Despite what most people believe, cats can be quite trainable. My cat is clicker-trained and has picked up on almost all the same behaviors that I have taught my dogs in my group classes. Since this is adopt-a-cat month, here is a link to the first how-to video on training your cat to sit on cue:
In Part 1 we explored the use of interactive toys and food dispensers to provide your indoor cat with more mental and physical stimulation. In part 2 we will talk about how to enrich your cat's physical environment.
Letting Your Cat Go Outdoors Without all the Risks.
As I mentioned in my last post, outdoor cats face significant risks from being killed by vehicles, dogs, wildlife like coyotes and disease. Cats also kill wildlife. So how can we provide our cats with the benefits of being outdoors without all the risks?
1) Harness Training
Here is my cat hanging out with the dog on the patio (above) and in the garden (below)
One way is to teach your cat to wear a harness. While my cat was still a kitten, I started putting a harness on her. She is very food motivated so I gave her lots of treats while the harness was on and also distracted her with toys and play. Eventually, the harness started to signify that she was going outdoors (a life reward) so she started to develop a positive association with the harness because she love do hang out in the yard with us. We put the harness on a leash and tether the leash to piece of furniture while we hang out outside. Tethered animals should never be left alone unsupervised. They can get tangled in the leash.
This method allows the cat to get sunshine and explore the outdoors supervised. Special, lightweight cat harnesses can be found at most pet stores. Many come with a light weight leash. The main thing is to check for a snug (but not overly tight fit) so the cat cannot slip out of the leash. I make sure two fingers can easily slip under the straps with no extra room. Cats are more flexible than dogs and can easily wiggle out of harnesses.
2) Outdoor Cat Runs
You can also construct window perches and cat runs that allow your cat to have access to the sunshine and outdoors. There is one house in Beverly Hills where the owners have constructed an elaborate series of ramps and runs that encircle the outside of their home. I had the opportunity to see this house during the Theodore Payne Garden Tour a few years ago. The family lives in a hilly area of Beverly Hills that is frequented by hawks, coyotes and even the occasional bobcat. Not a hospitable place for outdoor kitties. The pictures below do not convey how elaborate and extensive this cat run system is.
To see the original LA Times article and additional photos regarding this property, click here.
Creating 3-Dimensional Indoor Environments
To me, a major difference between cats and dogs is that a dog's world is more "two-dimensional" whereas a cat's world is more "three-dimensional." Cats like to climb and be in high places. Much to many owners' chagrin, cats take advantage of ledges, shelves, countertops and the tops of refridgerators often knocking over belongings (usually made out of glass or china) in the process.
You can construct a series of perches and ramps inside the cat's room to make it more interesting. Cat trees provide cats with different levels. Moreover, cat furniture is often covered with carpet so they also serve as a scratching post. You can also provide cat shelves where cats can perch. Here are some inspired and creative examples of enriching your cat's indoor environment without damaging your belongings:
I have owned many cats in my life. The ones who stayed indoors or stayed close to home died of old age and diseases associated with old age. The ones who tended to roam often met with tragic ends earlier in life (hit by car, attacks by other animals etc). So personally, I have opted to keep entirely indoor cats because of this experience and the last two cats (which includes a current one) live inside the house.
In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) encourages veterinarians to educate their clients and the public about the
dangers associated with allowing cats unlimited access to the outdoors. According to the AVMA:
Free-roaming cats may be exposed to injury, suffering, and death from
vehicles; attacks from other animals; human cruelty; poisons; and traps.
Additionally, these cats are more likely to be exposed to feline-specific and
zoonotic diseases, and will prey on and can negatively impact native wildlife
One of the challenges of having an indoor cat is making sure that they have enough physical exercise and mental stimulation. Indoor cats are often sedentary and obese which are risk factors for diabetes.
There are many ways to enhance a cat's environment so that they do not become bored or inactive. My current tortoiseshell kitty needs lots of mental stimulation (Did I say lots? I meant tons). Otherwise, she gets into all sorts of trouble in the house. Since June is "adopt-a-cat" month, we will explore some ways to enrich your cat's life. One thing that you can do is get rid of that food bowl and use interactive toys so that your cat has to "hunt" for her meal. There are many interactive toys for cats on the market and even some dog toys work just as well for cats. Here is a video showing how some of these food dispensers work:
Here are some links to the more common cat and dog toys that you can use for your cat:
Twist and Treat by Premier
In the video above, I used the small dog twist and treat. There is a cat version as well but it is made out of slippery plastic instead of rubber. I like the slightly larger dog version because it does not get under furniture so easily. I also like the twist and treat shape better (regardless of whether it is the cat or dog version) because it does not roll under furniture as much as the round, ball type toys.
This is another food dispenser for cats. This one has adjustable openings to accommodate different sized kibble. Because of the shape it rolls around more which means more running around for your cat but it can also get lost under furniture.
Nina Ottosson Puzzles
These puzzles were designed for dogs but work just as well for cats. They stimulate your cat's tendency to explore crevices and openings. My cat loves these puzzles.
Kong Cat Wobbler
This is another toy I recently purchased for my cat although it was not featured in the video. She also enjoys using this toy. It does not move around as much as the other toys in terms of distance but it keeps the cat engaged and can help slow down eating. Because my cat is used to puzzle toys, she figured out how to use this one fairly quickly. As you can see from the video, I also use more than one toy at any given time so she does not get bored.
Have you used any interactive toys with your cat? If so, which ones? Next time we will talk about training your indoor cat as a way of increasing mental stimulation.
Los Angeles Dog Trainer: http://www.pawsitivefeedback.com