I just finished reading about emotional support animals. They aren’t trained the way that service or therapy animals are.
They’re usually pets — and, according to It’s a Heartful Life, they “are prescribed by a mental health professional in a letter. The letter, which explains the mental illness being mitigated by the animal, allows the animal to fly with their person or the right to live in ‘no pet’ housing situations.”
Cats are high on the list, which is no surprise. Those of us who live with cats know only too well the love and comfort they can give. Humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, himself a devout cat lover, said, “There are 2 means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”
All of this got me wondering: What can we do to emotionally support our cats?
1. Give Your Cat a Ritual to Look Forward to
Cats enjoy certain rituals just as we do. They appreciate the little understated gestures.
Years ago, whenever we had corn on the cob, I used to save the husks and silk for some of our cats to play with. It made the most godawful mess — but they had such a great time tossing the stuff around that I didn’t have the heart to stop the madness.
Bartholomew Oliver, a cat rescue worker in the Atlanta area, makes a point to give her cats “their own special greeting when I wake up or come home, just to let them know I’m glad to see them. Some like kisses; others like butt scratches. But whatever their thing is, that’s what they get in hopes that it makes them feel wanted and valued.”
Writer Julia Williams says that rituals are “a great way to bond with your cat and demonstrate how much she means to you. Some of the rituals I have with my cats would probably be deemed silly by some people, but they are things I do daily with them, and I believe my cats would miss these rituals if they stopped. I would miss them, too.”
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2. Massage Your Cat
We find massage to be a good way of releasing stress — and so do cats. “People don’t realize how stressed cats get,” Bren Hicks, an Abyssinian and bengal breeder, recently told me.
There are certain do’s and don’ts:
- Don’t use massage oils or lotions.
- Do be gentle and use the palms of your hands, not your fingertips.
Maryjean Ballner has been doing massages for cats for years. “Pet an animal, and you’ve made a friend for a day,” she says. “Massage an animal, and you’ve made a friend for life.”
Ballner believes that massage can “transform a temperamental tiger into a compliant kitty” and “socialize a scaredy cat.” That last one especially makes sense. Massage might be the first kind touch that an abused or poorly socialized cat has ever known.
3. Have a Daily 30-Minute Play Session
Cat toys give you a chance to really interact with your pet. Some cats have strong retrieving instincts, and throwing a small ball or a crumpled wad of paper sends them springing across the room like cheetahs.
If possible, try to set aside a half-hour in the evening for play. It’s another ritual that will strengthen the bond between you.
4. Give Your Cat the Gift of Music
My brother and his wife leave the radio on for their cat, Toby, when they go away. My cats get to listen to Altan or Carrie Newcomer when they go to the vet.
Music and cats go together even better than Schweitzer realized. Producer Joshua Leeds and concert pianist Lisa Spector created a CD series called Through a Cat’s Ear (affiliate link). These CDs are “designed to reduce stress in a chaotic or unsettling environment” and “provide sensory excitement for your indoor cat.”
Watch this pair of cats react to music designed for their ears:
Keep Your Cat’s Well-Being in Mind
When we adopt a cat, we’re signing up for the good times and the bad. Leslie Gallegos’s cat, Pumba, “is getting more easily confused in his old age, so I try to keep things constant for him.” Marcye Coogan made sure that her Samson “got extra hugs and love” when her other cat was sick.
So be sensitive to your cats’ emotional health. Put the radio on and try a little kitty massage. And don’t forget to play around with them.