Cat agility got its start in 2001 because of a dinner conversation about cat tricks. Two couples on the cat show circuit decided to modify some dog agility obstacles and show them to their cats. From there, a group called International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT) was born.
Three years later, the Cat Fanciers Association took an interest in the new sport for cats. One year after that, the organization’s first agility competition was held in Oregon as part a cat show, and boasted forty-five contestants. Since then, scores have been kept sporadically, with prizes consisting infrequently of money and more often a ribbon or small trophy.
Feline agility competitions, in which cats run through a miniature obstacle course full of hurdles and tunnels, have become fixtures on the cat show scene.
–Jennifer Kingston of New York Times, Next Best Thing to Herding Cats
Agility is a sport that people and pets can do together. Your pet will race through tunnels, leap over jumps, climb A-frames and pet walks, balance on teeter totters, and weave between poles. Although agility can involve large pieces of equipment, you can also create your own course at home.
For any pet owner, there are three reasons to take up agility. First, it’s fun. Second, all this activity will be good for the health of both you and your pet. Third, because agility is a team sport, the two of you will develop a unique bond.
I think we let cats’ brains rot, and I think it’s sad.
–Cynthia Otto of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, Next Best Thing to Herding Cats
Agility benefits cats in that it makes use of their senses and skills. Foremost, agility provides them with the opportunity to make use of and hone their unique abilities to sprint and jump. Second, cats have excellent visual focus and accuracy, which agility will exercise to the fullest as cats race through a complicated obstacle course. International Cat Agility also points out that cats excel in learning a skill, remembering it, and adapting it to new situations. This knack to problem-solve enables them to quickly learn an entire agility course. Finally, although their independent nature can work against cats, it can also work for them. Our goal as trainers is to tap into that independence by giving our cats a reason to do agility. As with dogs, we can use treats, toys, and the obstacles themselves as motivation.
Not only is putting your cat through hoops fun, it’s also great for your cat. That’s because agility training fights obesity and boredom, two very common cat problems.
–Animal American Hospital Assocation, Get Your Cat Off the Couch
My interest in cat agility developed in a roundabout way. Even as a puppy, our family’s toy poodle could climb like a goat. This interest prompted my husband to make obstacles courses for him at home, and later enroll him in agility classes at the local Greater Lincoln Obedience Club. The two have gone on to compete in local and even national agility trials. Inspired by them, I started teaching our first cat to do tricks. With our three current cats, I’m even more serious about training, which has expanded to include agility skills.
Training for agility can be done inside the house, takes little space, and is inexpensive.
–International Cat Agility Tournaments, Benefits of Cat Agility
Over the past three years, I’ve tried to replicate each agility obstacle at home. A jumping obstacle was the easiest and most economical to create. Because cats like to be up high, I have mine jump from chair to chair. Cost: free!” For a few dollars, I also added a child’s hula hoop into the mix.
After my cats mastered jumps, I added a tunnel to their repertoire. The tunnel is one of the most popular obstacles in dog agility and, like jumps, one of the simplest to teach. With a small tunnel, I simply throw a treat into it to get my cats running in the right direction. They then take turns diving into the tunnel’s mouth and bounding out the other end. You can find a small affordable one at the Baby, Toddler & Preschool Learning Toys | Playroom Furniture | Play Tents & Tunnels section at Toys R Us. Larger tunnels are more expensive and more difficult to store. In addition, to train our cats to go through a larger tunnel, I initially had to crawl through the it with them. Only over time could I lead them through the tunnel with a trail of treats.
The remaining obstacles are more difficult to replicate and to teach—but not impossible! For weaves, I’ve turned to pop bottles or other tall, thin objects. I then lure my cat through with treats or wand toys. Another relatively low-cost option is small traffic cones. I recently found a set of weave poles for cats at – of all places – Bed, Bath, & Beyond’s website. (The set also includes a hoop. But notice that it only comes with three weave poles. That wasn’t enough for me, so I bought two sets.) I have yet to create an A-frame, but Cat Fanciers Association recommends pushing together two Alpine scratchers (with the corrugated cardboard scratching material) that tilt up at an angle. Another idea I gleaned from the CFA agility site is laying across two sets of pet stairs to create a pet walk; with the bonus that the stairs could be pushed together without the plank to create a stepped A-frame This leaves the teeter, for which I’ve yet to find an economical solution.
Everybody wanted to try running their cats through a course.
–Diane McCartney of The Wichita Eagle Cats in Motion
Recently, I’ve been checking into cat agility classes. A few years ago, The Nebraska Humane Society invited national agility exhibitor Jill Archibald to demonstrate for them. Beyond that, I haven’t been able to find any options in the state or even in the Midwest. Instead cat agility sadly seems to be confined to the coasts. I’d like to end with a plea to dog sports clubs: please open your doors to cats!
Agility builds awareness among the public of how intelligent, beautiful, trainable and companionable cats are, which will benefit all cats everywhere.
–International Cat Agility Tournaments, Benefits of Cat Agility
Even if pet clubs keep their doors closed to cat agility, that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue it. As I said above, to date, I’ve replicated most standard obstacles in my home at minimal cost. Now most every day I spend a few minutes playing with my cats, training my cats in obedience, and/or doing agility. You can too.
Interested in doing cat agility? Starting with the Spring Issue, please follow my articles on pet training at Lincoln Kids., which will cover all kinds of training for cats. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments.