by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Most of us are familiar with the typical sights associated with canine agility: a spry dog, maybe a sheltie or a terrier, zipping through a tunnel and walking over a seesaw while the handler points to the next obstacle. But did you know that cats -- yes, those often sedentary creatures perched on the couch -- can participate as well?
Exercise and mental stimulation are wonderful for a cat's health, and agility can be a great way to help them achieve this. In response to this interest, the Cat Fancier's Association has begun incorporating standardized cat-centric agility trials at many of their regional cat shows. This fun and engaging activity is open to all, from purebred show champs to formerly feral housecats.
At a cat show in San Diego, a small corner of the exhibition hall is set aside for the cat agility "ring," which is actually a rectangle. Inside the enclosure, a collection of obstacles await: hurdles, tunnels, weave poles, stairs and hoops. One by one, potential competitors are brought to the ring and given time to get acclimated.
Unlike in a dog agility competition, in which noise and excitement are part of the fun, cat agility rings are usually in a quiet corner so the cat can concentrate on the task at hand. The spectators line up silently, nose to mesh, as they watch the cats in action.
When the timer starts, the handler encourages the cat through the series of obstacles with a feather toy or laser pointer. Per the official Cat Fanciers' Association rules that govern agility competition, each cat is given three attempts to complete the course.
Cats have up to 4.5 minutes to finish the course, though on this particular day the reigning champion needed merely nine seconds. As in all areas in which cats are involved, their interest in the course can be very unpredictable. One 6-month-old Bengal kitten completed its first run in 25 seconds before plopping down in the tunnel in the middle of its second run and refusing to come out. "That's how it goes," laughed the ringmaster as the kitten retired for the day.
For more information about cat agility, including training videos and a list of shows that hold cat agility trials, check out the Cat Fanciers' Association Feline Agility Competition page.
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