Guest Post: Using Catnip to Train Your Cat

It all started after the move. Pumpkin, a formerly-outdoor cat for nearly a decade, needed to get used to life indoors.

But was it possible?

He had been used to roaming outside for hours on end, pretending to hunt squirrels (and never catching anything), and meeting up with his neighborhood girlfriend/arch-enemy named Rocky. Although we always forced him to sleep inside (ever since the “lost for nearly two weeks” incident of 2015), he would wake up in the morning, meowing insistently to be let outside.

Not surprisingly, his transition indoors started off disastrously. Let’s just say there were a lot of bodily functions going on outside of litter box. And the poor couch…it was being destroyed daily by Pumpkin’s frustrated claws.

So I decided to do some research on how to ease the transition, and discovered a magic ingredient to success: Catnip.

Previously, we gave Pumpkin catnip as a treat — the way it made him go wild and then collapse was pretty adorable. To spoil him, we even tried growing catnip inside, but he destroyed the poor little sprout. I never thought, however, of using catnip as a training tool.

Stock photo
Stock photo

First of all: What is catnip?

Did you know that catnip is actually a herb that’s part of the mint family? According to the Scientific American, it originates from Europe, Asia and Africa, and early settlers brought it to North America. The Pilgrims (the Thanksgiving ones) grew it in their gardens for medicinal purposes and appropriately called it “Cat Mint.” Its official plant name is “Nepeta cataria.”

Have you ever wondered why cats love catnip?

It’s a sex thing. Really. The oils in the catnip act as an “artificial cat pheromone,” which in turn excites the cat and triggers the crazy-happy “high” that you’ve likely witnessed. No wonder cats love it!

But is it dangerous?

Thankfully it’s completely safe and non-addictive. Sure, your cat might collapse in a love-drunk stupor, but it’s all good fun. That means you can rest assured that training your cat using catnip won’t do her any harm.

Stock photo
Stock photo

So how will catnip help me train my cat?

Before you go out and try these tricks yourself, keep in mind that only 70-80% of cats are catnip-junkies because only some cats have the “catnip gene.” So if your feline friend is in the minority, you may need to try other methods of training. For those of you willing to try, here are four ways catnip can help you train your cat:

It redirects poor behavior. For example: My poor couch was Pumpkin’s scratching post. That is, until I purchased a real sisal scratching post and covered it in dried catnip. The post was more satisfying to scratch than the sofa, but it was the catnip that made him want to try it out. Without it, Pumpkin might have kept to his old ways.

It attracts a cat’s attention: I had to make our home more interesting if I was going to convince Pumpkin it was worth staying inside. So we bought him a cat tree. But as you know, cats can be particular about what they like. That’s where catnip comes in: Even if your cat thinks she’s too good for a new perch, sprinkle it with catnip to make it more appealing.

It encourages exercise: Maybe your problem isn’t unruly behavior, but a lack of movement altogether. If your cat is struggling with his weight and the vet has encouraged you to do something about it, catnip can jumpstart playtime. Whether you purchase catnip-filled toys or just sprinkle it on something you already have, it will make playing (and therefore, exercising), much more exciting. It might get your lazy cat to roll around and work off a few calories.

It shows your cat you love him. We all love our cats and want to treat them. While buying food-related treats can be fun, too much can cause your cat health problems in the future. With catnip, on the other hand, you can make Whiskers’ day without dealing with the unwanted side-effects. What does this have to do with training? Letting your cat know you love her pays off. It might not fix all your behavioral issues, but at least she knows you want to spoil her.

I’d like to say that after a couple of months of catnip-training, Pumpkin is perfectly content with being indoors, but that’d be a lie. He still hankers for his wild-child outdoor days, but we are making strides in the right direction — all thanks to catnip!

Tell me, have you tried using catnip with a purpose? Has it worked? Share your successes (or failures) in the comments.

Natalie rescued Pumpkin when he was just a days-old kitten. He was the baby of a stray cat that lived near her uncle, and after a decade of living outdoors, Pumpkin is now transitioning to a safer and quieter indoor life. Natalie writes over at Leaping Cats, discussing ways to keep your indoor cats fit, healthy and happy.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please check out our Author Guidelines.

A Cat is Not a Houseplant

A cat is not a houseplant. For a houseplant to grow, all it needs is water, food, sunlight, and shelter. Pretty convenient, right? People today are all about convenience. That’s why we have remotes to turn on our television, microwaves to heat up our food, and cell phones to instantly connect with anyone. And often that’s a major reason why we choose cats for our pets. What could be more convenient than an animal that only needs the necessities? The problem is that convenience is okay when we’re talking about a houseplant. If a plant’s minimal requirements prove to be too much of a hassle, we can ignore it until it dies and then throw it away. But cats are living creatures. We owe them more consideration than we owe a plant, because despite what many seem to think they have more complex needs than a plant.

To thrive, cats need physical activity. We all know that staying active is key to our health. Did you know that exercise improves the appearance of hair, skin, and muscle tone for our pets too? We also all know that our sedentary lifestyle has contributed to an overweight society. Did you know that exercise helps prevent sickness and obesity in our pets too? But don’t cats like to sleep most of the time? Some cat experts suggest that this is a fallacy; cats sleep away their lives out of boredom. If that’s true, then we owe it to our cats to ensure they have ample reason to get up and move. Another expert noted that just like tigers in the wild, cats have short bursts of energy and that the rest of the time they sleep. Even so, those short bursts of energy are usually intense and purposeful. Again, we owe it to our cats to give them an engaging lifestyle. We can do this by providing them with toys to chase, obstacles to jump, and ledges to climb. The benefits are twofold; not only will our cats stay sleek, slim, and fit, but we’ll gain a deeper appreciation for their marvelous bodies.

To thrive, cats need mental stimulation. People who are bored tend to become apathetic or destructive. The same goes for our pets. Cats who lack mental stimulation are at risk of becoming couch potatoes or developing anxious, compulsive, or other neurotic behaviors. Studies have shown that play is important to keeping our brains healthy. Similarly, cats are curious creatures and that they need challenges to be happy. Research suggests that one way for people to stave off dementia and other cognitive disorders is to do puzzles, creative activities, and otherwise engage their minds. In the wild, when they aren’t sleeping, lions, tigers, and other wild cats are stalking and hunting their prey. Household cats still possess that instinct and, in all fairness to them, we must simulate that environment in our homes. We can do this by providing them with puzzle feeders, interactive games, and supervised outings in the yard or leash time. Again, the benefits are twofold; not only will our cats be happier, but we’ll gain a deeper appreciation for their unique personalities.

To thrive, cats need attention and love. Children who aren’t shown affection in their earliest months often grow up with attachment disorders and are incapable of developing relationships. When it comes to domesticated animals, ferality can develop in those that are removed from human contact in their earliest weeks. The standard socialization window for cats is from two to seven weeks of age, but it can extend up to 14 weeks. Moreover, cats who haven’t been socialized are more likely to be fearful in unfamiliar situations and uncomfortable with changes in their environment. Of course, there’s a stark difference between cats that fear humans and those that are simply shy or independent. But the point of my article is that cats thrive best when we provide them with more than just the necessities. Cats that receive water, food, sunlight, and shelter very well may survive, but they won’t truly enjoy life. If I’ve learned anything by talking to cat owners who treat their cats as living creatures with complex needs, it’s that they build a relationship with their cats that is golden. Yes, just like all living creatures, their cats will ignore them, tolerate them, and even crab at them. But their cats will also purr, snuggle, play, and love on them. Every single day. For the rest of their lives. And if this isn’t what you wanted from your pets, why do you have them?

A reason that cats rival for the position of most popular pet is that cats are considered easy to care for. And the truth is, cats have adapted well to our modern lifestyle. They accept the tight quarters of apartment buildings and the many solitary hours forced upon them by owners who work all day. They make their own fun by chasing insects and even rays of sunlight. And they stoically ignore symptoms of diseases until they absolutely must have medical treatment. Cats even tolerate our apathy. Yet just like some plants do better when their leaves are misted and fertilizer is added to their soil, so cats will only truly thrive when we take time to provide them with physical activity, mental stimulation, and love. And, in turn, we’ll discover that our relationship with them is richer and more meaningful, the way it should be.

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


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 a plank across two sets of pet stairs to create a pet walk. 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.

Cat Obedience?!

Two years ago, I wrote my first article sharing the benefits of cat training…. Just for fun, here’s that article!

“Training time!” That’s the call I make every day to Cinder. Except she’s not my dog like you might suppose. She’s my cat.

Like most adult cats, Cinder knows how to use the litter box and a scratching post. In other words, she doesn’t need training in the basics of pet protocol.

So I could just let her play with her numerous toys and take those long naps for which cats are famous. Instead I add training to her day.

Reasons to Train

  • Builds a strong bond between you and your cat.
  • Exercises your cat’s mind and keeps it stimulated.
  • Teaches your cat good social behavior skills.
  • Calms anxious and nervous cats. The repetition and routine of training will reassure them.
  • Keeps your cat out of danger. If your indoor cat escapes outside, having a recall command will bring her back.
  • Brings joy to you. Imagine hiding food under plastic cups and your cat finding the treats.

How To Train

Don’t think training will work for your cat? Despite the limited number of articles on cat training in contrast to those on dogs, many cats CAN be trained. The first step is to accept that cats aren’t as social as dogs. Having a more independent personality, cats aren’t as inclined to work for praise and attention as dogs are. They’re also not as easy to motivate. For that reason, the real trick is getting your cat to do what you want.

  • For some cats, reinforcing a specific behavior with food might work while for others toys work best. No matter what type of motivator you use, there are some tips to train smart with your cat:
  • If you’re using food treats, conduct training sessions just before mealtimes. Your cat’s natural desire for food at his regular mealtime will sharpen his focus and increase his desire to obey you.
  • Use the same command words each time. It will only confuse your cat if you say “come” on some occasions and “here” on others.
  • Use your cat’s name along with the command you’re trying to teach.
  • Take baby steps. Work with behaviors that come naturally to make it easy for your cat to obey. Then progress to more difficult commands.
  • Teach only one command at a time and repeat the lesson daily until she responds reliably. Praise your cat when she performs the behavior for which you have called.
  • Keep the training sessions short. Cats can get easily bored.
  • Train your cat as regularly as possible. Training your cat once a month won’t get results.
  • Be patient. Your cat is unique. While he may learn some commands quickly, others may cause him to struggle. Design your training to fit his personality.
  • Cats don’t always see objects  well that are close-up and stationery. If taking a treat from your fingers proves a challenge to your cat, try offering it to him in your flat palm or tossing it on the floor. He’ll see the movement when you toss it and know where the treat is.
  • Try to end on a positive note. If your cat appears frustrated or impatient, quit and conduct the lesson at another time.

Another important concept is to reward instead of punish. The latter creates stress, one of the most common causes for problem behaviors in cats. Stress also compromises the immune system, making your cat more vulnerable to disease. Depending on your cat’s temperament, punishment could frighten your cat to the point where he hides from you. It’s much easier to train your cat when you reward behaviors you want and offer him more attractive alternatives for behaviors you don’t want. And really, why would your cat want any part of your training sessions if it has learned that they can lead to punishment?


Besides teaching your cat a range of useful commands such as sit, stay, and come, you can also teach fun stuff like wave, twirl, and fetch. How exactly to teach these commands, and my cat Cinder’s response to them, will be a topic for another post.

Reprinted from Fall 2015.

Can Cats Be Trained?

A cat is not a dog, but a cat can still be trained. A cat can learn obedience, tricks, manners, and even life-saving behaviors just as well as a dog can. Initially, dog owners can even draw on their canine training experiences to train their cats. That said, it’s also important to be aware that cats are different from dogs. This article will share how I started out as a dog person who happened to have a cat, then became a cat person who is passionate about enriching the lives of felines.

