PET HEALTH CORNER: Cat Agility

by | Cat Care |

In North America, when you think about pet agility courses, you may think only of dogs, jumping over bars and through hoops. In reality, many other pets can do agility courses, and do them well!

In today’s Pet Health Corner blog, Dave Wilson, director of Shelter Health and Wellness for the Ontario SPCA and retired vet discusses agility courses, and how they apply to animals other than dogs.

Cat Agility

cat agility
Photo by Heikki Siltala

UK Agility Competitions

Wilson says in the United Kingdom cat agility competitions are extremely popular.

“Cat agility competitions are now often blended as part of standard cat shows,” he says.

The other animal Wilson says does well in agility courses in the UK is the ferret. He says for this animal, agility comes naturally, and is something that’s easy to train them to do.

“It’s really hard to ferret-proof your house, cause they like to burrow,” Wilson says.

Generally when it comes to agility, Wilson says dogs, cats and ferrets are the big three, though there are also smaller courses for rats, gerbels or hamsters.

Motivation

When it comes to training, Wilson says dogs can learn easier, because their sociability is geared towards external sources, and they are typically food motivated as well.

“Most dogs tend to get that sense of reward from interacting with something or someone outside themselves,” says Wilson.

Cats on the other hand get self-rewards for things they do for themselves. Wilson says this means they are more internally motivated. Despite this, he says you should be able to train any animal if you can find out one thing.

“The big thing is finding what it is that motivates the animal,” he says.

For cats, Wilson says that thing could be a type of food or treat like tuna, or chicken. It could also be a special toy, or cat nip toy that motivates them.

“We’re not talking giving them a teaspoon of tuna, we’re talking giving them a little, tiny, not even the size of a pencil eraser piece,” says Wilson.

Training

Once you know how they are motivated, he says you can start adjusting their behaviour in tiny steps. Wilson says cats can get bored easily, so it’s important to keep things interesting and different while training.

Another thing that’s important, according to Wilson, is to give a treat immediately so it’s clear to the cat what they are being rewarded for.

“If you give that reward 5 seconds later, the cat now is associating the reward with something else that he’s doing,” he says.

Clicker training is another method that some pet owners use, but Wilson says it’s important to do your background reading on this if that’s the method you want to use with your cat.

cat agility
Photo by Heikki Siltala.

Health Benefits

Wilson says there’s also many health benefits to training your animals in agility. The first benefit he says is aerobic, burning off your pet’s extra calories. With this exercise, he says you’re also keeping their muscle tone strong by keeping the joints moving so they don’t stiffen up.

He says the expression that a tired dog is a happy dog, can also apply to cats when it comes to mental and physical exertion.

“If you can give them that mental stimulation, then they’re not going to be looking for things to try and give them that alternate stimulation,” Wilson says.

Can my cat do agility courses?

Wilson says any cat can get into agility courses, it mostly comes down to the individual, and if you’re able to find out what motivates them.

A key to training, he says, is to be very patient, and recognize everything takes time. For example, if trying to get your cat through a tube, Wilson says to start with the tube collapsed so it’s just a hoop your cat steps through. From there, he says you can open it an inch at a time.

For more information on Cat Agility training, head to the ICAT (International Cat Agility Tournaments) website.

Stay tuned for next week’s Pet Health Corner to learn more about what motivates cats from Dave Wilson.