interacting with animals than with people.

Therapy pets are allowed in certain facilities upon invitation and with granted permission only. They do not have any additional rights regarding air travel, no-pet housing, or other places that are not pet-friendly.

The Main Categories Therapy Cats Fall Under and What They Entail 

Therapy cats can perform many different functions depending on how you train or prepare them. A therapy cat can just provide cuddling, or they can take part in activities with patients as part of their treatment programs.
Therapy animals work with many different kinds of people from young kids at a school to the elderly at nursing homes.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animals help psychologists with traditional therapy. Therapy helps those with educational disabilities, behavioral issues, medical conditions, or mental illness. Therapy animals in animal-assisted therapy are often involved in one-on-one or in a group setting.

Some therapy animals work with psychologists, while others work with their owners or handlers who volunteer their time. Patients develop bonds with therapy cats and feel more relaxed. Therapy cats are especially beneficial for kids with short attention spans, as the petting movement and physical contact is relaxing and occupies their hands.

Animal Assisted Activities Therapy 

Animal-assisted actives therapy helps those with special needs through special visitation programs and recreational activities. Therapy cats can visit hospitals, schools or public libraries to help young learners gain confidence in their reading. Reading to a dog or a cat is an absolutely safe space for learning.

Animals can also be a part of physical rehabilitation and occupational therapy and help those recovering from physical trauma.

Can Emotional Support Animals Also Be Therapy Cats? Absolutely! 

Emotional support cats make great therapy cats! And vice versa. If your cat improves your mental and emotional health, you can make them a therapy animal. That way your cat can share it’s comforting cuddles with others and help them heal!

If you are thinking about getting an emotional support dog or cat, you can start with CertaPet’s free online 5-minute pre-screening to see if you qualify.

Cat Therapy for Autism? Cat Cuddles Have Major Benefits! 

Therapy pets are often used to help those with autism. People who have trouble connecting humans often find it easier to connect with animals. A therapy cat can provide support, trust, and boost the self-confidence of those with autism.

therapy cats autism cat interacting with young girl

They can socially interact with a therapy cat in a way they are unable to with a person. Those with autism have often have breakthroughs and learn to open up and socialize through animal-assisted therapy.

 

The 5 Basic Requirements Therapy Cats Should Meet to Be Allowed in Public Places 

A therapy cat does not need specific training to work and volunteer. However, therapy cats must be able to behave in public and typically require basic training from their owners. They do have to check the following boxes though:

Comfortable Wearing a Leash and Harness 

In order to bring your therapy cat to a facility, it’s important that they are comfortable wearing a leash and harness. This is a safety precaution, and a leash will also give you extra control over your cat.

They Need to Be Cool and Calm 

It doesn’t matter where your cat came from, a breeder, a shelter, or the streets. Even feral cats can become therapy pets if they have the right temperament. A therapy cat must be calm around loud noises, strangers, and often unpredictable environments.

Health Checks 

It’s important that your cat is in excellent health before volunteering. Your cat may visit facilities where people may have compromised immune systems.

If your cat is ill or carrying bacteria or viruses harmful to humans, it’s a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, cats who are ill may not be able to handle the stress and excitement of therapy work.

No Raw Food Diet Allowed! 

Therapy animals are not allowed a raw food diet as it can increase the risk of carrying salmonella and other bacteria that they could pass on to patients. These animals interact with people who are already vulnerable to illness, and the bacteria can be deadly.

Consider Training! 

Training can help make you and your therapy animal feel more relaxed as you start volunteering your time.
Obedience training can help with basic commands and teach your cat to be calm in new surroundings.

3 Tips on How to Prepare Your Cat for a Career in Helping Others!

1. Meet Strangers– You can desensitize your cat to meeting strangers of all ages and sizes, so no person is too unfamiliar. The more your cat is around strangers, the calmer and less stressed they will be when volunteering.

2. Positive Reinforcement – Reward good behavior with your cat’s favorite treats to let them know when they’re doing a good job.

3. Basic Commands  – Teach your cat commands like stay and come so you can communicate with them as they meet new people.

The Two Wonderful Laws That Protect ESAs!   

Emotional support animals have protection under the 2 federal laws.  These laws prevent discrimination against people disabilities.

The Fair Housing Act  (FHA)

According to the FHA, landlords can not discriminate against those with an emotional support animal by denying them housing. Housing associations and landlords are required by law to let a tenant have an ESA even if the apartment, condo, or house does not allow pets.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act allows ESAs to fly in the air cabin with their owners without a pet fee.  Many airlines only allow dogs and cats as ESAs on their flights.

Unlike ESAs That Do Not Require Certification or Registration, It’s Useful for Therapy Animals!

Emotional support animals only require a letter from a licensed mental health professional. There is no registry or any other certification required. Therapy animals can benefit from joining a volunteer group and being registered or certified as a therapy animal. These additional measures can make volunteering easier, as more facilities will accept your therapy cat.

There are also legal benefits to registering or certifying therapy animals. Registration or certification means professionals gave your animal the thumbs up on their behavior and training.

The other (rather important) benefit) is that most organizations will have some sort of legal insurance policy in place. After all, you are taking your animal into a public setting, so if any incidents occur, you should be legally protected.
animal assisted activities cat therapy in a nursing home with two women

If Your Emotional Support Cat Helps You, They Could Help Others Too! 

Your emotional support cat can help others just like it helps you! A therapy cat can help those with anxiety, depression, a wide variety of health conditions and disabilities.

Just the presence of an animal can help those in need, by petting and cuddling with your cat. Animals are natural stress-relievers and quickly connect with strangers in a way that would take humans hours or days. You can share your emotional support cat with the world and help those around you by volunteering your time. And of course, your cat’s time.

Common Questions on Therapy Cats

Do therapy cats require training? 

Do therapy cats need to walk on leashes? 

Can I feed my therapy cat a raw-food diet? 

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