The CATalyst: Training Cats for a Long Healthy LIfe

Steve Dale, CAT FANCY writer and syndicated newspaper pet columnist, provides a weekly cat news roundup.

I have an idea for a new profession: Cat trainers. After all, why should dog trainers have all the fun? Just as I believe all dogs should be trained, I believe we should train cats as well.

In her blog post, Darlene Arden, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and author of “The Complete Cat’s Meow,” explains quite proficiently about how to train cats with a clicker.  Likewise, CAT FANCY and CatChannel columnist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares expert advice about clicker training regularly.

Some people would disagree that cats can or should be trained. On March 17, I presented a talk at the annual American Animal Hospital Association conference about enriching indoor environments for cats. Training happens to be wonderfully enriching.

A few attendees (we’re talking veterinary professionals) inquired, “Even if you can train cats, why would you bother in the first place?”

We know through several studies that people who work with their dogs, who participate in animal-assisted therapy or search and rescue work, or pretty much anything beyond merely sharing the sofa – have a more cohesive bond with their pet. If it’s true for dogs, I dare say it’s also true for cats.

That matters for many reasons. For starters, it’s nice to enjoy a more connected relationship with a pet – it’s what living with a pet can be all about. Listen, I have no doubt that the average 25-pound, obese cat sitting on the sofa (there are now millions of such obese cats) is loved, but a special bond results when you enhance human and animal interactions.

When this special bond occurs, families might more strongly commit to keeping their cat if that cat develops a behavior problem, as some do. People often cite behavior problems as reasons for giving up cats to shelters.

As I mentioned, many cats are overweight or obese; according to some data, more than half of all cats fall into this category. Teaching a cat to come when called, for example, provides some exercise for your feline.

Learning and performing is also exercise for the brain. Just as people and dogs may suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or canine cognitive dysfunction disorder, cats can also develop cognitive changes in their later years called feline cognitive dysfunction disorder.

We know that keeping brains fit might delay an onset of these chemical changes inside the brain in people and in dogs, so there’s no reason to believe that the same isn’t true in cats.

So, what do you train a cat to do? The possibilities are endless. Cats can learn to do anything dogs can, and often times even do it better. For example, it’s tough to teach a dog to walk along a 6-inch wide wooden board above the ground. Using the clicker training techniques described by Arden and Krieger, you can easily teach most cats this trick. Of course, there’s the usual sit, high five and jump on to a chair.

Most important of all is teaching a cat to come or to hop into the carrier when asked. In an emergency, this lesson might save cats’ lives. When a tornado steamed toward her home,  “Think Like a Cat” author and certified cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett simply asked her cats to go into their carriers, and likely the speedy responses saved their lives.

Besides, one more reason to teach your cats: it’s only fair. On a daily basis our cats are training all of us, so it’s only fair that we also teach them.

Winn Feline Supports FIP Studies
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease that is considered fatal to cats. It’s caused by FIPV, which is a virulent form of feline intestinal coronavirus. This virulent form relies on an enzyme, cathespin B, which allows the virus to enter cells and reproduce. Through FIP studies funded by the Winn Feline Foundation Bria Fund, the results announced last year at the Winn Feline Symposium by University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine’s Dr. Al Legendre might show promise in the treatment of FIP in cats.

Winn Feline-funded investigator Dr. Gary R. Whittaker and his team at Cornell University tested cathepsin B to fight viruses. The team created a test model using mice. Utilizing two different types of the virus inhibitor, investigators found that the second one (MDL21870) worked well on mice. This potential first step could effectively develop FIP treatments.

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Article Categories:
Cats · Lifestyle