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Cats As Therapy Animals? Here's How To Get Your Feline Certified

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From Mother Nature Network's Laura Moss:

Stroking or cuddling a cat can have a positive effect on your health. Research shows that felines can relieve stress and lower blood pressure, and studies have found that the hormone oxytocin is released when we’re around pets, triggering feelings of happiness.

With results like these, it’s no wonder therapy cats are often taken to hospitals, nursing homes, schools and even prisons. But what does it take for a feline to become a certified therapy animal?

There are several organizations that certify pet therapy teams. Pet Partners and Love On A Leash are two of the largest, but some areas also have local organizations. Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Program is one of the largest in the U.S., and the organization been training volunteers nationwide since 1990.

The first step in preparing a cat to be a therapy animal is to make sure the feline meets basic requirements. These can vary by organization, but typically include being comfortable in a harness and up to date with shots.

Most will also have a minimum age for participation. For example, Pet Partners’ cats must be at least a year old and the handler must have known the animal for at least six months.

Pet Partners also requires that pets not be fed a raw protein diet. Such a diet puts people — especially those with compromised immune systems — at a higher risk for infection.

Next, you must assess whether your cat has the right temperament to work with people. The ideal therapy cat is laidback and friendly and shows no aggression toward people or animals. The feline should also be comfortable with loud noises and unpredictable situations.

Retired show cats often make good therapy animals because they’re used to frequent handling and being around lots of people.

Once the organization has established that you and your cat meet requirements, you may undergo a training course either online or in person. When the course is complete, you’ll both be evaluated by an expert before taking supervised visits to the facility where you’ll be working as a therapy team.

Once this trial period is complete, you and your certified therapy cat will be ready to bring purrs and pets to those in need.

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