Felinotherapy – When Cats Heal

Like dogs, even cats may have therapeutic effects on patients. This treatment method is called felinotherapy and is suitable for both chronically ill patients, who may need help with coping, and those who suffer from long-term stress. Cats can bring joy or alleviate grief. We talked to the breeder Helena Ruckerová on what felinotherapy entails.

What is the essence of felinotherapy?

Felinotherapy falls into the category of zootherapies and it is a supportive treatment of somatic and mental disorders and stress. Its principle is the direct contact of the patient with a cat. Felinotherapy can be used as an AAT (Animal Assisted Therapy) where the cat has an effect on a human, resulting in a therapeutic effect including, for example, warming up the limbs, reducing stress, blood pressure and more. The second method is AAA (Animal Assisted Activities) where cats have an effect on the clients through activities designed to improve their quality of life, alleviate feelings of loneliness, improve communication, memory and bring information.

Are all cats suited for felinotherapy?

The breed of the cat does not matter much in the work of the felinotherapist. All that is important is that the cat to provide this type of therapy should be properly socialized, not shy and especially not aggressive. If we wanted to train a kitten for felinotherapy, it is recommended to teach it to travel, not to be afraid of strangers and to get used to different environments, disturbing sounds and scents. It is also good to get the cat used to a leash.


Does the cat have to undergo any training before the therapy itself?

If we are sure that the cat can handle everything well, we can register it for the felinotherapy tests where we will verify how she will behave in different environments. We can register a cat for the tests after reaching 1 year of age, she has to be vaccinated and chipped. The test is carried out together with the owner, and what is assessed is their interaction.


What does such a test entail?

It involves, for example, putting on a harness, petting of the cat by strangers, reactions to different sounds and scents. The team test is carried out by a three-member commission together with assistants who simulate the real environment in facilities where the cat and the owner can offer their services.


How do we know if the cat is suited for felinotherapy?

A cat that is to perform this service should be well coordinated with its owner, has to trust him and the therapy should bring it joy. That is why cats are tested so that the owner has time to test the cat before taking it to clients. The tests are designed so that the owner and the cat get acquainted with what awaits them in this field. Last but not least, the cat must be perfectly healthy.


How does the therapy itself work?

We have prepared different programs for different clients. In seniors, we can motivate people to be active during group sessions through cat toys, petting, and to communicate while passing on information (what breed the cat is, what is her name). We also practice memory and fine motor skills. In bedridden patients, we focus more on warming up the limbs, motor skills and improving the quality of life. This is done mainly by bringing them other excitement.


If practiced in child patients, what does felinotherapy entail?

For children, we mainly focus on getting to know the animals, alleviating fear of animals, while communicating the basic rules of animal care. We explain animal body language, and, of course, allow contact with the animal. We adapt the children's program to their age or their abilities. We also do plays with live animals.


For which patients is felinotherapy best suited?

Felinotherapy is best for the elderly as well as for disabled adults. We are focused mainly on children. The goal was for them to find love for animals and to be able to take care of them.


Does the training also apply to cat owners or breeders?

Yes, the prerequisites for this service should be met not only by the cat, but also by the person. The person should understand the cat, recognize the warning signals and should treat people well. Be empathetic, polite and have a little practice in psychology. At the same time, the person should be aware of the health risks, both for humans and animals. Know that zoonoses can be transmitted from a cat to a human or that a human disease can be transmitted to an animal.


How can a person prepare for felinotherapy, where can they get the education?

In order to know what one will need for this work, it is recommended to attend one of the felinotherapy or canistherapy seminars and learn how to approach which person and how to behave in the facilities. Just loving cats and wanting to do a good thing is not enough.