Two years ago, I wrote my first article sharing the benefits of cat training. Foremost of these was that training builds a bond between owner and pet. I’d seen my relationship strengthened with my dog when we enrolled in obedience classes, and felt the same could hold true for our cats. Of course, any activity (including simply playing with them) that I elect to do with our cats will have the potential to enhance their lives, and so the question of why train cats remains.

cinder_kissWell, I also quickly became a firm believer that training has the additional benefit of keeping cats’ minds stimulated, which ultimately makes cats happier and healthier. Indeed, I never cease to be amazed at how curious and inventive cats are, and so never want to neglect the intellectual growth of our own cat trio. To that end, I bought books that tells how to teach cats tricks. None of the tricks take more than a few minutes per day to practice and integrating them allows me to mix-up our training sessions. One of Cinder’s favorite tricks is “kiss”. She’s enjoys sniffing my face maybe because it lets her know what I’ve been up to, and “kiss” just builds on that behavior. I taught her to “kiss” simply by holding a treat up to my mouth for her to take. Some other tricks such as “jump” fall under the category of agility, which is a separate training topic that I’ll write about later this week.

lucy_outdoorsOver the past year, partly because of reading books specific to understanding cat behavior, I’ve come to recognize that there are other benefits to training cats too such as it keeps them safe. The most important obedience command is the recall command, which brings a pet to the caller from a distance. Why is this so important? Because one day it may save your pet’s life. If you can bring your cat running by calling ‘come’, you can avoid such crises as a cat getting off its leash, escaping through the front door, or running into traffic. We used this command with our first cat, who had come to us as a stray and never lost her love of being outside.

cattrio_leaveitOther obedience commands are more about teaching manners. For example, Rainy likes to get my attention by using my legs as a scratching post. She also often makes a nuisance of herself at meal times by sticking her face into our plates of food. We’ve been breaking her of those habits by teaching her instead to sit. “Leave it” is another command I’ve worked on with all three of our cats. To teach them to show respect for one another’s food, I’ll place treats in front of one cat and order the others to “leave it”. This command also doubles as another way to encourage cats who like to beg for food to act less obnoxious.

bootsie_crateThe newest concept to me is that training cats can teach them important routines. This is especially important for those shy and anxious cats. Several months into having adopted a former feral, we discovered that crating her was going to be a challenge, and yet crating her would be critical if we were to ever take her to the vet. Bootsie hates being picked, and picking her up to deposit her in a crate would add unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation. If I managed to lure her into a crate with treats, having learned to be on high alert due to outdoor dangers, she popped out the instant I tried to close the crate door. The solution? Besides buying a more spacious and open crate, I also began to teach her the routine of using the crate. The first step was to put a soft cat bed in the bottom of the crate. The second step was to serve her meals in the crate. The third step was to gradually get her used to having the door closed while she was in the crate. After months of training, I can now close the crate doors and even leave Bootsie locked up while I perform a chore in another room, all without fazing her. When we took her to the vet a few month ago, luring her into the crate and locking her in was simple and completely stress free.

Cats in general don’t like change, and so routines can even benefit your most happy-go-lucky cat. For example, our three cats know when I’ll groom them. They also know that treats will accompany each session. If I’m even five minutes late, they’ll all gather in the kitchen to wait for me. This sure beats my having to seek them out and round them up!

Interested in training your cats? Experts will advise that the first step is to accept that cats aren’t dogs. They won’t work for praise and attention the way dogs will. Due to their independent nature, cats aren’t as easily motivated either. As a dog person who found herself with a cat I must confess that I based my cat training on what I knew from training dogs. Some of it worked. Like dogs, cats will work for treats, and patience and persistence is a must.

But the more I learn about cat behavior, the more respect I’ve developed for the differences between cats and dogs. An example can be drawn from agility. Jumps and tunnels are many dogs’ favorite obstacles. There are even entire courses built solely from those two obstacles. As for cats, while they do well enough bounding from chair to chair, they tend to view the bars on agility jumps as objects to push or crawl under. When it comes to tunnels, our cats love our small tunnel they view our bigger one mostly as a place to hide. Due to the aptitude of cats for climbing, their preferred obstacles are instead the A-Frame and dog walk.

Experts say that cats are easily bored, and their training sessions should be short. While this is a good general principle to follow, it’ll depend on your cat’s personality. The recommended five-minute guideline works well with our Cinder, who tends to get frustrated beyond that time. But our Rainy just seems to be warming up at five minutes, and can easily double or triple that time. A better guideline is to be prepared to keep training sessions short, but don’t be afraid to tailor them to your cat’s personality.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t provided any instructions for teaching specific skills. That information will be available in other articles. My main goal here has been to expose you to the idea that cats can be trained, the benefits to training them, and the different kinds of skills that can be taught.

I’d like to leave with you one final example of the benefits of cat training. Our youngest cat almost died last Fourth of July because we weren’t aware of her fear of loud noises. Since that time, there have been two other incidents related to this fear, one involved washing machines and the other involved staple guns being used on a roof. Now that we’re aware of Rainy’s fear, we can train her to be more comfortable around loud noises. I’ve come a long way in my attitude towards training. At first it was just a way to bond and have fun with my cats. Now I see it as a tool for improving their lives in every way possible. Such training takes time and effort, but I believe this is a gift well-worth giving to our cats.

PS Starting with the Spring Issue, please follow my articles on pet training at Lincoln Kids.

A Roundup of Pet Presents

With three of our pets having birthdays this past spring, I started thinking about the topic of pet gifts. Initially, the gifts that celebrated milestones were what came to my mind. To jog my memory of what other gifts Andy and I have given our pets, I began looking at past journals and browsing through our many years’ worth of photos. Suddenly I had a long list. To make the resulting list more manageable, I began to make associations. Some gifts were practical, others helped enrich our pets’ lives, and many were just fun presents. In this article, I’ll share with you my trip down memory lane.

