Category Archives: leash training a cat

What Qualities Does a Therapy Cat Need?


By Julia Williams

We recently introduced you to therapy dogs Stitch, Riley and Sophie, sponsored by CANIDAE. Inspired by their heartwarming story, I began to wonder if there was such a thing as therapy cats. I didn’t really think so, given that my feline friends have all been “scaredy-cats” who run and hide from the vacuum cleaner (aka, the “suck monster”), the Fedex guy, and pretty much all visitors except a chosen few. It turns out there are lots of calmer, more courageous kitties who aren’t afraid of strangers or noisy places, and these are the ones who make good therapy cats.

I’ve recently become acquainted with a delightful therapy cat named Tabitha, or Tabby for short. Tabby’s human mom, Karen, graciously gave me some information on the qualities a therapy cat needs and how to get started. I thought I’d pass them on, in case you have an outgoing feline and you’re interested in training them to be a therapy cat volunteer. I’d really like to do this myself, but I know my three kitties (bless their hearts), would make terrible therapy cats.

First though, let me tell you a little about Tabby. She just turned five and has been doing animal-assisted therapy for about a year. She’s a tabby cat of course, and lives in Vancouver, WA with Karen, her husband Scott and four other felines. Tabby loves human attention and being petted which, along with her calm demeanor and sociable nature, make her well suited to therapy cat work. Tabby likes attention so much that at home, she demands it from her humans all the time (that sounds like my cat Belle!). During her therapy cat training, Tabby even invented her own way of asking for petting – by sitting down and tapping people with one paw.

Karen trained Tabby using the evaluation criteria of The Delta Society, regarded as the top training/certification program for Animal Assisted Therapy. Tabby isn’t certified yet, but she will be very soon. In the meantime, the plucky feline is getting lots of paws-on experience as a therapy cat. How did that come about? Karen spoke with the director of an assisted living facility about Tabby and her training, and they agreed to meet her. Tabby naturally charmed everyone during her first visit – and the rest, as they say, is history!

Karen takes Tabby to the facility so she can visit with people who have severely limited mobility, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments that make it hard for them to interact with people. Tabby also goes to a nursing home and an extended care facility at the request of a resident’s family. No matter who she visits, Tabby always brings them a great deal of comfort and joy.

Before she began her therapy cat training, Tabby learned to wear a harness and leash, and ride in a cat stroller. During visits, the cat needs to be controlled somehow, and a leash is the best way. Karen said it’s not essential that the cat learn to walk on the leash, but people do enjoy seeing it. In any event, a harness and leash will keep the cat safe should they be startled by something and try to run away. If you’d like to leash-train your cat, this article gives step-by-step instructions.

To get Tabby used to strange settings and new experiences, Karen takes her to dog parks, offices, and stores that allow pets inside. Therapy cats should be even-tempered, outgoing and not afraid to meet new people. They shouldn’t growl or hiss at people, cats, dogs or other animals. Said Karen, “You can train them for the specifics, but if they aren’t calm then no amount of training will be enough.” Most Home Depot stores allow pets inside, she said, and they’re a perfect place to acclimate the cat to loud sounds, beeping equipment, carts (akin to wheelchairs in a facility setting), and being petted by strangers.

Not all therapy cats work with the elderly; some work with children in schools or pediatric therapy settings, and some work one-on-one with occupational therapy professionals. It’s important to choose a setting where you and your cat are comfortable, and pay attention to what your cat is telling you. Every cat has its own time limits, noise threshold and comfort level in strange situations. Watch your cat’s body language for signs of anxiety or fear, and end the training or visit when your cat tells you it’s time. You can always train more another day, but pushing your cat beyond their tolerance level will result in them not wanting to continue.

You can read more about Tabby’s therapy visits on her blog, Furry Tales of the PDX Pride. Tabby writes about her exploits so descriptively that it feels like you’re right there with her, visiting the patients and experiencing everything she does. Being a therapy cat is hard work, but it’s also very rewarding. I tip my hat to Tabby, a therapy cat extraordinaire! I can tell she loves her “job,” and she brings joy to so many people who really need it.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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How to Leash Train a Cat


By Julia Williams

I imagine that many people, upon reading my title, might wonder why anyone would want to leash train a cat. And yet, I recently discovered a website which claimed that “walking the cat is quickly becoming one of the hottest new trends.”

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. There are valid reasons for leash training a cat, but I sincerely doubt that walking the cat is “the next big thing.” I’m fairly sure you won’t see hordes of cat owners out for their evening stroll with felines in tow. That being said, a few years ago I actually did leash train three cats in preparation for my 1,000+ mile move/road trip. I’m very glad I did too, or I might be minus one cat.

My original reason for leash training was to exercise them on the long trip, which I did. But I also used it when Rocky soiled his cat carrier and I had to clean up at a rest area that didn’t have a lock on the door. With the harness and leash on him, I was able to tie Rocky to the sink so he couldn’t escape while I washed out his carrier.

There are other reasons why you might want to leash train a cat too. For a trip to the vet, it’s safer to have cats (especially skittish ones) leashed whenever they need to be out of their carrier. It only takes a second for a loose cat to bolt out an open door. Leash training a cat can also give an indoor kitty a taste of the great outdoors, without putting their life in peril. They can get some fresh air, exercise and tactile playtime while in the safety of your backyard.

Leash training a cat is difficult, but not impossible. Like any training, it takes time and patience.

Step One: Buy a lightweight leash (approx. 6’ long) and a harness made specifically for cats. My harness is nylon, but I’ve seen others that are more like soft, fitted jackets. Just don’t use a collar, as it can cause choking.

Step Two: Put the new gear near kitty’s napping spot for a few days, and let them investigate it.

Step Three: Put the harness on your cat when they are relaxed. If they don’t freak out wearing it for a few minutes, give them some cat treats as a reward. The hardest part about this step is learning how to put the harness on correctly. It should fit snug but not too tight, nor so loose that your cat can wriggle out of it. (You should be able to fit two fingers between the harness and your cat’s body). Repeat this step a few times a day for a week, to get kitty used to the feel of the harness.

Step Four: With your cat in the harness, clip on the leash. Rather than try to hold onto the leash, allow your cat to walk around with it trailing behind them. As in step three, reward them with treats if they can calmly wear the harness and leash.

Tip: Do this in a closed-off, uncluttered room to prevent kitty from getting entangled in something if they panic while wearing the harness and leash.

Step Five: Once kitty seems relatively at ease wearing the harness, hold the leash loosely and walk with them as they explore the room.

Step Six: Walk your leashed cat around your home, and again, use treats. Alternatively, you could bring out their favorite toy and try engaging them in play while still wearing the harness/leash. Never allow them to wear the harness unsupervised though.

Step Seven: Take your leashed cat outside for 5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. If they’re comfortable outside in the harness and leash, gradually increase the amount of time, and reward them with treats when you go back inside. This is where it gets tricky, because some cats will be at ease from the start, while others take a lot longer. Watch your cat for signs of stress, and bring them inside if they’re frightened. You want this to be a pleasant experience for them, not something to be feared. Give them however much time they need to become acclimated to this strange new thing. It helps if you have a secluded backyard, and you can take them outdoors at a quiet time of day.

You may be surprised to learn that leash training your cat is far easier than you thought it would be. Or, if your kitty is anything like my three, it might be a long and challenging process. It all depends on your cat’s personality, which is something you can’t change. I would never leash-walk my cats outside my own yard, because their personalities aren’t suited for such an adventure. However, if you have a very outgoing and relaxed cat that seems to love walking on a leash, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.