he past few weeks, I've been talking about improving our pets' health and highlighting different "sports" in which our pets can participate. Last week we looked at canine agility; this week, I'm happy to welcome a guest who works with her cats in agility. I'm pleased to bring this post written by Allison Hunter-Frederick. The photos are of her cats: Rainy at left and Cinder in an agility tunnel at the end.
The instant I open our basement door, two of our cats race from their resting spots to join me. They meow and clamber over one another to be the first allowed downstairs. Why are they so excited? They know that an agility session awaits them.
January’s pet calendar is highly focused on the health of dogs. It’s a time when owners are encouraged to walk them and train them. But cats have health needs too.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60% of America’s cats are obese. In addition, the pet insurance company Nationwide reported in 2017 that nearly 20 percent of its members’ claims were for conditions and diseases related to obesity. Two factors that contribute to obesity in cats are too little mental stimulation (which results in overeating) and too little exercise.
Cat Agility, Really?
Agility is a fun activity that helps to address a cat’s physical needs. In this team sport, your cat will race through tunnels, leap over jumps, weave between poles, and more. Agility benefits cats because it makes use of their senses and skills. Cats have excellent visual focus and accuracy, which they exercise to the fullest as they race through obstacles. They also have strong sprinting and jumping abilities, which they can make use of and hone through an agility course. Additionally, cats excel in learning a skill, remembering it, and adapting it to new situations. This knack to problem-solve enables them to easily learn each new agility course.
Although their independent nature can work against cats, it can also work for them. As their owners, we simply need to tap into their independence by giving them a reason to do agility. Treats, toys, and the obstacles themselves can all serve as motivation.
Lucy’s Learns Agility
My initial venture into cat agility happened in the early 2000’s when I became a first-time cat owner. Inspired by watching my husband and our toy poodle compete at agility trials, I taught our calico cat, Lucy, the basics of agility. Some obstacles such as jumping she caught onto after one training session, while others such as tunnels and weaves took several training sessions.
I began by teaching Lucy one obstacle at a time in our living room. First, I lined up a row of chairs and placed a treat under each. Once Lucy got used to the idea of running through the chair ‘tunnel,’ I’d just throw one treat to the opposite end for her to race after. Then I bought a child’s hoop from the Dollar Store. I held the hoop so that its bottom touched the floor and I coaxed Lucy to step through the hoop with a treat. Over time, I gradually increased the distance from the floor and the bottom of the hoop until she was jumping through the hoop. Next, I bought some empty pop bottles and spread them a few feet from each other. Each time I lured her around a pop bottle I rewarded her with a treat. Once she became proficient with weaving, I increased the difficulty level by rewarding her only after two bottles, then three and four, until she could weave a course of six. When Lucy had mastered all three obstacles, I combined them to create an amateur course in our living room.
Agility Continues at Home
With our current cats, Cinder and Rainy, I became more serious about training. This is why our family now has an agility course cut in our basement. Although such a project can involve large pieces of equipment, you can create an economical one in your home. Foam agility dog jumps and training agility tunnels run about $50 each. Most agility weave pole sets are designed for outdoor use, but I found a set of six indoor weaves and a hoop at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Friends of mine have used traffic cones or even toilet plungers as weave poles. A dog agility course will typically also include a teeter, A-Frame, a cat/dog walk, and table. I have yet to find economical options for a teeter and a cat/dog walk, but I created an A-Frame by pushing together two sets of small pet stairs and a table by using a sturdy cardboard box.
Training is the highlight of every afternoon for my cats. I take about fifteen minutes with each cat. On their turn, I run them a few times through a course in addition to teaching them obedience and tricks. Both receive lots of cat treats and praise as rewards. At the same time, I let each cat dictate the pace. If one of them struggles with an agility obstacle, I work specifically on it. By the same token, if either of them loses interest, I move into a different type of training or I end the session for the day.
Is it a Sport for You and Your Pet?
For any pet owner, there are three reasons to take up agility. First, it’s fun. Second, because agility is a team sport, it will strengthen the bond between you and your pet. Third, all this activity will be good for the health of both you and your pet. Whether you use just a few or several obstacles, your cats will love being active with you.
Interested in doing cat agility? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Watch Allison and Rainy go through agility on YouTube; clink the link here to see them in action: https://youtu.be/4NgAtiAQob8
Allison Hunter-Frederick is an administrative assistant, pet blogger, and cat therapy handler. She hosts an animal welfare blog at lincolnpetculture.wordpress.com/. She is also taking classes on cat behavior. Readers can follow her cat Rainy on Instagram @rainythetherapycat. Allison’s goals are to strengthen the human-pet bond and increase pet retention. She is available for guest posts and freelance pet writing.
Playtime – something children and pets enjoy and adult humans should do more of. Activity and play are good for people and for our pets.
Consider the wild cousins of our cats and dogs, those cougars, tigers, wolves and coyotes that wander the immense outdoors – searching, tracking, stalking, and chasing prey, and rolling, wrestling, and pouncing on their siblings and packmates. The wild ones engage in great amounts of activity; the furry companions living in our homes, more often than not, participate in the activity of... couch potato.
Most dogs were originally bred for some type of job such as herding, hunting, hauling, and guarding. These tasks required strong bodies and alert minds, and many breeds today still yearn for the work for which they were bred – you see that when your Corgi or Aussie Shepherd herds your kids! Cats also had jobs during the agricultural and early industrial age: keeping vermin, like mice and rats, at bay. Yet, today, most dogs and cats enjoy the lap of luxury – laying on the couch, floor, or pet bed. And sometimes that lack of activity leads to boredom and gets them into trouble.
There are many benefits for our pets to engage in play and other activities. In addition to being more physically healthy, exercise often alleviates unruly behaviors such as chewing, digging or scratching, hyperactivity, jumping on people, barking, whining, and meowing. These behaviors can not only be annoying but also destructive.
Mental stimulation is also important, particularly for those dogs bred for active jobs such as herding and hauling. Therefore, participating in more rigorous exercise like hiking and jogging or joining agility or tracking events not only exercises a dog physically but mentally as well. Playing with the cat using feather and laser toys engages kitty's prey and pounce instincts, again stimulating the cat's physical as well as mental abilities. Playing with your pet in the afternoon and evening helps tire it before bedtime, keeping it from being restless at night when you want to sleep – a great benefit for you!
So whether playing fetch with Fido, hiking with Holly, running the agility course with Ruger, or feather swirling and yarn twirling with Simba the cat, providing your pet with playtime reaps positive benefits for both you and your furry friend. And keep in mind that our pets want us to engage in activities with them – we are their special person, their pack, their clan. Think of how young wolves and lions wrestle with and stalk one another – they play together and hunt together. So spend time with your special canine or feline today engaging in some fun activities – your bond will grow even stronger … and the exercise will do you both good!
For more information on the benefits of playful activities with your dog, visit http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/exercise-dogs.
For further information on agility, tracking, and other dog events and activities, visit http://www.akc.org/dog_shows_trials/.
For more information on enriching your cat's life with play and other activities, visit http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/cat-behavior/enriching-your-cats-life.