Have you often dreamed of buying a cat wheel for your cats only to wonder, “How will I get them to use it?” Or maybe you already have one stuck in the corner of a room somewhere collecting dust and dirty laundry? Either way, there is a process to it and while there are a precious few cats that will take right to one, most need training and encouragement. If you break it down into a few simple steps, your cats can get a good cardio workout.
Our first cat wheel was a lightweight, hand-me-down from a generous client who could not get their cats to use it. After ensuring we could teach the cats to use the freebie wheel, we then decided the one you see to your right was worth the investment. However, this fancy new wheel is heavier and requires more excursion. The pros and cons of this was that we moved forward with this purchase knowing they understood the concept. However, we had to encourage use all over again and some of the cats still prefer the lightweight model they were originally trained on.
First things first, DO NOT plop your cat on the wheel and spin it as fast as possible! That is a great way to make them terrified of it and they will never go near the contraption again. Resist your urges to see them run like the wind! Only patience and positive reinforcement is going to make this happen. Now let’s get started!
Place your cat wheel on a stable surface so that it does not wobble or topple. If it makes a weird noise or is unstable it will likely scare your cat.
Next, I recommend weighting it down for a few days. This might mean putting an actual weighted item on the wheel or putting something to impede movement on either side. Place a nice cat bed or fleece blanket on the wheel along with some treats and let your cats just hang out on it as if it were a weird new cat condo.
After a few days of this remove these items and encourage your cat to stand on the wheel using treats or play around it using a lure toy. All the while steady the wheel with one hand so it barely moves at all. This allows them to learn to trust it.
Once that is going well, allow the wheel to have just a little bit of movement as your cat plays on it. Encourage them to slowly walk on it while following their favorite lure toy. Hold a treat out in front of them so they take a step or two towards the treat and the wheel moves, but only slightly. Immediately reward them for their bravery! It is very important during this stage that you keep one hand on the wheel so that it does not move too quickly and frighten them.
Eventually, you will be able to continue to build up to more and more movement and hopefully your cat will find it so rewarding and fun they will hop on and motor of their own accord!