Lucy_CollarFirst, there are the gifts that marked a milestone: cat collars. This might seem like a pretty boring and obvious gift. Well, the two collars I have in mind symbolized the initiation of two of our cats into our family. In 2006, a calico came to us as a stray. At the time, Andy had allergies and so we had no intention of keeping Lucy. When we couldn’t find her owner, and Andy’s allergies didn’t prove an issue, we decided to keep her. In honor of that decision, we gave Lucy a collar that she proudly wore for the rest of her life.

More recently, we fostered a cat that we rescued from a feral colony. By the time Bootsie had acclimated to life indoors, she’d also became part of our family, and so again we wanted to honor that decision with a collar. Yet for a time we hesitated. Feral cats, due to their limited contact with people, can be reluctant to be touched. Although Bootsie quickly grew to love curling up in my lap, I didn’t know how she’d react to having a foreign object wrapped about her neck. When our vet reassured us that a collar would be a good idea, so we thought we’d give it a try. While I kept her occupied with treats, I draped the collar over her neck. She flinched, but she didn’t run away. As she continued to snack, I slowly fastened the collar. Bootsie didn’t freak out. She even seemed to enjoy being just like her two collar-wearing sisters.

Second, there are the practical gifts. While all animals need food, water, and bedding, how they get it or the type they receive is what can make those gifts special. In our case, each one of these items turned into gifts that were prompted by a change in our pets’ health. For example, when Lucy became more prone to hairballs, we invested in cat grass. Cats don’t actually need grass, but the fiber content helps speed up the digestive process, which can aid in preventing constipation and in coughing up hairballs.

LucyFountainLucy drank less and less water as she aged, so much so that she got a urinary tract infection, and so we bought her a water fountain. At first, despite the fact that the flow of water is supposed to entice cats, Lucy didn’t show much interest. Then her curiosity got the better of her. One day we heard her collar jangle against the fountain edge. After that, she began to drink regularly from the water fountain. Soon Andy took on the task of faithfully cleaning it every few weeks. The water fountain remained a fixture in our bathroom until Lucy became sick with Chronic Kidney Failure. Then at times we’d find her laying her head in the fountain, no doubt due to the insatiable thirst that Chronic Kidney Disease can cause. Fearing she would drown in the water, with sadness we put the fountain in storage.

Bumblee_TowelWhen animals begin to age, familiar surfaces might start to feel unpleasant to their thinning bodies. When each of my guinea pigs began to age, I put more towels in their cages and play areas. Towels not only provide hiding spots which will increase their feeling of security, but they also provide extra warmth.

For dogs and cats, including those who sleep on human furniture such as beds, sofas, recliners, and chairs, beds of their own size will elevate their level of comfort. When Lucy began to age, I never considered that even laying on me might not be as comfortable as it used to be. I wish I had. Since losing Lucy, I’ve become more pro-active about providing our pets with ample bedding. Our three cats now have a total of eight beds distributed throughout our home.

Bumblebee_TubesThird, there are the enrichment gifts, some of which could arguably qualify as practical gifts. These include tubes, tunnels, bridges, and huts for guinea pigs; scratching posts and condos for cats; and agility equipment for cats and dogs. As much as any pet, guinea pigs need stimulation and exercise. Some of the ways Andy and I provided these were through store-bought supplies. But I also spent many hours scouring the internet for ideas for play arenas I could construct from cardboard boxes. While I enjoyed both constructing buildings for my pigs and watching them renovate them by shoving them around and chewing them up, I have to admit that Andy made the coolest gift of all. When our last guinea pig, Bumblebee, started to show signs of being lonely, created a box that had many toilet paper rolls hanging from its ceiling. Racing through the box, knocking into tubes that never fell, gave her hours of amusement.

Any list about cat purchases will include scratching posts. Cats need to scratch: it gives them exercise, stretches their muscles, keeps their claws sharp, and marks their territory. If you don’t buy a scratching post, you’ll end up with a frustrated cat or ruined furniture. If you can afford more than one scratching post, you might buy different types to offer opportunities for your cat to scratch both horizontal and vertical surfaces.

CatCondoAnother great enrichment gift is a cat condo, which help meet your cat’s need to jump and climb. When Lucy showed signs of old age, we invested in one with the hope of bringing extra enrichment to her life. And sure enough, every day found Lucy on her tower. Sometimes she simply chose to lay on one of the multiple ledges and look out the window. Her favorite spot seemed to be the cubby hole, where she often enjoyed a snooze. Other times, especially when we encouraged her, Lucy batted at the dangling wool balls. Cat condos can also increase territorial space, something that is crucial in a multi-pet household.

When our number of cats increased to three, we found that Cinder didn’t care for Bootsie to sleep in our bed. Yet Bootsie seemed to want to be with us as we slept. The solution? We bought a second cat condo, one that we set up beside our bed. Not only has Bootsie spent many hours resting in the bedroom condo, all three of our cats have enjoyed climbing all over it and even launching themselves from it onto our bed. Whatever size you purchase, do some research ahead because cat condos are expensive. Yet the investment is worth it, because the right one may very well last the lifetime of your cat. Or longer!

Barnaby_AgilityWhen our dog Barnaby was still young, Andy discovered that Barnaby liked to climb like a goat. Soon after that, he heard of the sport of agility and signed up for a class. The two loved the sport immediately and soon began to compete at trials. At some point, Andy handmade some weave poles. The photo shows him installing them in our back yard. He also bought a tunnel and, as part of a raffle, he won a jump. Barnaby has a wall full of ribbons.

None of which my cats will likely have, but that’s not to say agility is just for dogs. Two of our cats like to jump from chair-to-chair and through hoops. Whether they perform out of jealously or for the fun of it, who knows? At any rate, agility has enriched their lives too.

