Cat Agility?!

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

CinderJump

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

Lucy_TrainMy 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.

rainy_tunnelAfter 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.

catweavesThe 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.

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35 thoughts on “Cat Agility?!

  1. Cat agility! Why not?! I mean cats are naturals if you think about it – always jumping and leaping, crawling under couches and chairs, so why not join them and see just how much you and your cat can do together.

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  2. I love all the quotes you dispersed throughout this post! My fav is “get your cat off the couch” and I think that’s why I love Jackson Galaxy so much as he really emphasizes this and cat agility! Yes! It’s so awesome to do that type of activity with felines!! Awesome post.

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    1. Cat agility at home can probably be done with all but the most timid cats. For an actual show, yes, one will need a more extroverted cat. Two of mine love agility, but I think only one could go on the road to do it. 🙂

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    1. Where have you seen cat agility at shows? My friend and I are eager to see others doing cat agility, as so far we’re self-taught.

      Cat agility just needs acceptance by some big places like Westminister and maybe it’d become more widespread. There’s really nothing here in the Midwest.

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  3. yeah … I mean cats are super agile so makes total sense. Not sure how one keeps score – or if the independent streak kicks in but would be fun to watch! I saw bunny rabbits do agility and that was also awesome.

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    1. If pet owners stayed open to possibilities, I imagine there are many different animals that could do agility such as…. I was just wondering about ferrets. They’re so acrobatic. And yup there are lots of videos of ferrets doing agility. 🙂

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  4. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even seen a dog agility event in person, but I want to. I think a cat agility event would pretty awesome too. I grew up thinking that cats don’t learn tricks, but I’m glad that isn’t true.

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    1. I grew up thinking cats couldn’t form bonds with their owners. A very special cat proved me wrong. Now my current cats are showing me just how smart cats are about tricks and sports. 🙂

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    1. If you taught Nala to weave, I guarantee you she’d have loved agility! Weaves are one of the harder obstacles for both dogs and cats. Sounds as if you gave her a fun life.

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  5. Wow! I had no idea that cat agility could occur – I’m such a dog! Honestly thought, we’re showing our neighbor your post – her cat is leash and walk trained, perhaps a great idea to get some other type of exercise in as well!

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  6. I’ve seen information about cat agility on TV. I use to attend cat shows, but that was a couple of decades ago when they were held in SC . At that time, they didn’t have cat agility trials at the shows. I’d love to see one.

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  7. I like that comment about letting our cats brain rot. Not like perhaps but find it eye opening. I had cats for many many years and although I suppose in one way they were trained, based on sheer repetition, I never set out to consciously train them as I would a dog, and had never thought of cats in that way. Perhaps because of that we do allow their brains to rot. Next time I get a cat I will definitely do something about that. Very interesting post, thanks!

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    1. You’re welcome! I always say that I owe everything I am today as a cat owner and animal welfare activist to a very special cat named Lucy. In my earliest years with Lucy, I trained her in basic obedience and tricks. As she reached senior hood, she slowed down and I backed off too in my training of her. I often look back through photos and wonder did she get too old or did I just give up trying to stimulate her? At any rate, she made me realize cats can be trained but also helped my understand the importance of my regularly encouraging it.

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  8. Fun post, Cat Agility is such a cool idea! It’s about time they Let The Cats Out!! You’ve done a great job creating an agility course yourself. I hope you find an outlet nearby for your cats to participate as a team sport.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. Thanks! In one of my upcoming marketing classes, I have to design a camp on paper. I’m planning to create the specifications for a cat agility camp. Then at least I’ll have concrete details to show local outlets.

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