Go, Cat, Go! Get your cat off of the couch with agility training
By Maria St. Louis-Sanchez
We know what you might be thinking. The chances of getting your cat to do agility are about as likely as:
- Winning the lottery
- Getting struck by lightning
- Your cat finally accepting that you are the master of the house
Yet cats around the country are competing in agility competitions or doing courses in their own homes.
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Not only is putting your cat through hoops fun, it’s also great for your cat, says Marla McGeorge, DVM, of The Cat Doctor animal hospital in Portland, Ore. That’s because agility training fights obesity and boredom, two very common cat problems, she explains.
Want to keep your cat fit in body and mind, but not sure where to start? Check out this video tutorial to see one way to train a cat. If it doesn’t work, there are plenty of other methods to try: This is just one of YouTube’s 4,500 videos on cat training.
As you get started, keep these points in mind:
Watch for signs of osteoarthritis or other joint pain.
If your cat suffers from joint pain or other soreness, some of the obstacles in an agility course could make your cat’s condition worse. But knowing whether your cat is in pain can be nearly impossible, because cats don’t give obvious signs.
Meredith Weller, DVM, of The Cat Doctor animal hospital in Columbus, Ohio, recommends looking for these signals that your cat is in pain:
- hesitating before jumping
- walking up stairs more slowly than he or she used to
- missing the mark when he or she jumps
If your cat does any one of these things, visit a veterinarian to find out what hurts and to relieve the pain.
And don’t give up altogether on agility. Modify it to work around your cat’s sore spots, McGeorge says. So, for example, if jumping hurts your cat, then have your cat crawl through a tunnel or walk up a ramp instead.
Protect your cat from mental stress.
Agility competitions reward cats and their owners for their hard work, but traveling from place to place and dealing with the hustle and bustle of competitions can be nerve-racking for a cat that is not used to it, Weller says.
If your cat freaks out when you attend a competition, don’t push the issue, she warns. Instead, build your own agility course at home.
Feeling ambitious? Duplicate the blueprint of the course from the recent the Cat Fanciers’ Association–Iams Cat Championship’s Feline Agility Competition. Or stick to simple, homegrown tricks like jumping from couch to couch or weaving through chair legs.
Remember—you have a cat, not a dog.
Cats are not small dogs.
Cats have short bursts of energy. You’ll be lucky to work in 10 minutes of training in a day, McGeorge says. You’ll have the best luck if you train for five minutes at a time, twice a day, she advises.
When it comes to motivation, cats and dogs couldn’t be more different. A dog will do anything for a treat, but cats consent to undergo agility training only if it is fun.
And that’s a good thing. You never have to worry if you’re forcing your cat to do something that he or she doesn’t want to do. As Weller says, “Cats will look at you and be like, ‘whatever’, and walk away.”