GuineaPigs_HutchFourth, there are the fun gifts. These include toys and treats. My guinea pigs always had plush animals in their cage with them. When my guinea pigs were young and playful, these plush toys seemed to mostly get ignored. As my guinea pigs began to age, and especially as they at times found themselves without a companion, they seemed to better appreciate having a snuggle toy. Andy and I didn’t often buy chew toys for our guinea pigs, allowing them to instead nibble to their heart’s content on (free!) cardboard boxes. On those rare occasions when we did hand money over for chew toys, we always bought ones that served a double purpose: For example, a hut served as a hiding place and a chew toy and a log was filled with edible treats and could also be played with like a toy.

Lucy_DanglerToys for cats come in two main categories. There are the ones that cats play with by themselves: plush mice and plastic balls. Andy and I don’t tend to invest too much money in them, as one seems to do the trick as much as another. Then there are the danglers. These aren’t that expensive either, but we do put more thought into them. All of our cats have had their favorites. The photo of Lucy shows her with one of her favorites, as well as how silly she let me be with her. Some toys don’t fit into the two main categories, such as a cardboard tube type toy which has feathers and even serves as a scratching toy. It suits our youngest cat who loves to roll around when she plays.

Besides toys, cats also love puzzle feeders. Our feline friends tend to turn into couch potatoes if we don’t provide them with stimulating activities. Puzzle feeders are a great way to appeal to your cat’s desire for physical and mental stimulation. Our cats received their first puzzle feeder this past Christmas. When I want to provide them with a quick activity, or I’m too tired to pull out the cat danglers, puzzle feeders make for great entertainment.

Finally, I return to dogs. When Barnaby was younger, I gave him a plush toy that Andy dubbed “puppy pal”. Even though he now has a basketful of toys and then some, this toy and a gray rat are his favorites. The gray rat we’ve never been able to replace. Fortunately, many years ago Andy did have the foresight to buy three more “puppy pal” so that this toy would last throughout Barnaby’s lifetime. For three years, we cared for a silky terrier named Gizmo. His teeth were the strongest I’ve seen on any of our pets. He could rip apart a toy in minutes. We finally managed to find a plush shark that he couldn’t destroy. When Gizmo started to decline, he switching for chewing up his toys to just snuggling with them. Aside from toys, Barnaby loves his treats. He has changed favorites over the years, with his current one being Vera Treats.

Fifth, there are the gifts that mark milestones more so for us as pet owners than for our pets. When Lucy began to show her age, we bought her a stroller. She had come to us as a stray and had never lost her love of the outdoors. Taking her for stroller rides became a way for us to include her in our outdoor activities.

Aside from the stroller, food has been the way that Andy and I have most celebrated our senior pets. When my oldest guinea pig turned eight, we threw her a party and treated her to a human-sized bowl of vegetables. As Lucy became more finicky in her old age, I would bend the rules more often about not feeing her human food. In the photo, she’s eating multiple scraps of chicken, something she loved until she eventually lost her interest in all food. And then just recently Andy and I celebrated Barnaby’s twelfth birthday. Because every birthday is now a milestone now that he’s reached his senior years, we took Barnaby out for what is pretty much everyone’s favorite food: ice-cream!

What are some gifts you’ve given your pets? Have any of our pet gifts inspired ideas? Post comments below!

What Should You Feed Cats?

When it comes to my experience with cats and food, God has a sense of humor. My first cat, a stray, proved finicky over food right from the start. In contrast, my second cat and a rescue, will eat pretty much anything I put in front of her and then growl to protect her food. To a certain extent, cat needs are pretty simple when it comes to food, amounting to a choice between dry, wet, raw, or a combination. Even so, there are facts to be aware of, and what follows is an elaboration of the aforementioned information based on my research and experience.


Whether cats are fed dry, wet, or raw food, there are certain ingredients that all cat food must have. The first one I learned about when I became a cat owner in 2009 is taurine. The ingredient stood out to me, as it’s an essential ingredient of cat foods but not dog foods. Natural Pet talks about how back in the 1970’s, thousands of cats were mysteriously dying due to a form of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy. At the same time, there were reports of cats going blind that were often associated with cats being fed dog food. Finally, in the late 1980s, the problem was traced to the deficiency of a basic amino acid called taurine.

Animals can manufacture many but not all of the essential 22 amino acids, or basic building blocks of protein, in their liver. Those that animals can’t manufacture in their own bodies must be obtained in the diet. For cats, taurine is one of those amino acids. Taurine is found primarily in muscle meat. As noted above, the lack of it causes serious heart and eye diseases in cats. Today reports Los Angeles Times, all commercial cat foods are supplemented with taurine. However, if you feed your cat a vegetarian diet, you might need to give him a taurine supplement.

Although all commercial cat foods today are supplemented with taurine, not all cat foods are created equal. For that reason, you should always check the label. What specifically should you look for? To ensure that your cat gets enough good sources of protein, check the first three ingredients on the label. Pet food labels list ingredients in order of the weight of the ingredient, starting with the heaviest. If beef, chicken, fish, or other meats top the list, the food should contain an appropriate level of protein.

Why do cats need protein? Proteins are the building blocks of body organs and tissues, everything from cartilage and tendons to hair, skin and blood. Protein can also function as enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Your cat’s body absorbs amino acids, the key components of proteins, from food and puts them to use by creating new proteins or fueling other bodily processes. This “synthesis” can be limited when certain amino acids are not present in the cat’s body or not available in the right amounts. When it comes to protein, this is also another case where cats have different needs than dogs, in that they require significantly more protein.


LucyWaterNow that you know what ingredients to look for in cat food, the next issue is whether to give your cats dry or wet food. Read enough articles by experts and you’ll discover that everyone has a different opinion on the issue. As a compromise, some cat owners elect to provide a mix.

