People often ask my human what sort of training cats need to do therapy visits, especially when they see how well behaved I am. And she has been telling them for years some of the requirements for doing therapy cat work. Just now it occurred to her that a lot of what a cat needs to know to do therapy visits are things that would be good to know for all cats. So I’ve put together a list.
Keep in mind that a lot of these work best if you have a kitten. In fact, some of these are ideal if you are fostering very young babies. But you can start many of them any time.
Regular Claw Trims
Start trimming kittens’ claws very early on. You can start gently touching and handling their paws as soon as you can hold them. By the time they are four weeks old, you can start regularly snipping just the sharp tips of their claws. Always give them a reward afterwards, like a fun play session.
Do kittens this young really need their claws trimmed? No, but that’s not the point. What you are doing is getting the youngster used to having their paws handled and claws trimmed for later on, so as adults you can trim claws easily and without drama.
Not to Attack Fingers and Hands
Teach your cat or kitten that fingers and hands are not cat toys. While this is best taught while a cat is still very young, it’s never too late to stop this bad habit. When your cat or kitten starts getting feisty with your fingers, always remove your appendage from danger and give the cat an appropriate toy to play with instead. For kittens, this can be any small, soft cat toy. For older, bigger cats, give them a kicker or larger soft toy. This saves your hands from being shredded.
Develop Socialization Skills
Introduce your cat to people outside of the family at a very early age, if you can. Your cat may never be a social butterfly, but wouldn’t it be nice for them to learn that people coming in and out of the house is no big deal? Conversely, don’t force your cat to be social with people either, because cats dislike being made to do anything. Just treat it like something normal, and give your cat lots of rewards (usually treats, but it can be attention or playtime) during and after these encounters.
Train to Be Comfortable on a Harness and Leash
Harness and leash train your cat. This is a great skill to have, and people tend to give up on it way too easily. When people complain that their cat just falls over in a harness, my human always asks them, “Did you offer them a HVT (High Value Treat) from a few feet away?” Offering something really tempting, such as fresh roast chicken, that the cat needs to walk to can get reluctant cats moving. Once they realize that they can move in the harness — and they get rewarded too! — it stops being such a big deal to them. One of the big secrets in harness and leash training is in the rewards.
Having your cat harness and leash trained is more important than people realize. If you ever need to evacuate, or if you want to travel with your cat, it will be very helpful to have them be a veteran at this skill and not have to force them into it at the last moment.
Be Comfortable With the Carrier
Even more importantly, train your cat to be okay with being in the carrier. Most cats hate the carrier because they associate it with unpleasant experiences. Not just being taken to the vet, but the stress of being chased down, grabbed from whatever hiding place they could find, and stuffed in the carrier against their will. It’s important to make the carrier a place of relaxation and refuge at home. Leave it open as a napping spot. Make a game of tossing treats in the carrier.
Don’t use the carrier just to take your cat to the veterinarian either. Even if you just put your cats in the carrier to drive down the street and give them treats, that’s better than solely using it for a stressful vet trip. But if you can, take your cat to the pet store with you, if you think they will find it an interesting experience. Use it to take them outside in the yard, while they are on their harness and leash, and let them outside to explore. Create pleasant experiences with the carrier.
If you could train your cat to actually go into the carrier on command, that would be ideal. Imagine if you had to leave your house quickly in an emergency, or if your cat got outside and you wanted to offer a safe space to return to. Being trained to go into the carrier could be a lifesaver! It does take time and patience, but other than that, it’s not really that hard. This is a skill all of the cats of the traveling Acro-cats learn right away. I confess, this is not a skill I know, but I’m so good about going into my carrier that my human slacked off on that a little.
All of the above are skills that most therapy cats know — but they are also skills that every cat should know, really. And if you are able to teach your cat even a few of these, it will make their lives less stressful, happier and more fun.
Other posts you’ll enjoy:
- Your Questions About Therapy Cats, Answered
- The Part of Therapy Cat Training Everyone Forgets
- What Every Therapy Cat Needs