PetWebMD lists these pros and cons, which summarize what I found in my research:

Dry adult cat food:

  • Is more economical
  • Is convenient because you can leave it out and it doesn’t spoil as easily
  • Is energy dense, meaning a cat can consume lots of calories quickly
  • Has about 10% moisture content
  • Tends to have more carbohydrates and less protein than wet food
  • May be better than canned food at preventing dental disease

Canned adult cat food:

  • Is more expensive
  • Can spoil more easily and requires refrigeration after opening
  • Is less energy dense than dry food
  • Has up to 78% moisture content
  • Tends to have more animal protein and fewer carbohydrates than dry food

One outstanding issue in the debate involves water. Prey consumed by wild cats is about 70 percent water. Cats on dry food diets usually don’t get enough water. They can become chronically dehydrated, which contributes to health problems like urinary crystals and Chronic Renal Failure. Dry food averages 10 percent water, while canned food averages 78 percent.

LucyFountainAccording to Catster, if you feed your cat dry food, she should drink approximately one cup of water for every ten pounds of body weight in a 24-hour period. In warm weather, she’ll need even more. Cats on canned food diets only need to consume one-third to one-half that amount of water. If you feed your cat kibble, pet water fountains work well in enticing cats to drink, and their filters ensure a fresh, clean water supply.

How much dry and/or wet food should you provide? Catster quotes the Animal Medical Center in New York, which says that a healthy, active adult cat requires about 30 calories per pound per day. So, the average eight-pound cat requires about 240 calories per day. Catster goes on to note that typically, dry food contains about 300 calories per cup, and canned food contains about 250 calories in a six-ounce can. Using these counts as a guide, an eight-pound cat would need four-fifths of a cup of dry food, or a little less than a full six-ounce can of wet food per day.

What’s my opinion? Because I’m not a veterinarian or any other kind of animal expert, I don’t feel I can provide you with conclusive evidence, but instead prefer to simply to lay out choices. Beyond that, I can only give you my experience, which is that for dietary reasons all my adult cats have received only wet food. Most of the time, our first cat found wet food more palpable, and my main concern was getting her to eat. With our current two cats, I chose to give them wet food because with it I can more easily control their weight; if I were to leave out dry food, I wouldn’t know how much each cat was eating, and I’m fairly certain that one of the two would quickly become obese. Moreover, given that our first cat also suffered issues related to not drinking sufficient water, I prefer wet food because of its high-water content.

Note that this is my food plan for our adult cats. This summer, my husband and I had the delightful opportunity to adopt a kitten. With her, I provide a mix of dry and wet. Why? First, dry food is higher in calories , and kittens need lots of calories to grow! Second, research suggests that when it comes to kittens, leaving food out is best. That makes dry the most appropriate, because it can be left out for hours without becoming less palatable.

Where do you stand on the debate over wet and dry?


When I first thought of writing this article, I wondered how much there would be to share. Cats need food and water. Simple enough, right? Except there is the whole dry versus wet debate. Along with a whole host of other issues such as: raw, grain, and fish diets.

Why feed cats a raw diet? Advocates contend that the house cat’s wild relatives obviously don’t cook their prey. Additionally, cooking degrades the nutrients in meat, causing losses of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Therefore, pet food, which is cooked at high temperatures, must have nutrients added back in. But this supplementation is not exact, and there are nutrient losses which aren’t always replaced.

According to Feline Nutrition, providing your cats with a diet that is modeled on what they would eat in the wild has the following benefits:

  • Improved digestion
  • Greatly reduced stool odor and volume
  • Healthy coat, less shedding, fewer hairballs
  • Increased energy
  • Weight loss, if overweight
  • Better dental health
  • Better urinary health

Given all these benefits, why haven’t I made the switch? The simple and honest answer is convenience. However, there are also other factors. For example, web sites that promote raw diets for cats stress that a main concern expressed by veterinarians is whether or not a homemade raw diet is balanced and contains all necessary nutrients. Some experts caution too that raw diets can prove dangerous to both pets and humans due to the potential transmission of bacteria. Indeed, while recognizing that nutrients can be lost due to processing, Pet Health Network also noted that the unquestionable truth is that cooking meats in particular actually makes them safer by destroying parasites that can cause diseases in cats and humans. Bones are also such an issue that they tend not to be recommended. Another negative is that changing a pet’s diet too quickly can result in diarrhea and other GI issues. Obviously, to provide a homemade diet correctly takes a real commitment on the part of the pet owner. The Rawfed web site recommends that those who make the switch to a raw diet should join the RawCat user group for support.

Where do you stand on the debate over raw?

When it comes to grain and fish, those terms refer to diets free of them. In fact, grain-free cat foods are currently very popular, and I have made efforts to seek out grain-free canned food. What’s the issue with grain? Mass produced pet foods are often packed with protein from soy and corn. Unfortunately, cats are unable to properly digest and assimilate these sources of protein. Just as bad, the high grain content of many pet foods is a primary contributor to the growing obesity and allergy problems in pets.

Some experts warn that the most important aspect of a cat food is whether the food provides complete and balanced nutrition. If the food contains excesses or deficiencies of specific nutrients, the cat will suffer as a result. This concept is true regardless of whether the food contains grains or not. In addition, some grain free pet foods contain carbohydrate levels similar to or even higher than diets containing grains. In many grain free diets, ingredients such as potatoes replace the grains in the food and often these ingredients have more carbohydrates than the common grains used in pet food. Finally, Pet WebMD notes that while food allergies do occur in pets, corn and other grains are not among the most common allergens found in foods. As proof, Pet WebMD cites a study wherein 56 cats were evaluated. In this study, 45 of the food allergies resulted from eating beef, dairy, and/or fish. Corn, meanwhile, was responsible for only four cases.

Even with my first cat, I knew the dangers of tuna. For example, it doesn’t have adequate amounts of vitamin E and this may lead to a condition called steatitis (also known as yellow fat disease). There’s also a risk of mercury poison. Obviously, if you incorporate tuna into your cat’s diet, do it in a controlled way. However, the biggest concern is that tuna has such a strong taste and smell that cats can become addicted to it. Veterinarians refer to them as “tuna junkies,” The problem is that these tuna junkies may refuse to eat anything else. For that reason, I simply avoid giving tuna to my cats.

A lot of cats love fish but, over the years, I’ve discovered research that suggests it’s not a good idea to feed fish to cats. Why? Because it is no longer safe for a host of reasons. The fish used in canned pet foods comes from “trash fish,” the unsavory leftovers of the seafood industry. It usually includes bones, and is high in phosphorus and magnesium, which can be an issue in cats with a history of urinary tract disorders or kidney disease. There is a link between the feeding of fish-based canned cat foods and the development of hyperthyroidism in older cats. Fish-based foods contain high levels of histamine, a protein involved in allergic reactions. While cats’ gut bacteria can synthesize their own Vitamin K from most food sources, fish-based foods may not support sufficient Vitamin K synthesis. Vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting. The most common synthetic Vitamin K supplement, menadione, has toxicity issues. If you’d like to read more reasons, check out Why Fish is Dangerous.


One of my happiest moments with my cats is seeing them all lined up waiting for their food. In this article, I have touched on the basics of cat diets. As my article surpasses the 2,000-word mark, I realize that there’s much more I had wanted to share. For example, my first cat was a finicky eater. Thus, all the cautions about dry food and grain food being high in calories meant nothing to me and were actually a reason for me to prefer those foods. In contrast, for our foster cat who is overweight, besides my paying attention to the cautions, I also scrutinize the label not just for ingredients but also for caloric content. Thus, while certain feeding guidelines do apply to all cats, others may depend on the cat. Think carefully about the diet you select for your feline, at some point include your vet in decisions, and finally check back here at LAA for future articles on this topic.


Teach A Cat to Jump and to Twirl

So far my posts this week have focused on obedience commands. Now I’d like to introduce two tricks. Everything I’ve covered to date comes from Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau, a book that has offers a lot of information about having fun with your feline, including how to take cats for walks.

Teaching a Cat to TWIRL

Teaching a cat to TWIRL has been a mixed experience for me. I have had about a 50% success rate with two of my cats. If it works, however, the trick can be great fun. Cats can learn to twirl both left and right, multiple times, or even weave under your legs. 

  • Have your cat SIT.
  • Show him a treat and bring the treat from his nose to his tail.
  • Tell your cat to TWIRL.
  • As he brings his head around to touch the treat, praise and treat.
  • Each time you repeat these steps, have your cat turn a little more until he turns a complete circle.
  • After your cat is adept at twirling one circle, have him TWIRL a second.
  • If he gets confused, stop and return to just one circle.
  • Once your cat can master two circles, add more circles, each time increasing the number to be completed before giving a treat.

Lucy struggled with this trick. I don’t know why. Did I simply not understand how to teach it? Or did she not grasp the concept of turning, turning, and turning until a circle has been complete. At any rate, TWIRL was always hit and miss with her. On the days she got it, I praised and treated her as if she had taken her first baby steps. What an exciting accomplishment to learn a trick.

CatTwirlIn contrast, Cinder found this trick as easy to perform as our dog did. The first time I brought the treat from her nose to her tail, she turned a complete circle. Within the week, she could twirl left and right and multiple times. So we immediately progressed onto other challenges.

After a dubious start with SIT, I decided to try something that seemed to come more naturally for Bootsie. The moment I walk into our library to visit Bootsie, she turns this way and that for attention. By adding a treat to her routine behavior, I was able to quickly teach her to TWIRL.

In all of these commands that I’ve covered, you should make your own judgment call about which one to start with and which ones to delay. Some need to come before others. SIT should come before both SIT UP and STAY. Otherwise, start with the one most guaranteed to bring success to make both you and your cat proud.

Teaching a Cat to JUMP

CinderJumpTeaching a cat to JUMP has been one of my favorite experiences, with a 100% success rate for two of my cats. (I haven’t tried this command yet with Bootsie.) No doubt this is because jumping comes naturally to our felines. As with TWIRL, variety can be added. Once a cat obeys the command to JUMP, you can have the cat jump from chair to chair or through a hoop. It might even be how you teach your cat to JUMP into your lap!

  • With the cat on the floor, show her a treat and guide her to a chair.
  • When she arrives at the chair, praise and reward with a treat.
  • Next time, move the treat halfway up the chair and praise your cat as she reaches for the treat.
  • Gradually, increase the distance until she touches the seat of the chair.
  • Place the treat in the middle of the chair, touch it, and say JUMP.
  • As soon as your cat jumps on the chair, praise her and let her eat the treat.
  • The next time you ask your cat to jump on the chair, simply touch the treat to the chair and ask her to JUMP.

Cat obedience isn’t a science. This means we can all learn from each other. What stories do you have about teaching your cat? What web sites and/or books have you used? Please share and help our pet community grow in its knowledge!

Teach a Cat to Up and to Stay

In my initial post I wrote last fall about obedience training cats, I gave several reasons why cats need this. For example, training exercises your cat’s mind and keeps it stimulated. Training also strengthens the bond between you and your cat. The two commands I’ll cover in this post are extensions are ones I covered in How to Teach a Cat to Sit and to Come..

Have you ever gotten your cat to successfully comply one day, only to have your cat ignore you the next day? One of suggestions given by in Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau is to vary the training routine. For example, after your cat learns to SIT in front of you, teach her to UP, which some of you might also refer to as BEG. 🙂

Teaching a Cat to UP

  • Get your cat’s attention by having her SIT.
  • After a couple of successful attempts, point upward and over her nose with the treat, and give the command: SIT.
  • When your cat looks up, praise her and award her with the treat.
  • The next time, look for the weight shift. Repeat the command, UP, while holding the treat over her head. When your cat sits up and lifts her front feet off the floor, praise her and award her with the treat.
  • Gradually, increase the distance she needs to lift her feet off the floor, until she leans against a solid object such as a chair.

CinderUpUP proved as an easy command for my cats as SIT. Both Lucy and Cinder learned it fairly easy as an extension of the SIT command. Lucy used to raise herself, sniff my hands, and wait for me to reward her. In contrast, Cinder is a little less polite. Oh, she’ll raise herself, but then she butts my hands for the treat. She’s an impatient and eager girl, when it comes to food! I have yet to try this command with Bootsie, but I know that sitting up the floor comes natural to her when she’s both curious and confident about an object.

Teaching a Cat to STAY

  • Get your cat to COME and to SIT.
  • Tell him to STAY.
  • Hold your hand in front of your cat’s face, palm facing him. Praise him the entire time he stays. This will encourage him to stay in anticipation of receiving a treat.
  • Reward after he stays in place for a few seconds.
  • Lessen the time if needed; training is easiest when you can reward success rather than punish failure. Actually, you don’t want to punish at all, because then you would be teaching your cat that training is a bad thing.
  • Once successful, repeat the process, and gradually increase the amount of time you ask your cat to STAY.

Something else to keep in mind about training sessions, which should be kept short and repeated often, is that whether your cat is young or old training takes a lot of time and patience. When I first began training Lucy to STAY, she would break her SIT position to wander about and sniff the area. I had to keep ordering her back into a SIT position.

CindersStayEven Cinder struggled with the STAY command. Initially, she would wiggle her butt, then turn in a circle, and sometimes even break rank. But I remained consistent in my command. I also ramped up my efforts by offering cheese. Over time, Cinder learned that to she earned treats only by heeding my command to STAY. Now Cinder has almost mastered the skill. Good girl!

As for Bootsie, I have only informally tried STAY with her. Whenever I get ready to leave the library and need her to not follow me, I’ll tell her STAY. Well-mannered as she is, Bootsie will just sit and watch me close the door. Will Bootsie so readily listen, once she begins to view our entire home as her domain? I have no idea, but at least the foundation is in place.

Each cat is different. Some are motivated by food, by toys, or even simply by praise. Some aren’t motivated by anything. If your cat doesn’t want what you’re offering, you won’t get far. Training requires that your cat gets something positive out of obedience.

Teach a Cat to Sit and to Come

My first post for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors met with some skepticism. I wrote about obedience training cats–something that not everyone feels is possible. At the time, I shared reasons to train and gave tips. This week, as part of introducing my cats to you, I’d like to follow up with some short articles about specific commands you can give your cat to learn obedience and perform tricks.

Teaching a Cat to SIT

SIT is perhaps the easiest command to teach. To date, I’ve tried the command with three cats with almost perfect success.

  • Sit or kneel in front of your cat.
  • When you have your cat’s attention, slowly lift a treat above his head so he has to crane his neck to see the treat. Tell him SIT.
  • As your cat’s head lifts up and back, his rear should lower.
  • Move the treat in towards your cat’s rear. Be sure not to hold the treat too high or he will try to jump to reach it instead of staying on all four paws. His nose should almost touch the treat.
  • As soon as your cat puts his rear on the floor, praise him and reward him the treat.

Lucy came to us as a stray. As such, she was more set in her ways and not overly motivated by food. I had to repeat the SIT command a few times. I also had to push Lucy’s rear to the ground a few times for her to figure out what I wanted. Once she got the idea, Lucy could sit when I asked. Not that she always choose to!

Cinder SitCinder came to us as a shelter cat, young and constantly hungry. During my earliest attempts to train her, she was so eager for food that she would wrap her paws around my hands trying to pry loose the measly crumble that I called a treat. When I finally pulled out my no-nonsense strict tone, down went her rear! Out came a treat! Cinder and I learned together. Now I can order SIT and Cinder will immediately do what she’s asked.

Bootsie came to us as a friendly feral cat, strongly motivated by attention. During my attempts to train her, Bootsie has been so anxious to get petted that she often ignores the food in my hand. When I once tried to gently push her rear to the ground, Bootsie did sit. I rewarded her with a treat, and she promptly batted me to show her displeasure with my methods. But she now knows how to sit!

Teaching a Cat to COME

COME is a more advanced command. To date, I’ve tried the command with three cats, and experienced inconsistent results. Yet because being able to recall my cats could one day make the difference between life and death for them, I’m keeping COME as part of our training routine. 

  • Choose a unique command. Don’t use COME if that’s what you yell when your cat runs off with your hot dog. Instead the command might be HERE.
  • Sit next to or near your cat.
  • When she becomes attentive to the treat, praise her.
  • Hold out the treat and give your recall command. As soon as your cat comes to you, immediately reward her. She’ll soon learn to pair the recall command with the action of moving towards the treat.
  • When your cat moves towards the treat and touches her nose to it, reward her.
  • Now move back a foot and present the treat again, first under her nose and then by drawing her closer to you by also drawing the treat closer to you.
  • As your cat moves toward the treat, praise her. When she actually touches the treat, reward her.

Like many cats, Lucy liked to hide on top of shelves, under beds, and in dark spaces. That wouldn’t have been an issue if I could have gotten her to consistently adhere to my recall command. Instead, Andy and I had to listen for the jangle of the bell on her collar—which was only of use when Lucy was moving. Fortunately, Lucy never resisted being picked up. As long as we could find her, keeping Lucy safe was an easy task.

Just like Lucy, our darling tortoiseshell, Cinder, seems to view the inside of our recliner and the recesses of our basement as adventure lands. When she isn’t tossing toy mice into the air or sleeping up a storm, Cinder likes to tuck herself away like Houdini. Just like Lucy once did. Except with one difference. The second I combine the rattle of a treat bag with the holler of COME, Cinder flashes to me like a lightning bolt. Her love of food is an asset when it comes to training.

The key to remember here is that whatever gets your cat to respond to your recall command, you must follow up with a reward. Also, never use the recall command for something negative. For example, if you use your recall command when you want to trim your cat’s nails or give her a bath, you’ll actually be training her not to come when called.

As for Bootsie, calling to her used to work when I visited her feral colony. Obviously she had learned to associate the sound of a human voice with food. Now that she’s inside our home, I’d love to say COME and see her to venture beyond the library that she views as her safe place. For now though it’s enough that she’s responding to the basics, and is learning to trust my husband and me. A good relationship is the foundation to training of any pet, including our more independent ones like cats.