Giving your cat exercise may sound like a something that the stereotypical crazy cat lady may encourage, but actually giving your cat a daily dose of exercise is necessary to a cat’s general health and well being. This is because obesity in cats is on the rise and it can shorten their lives owing to the number of health problems that develop from carrying around extra weight. For starters, being overweight can affect a cat’s respiratory system as well as negatively impacting the blood circulation to name but two.
Exercise is one of the best ways to keep your cat’s weight down. Keeping them active burns off calories that they otherwise ingest with their food. If they are very overweight, owners should have a look at the amount of food they give their cats daily too. If needed, it is a good idea to weigh food to ensure that you are not giving them too much. It is easily done as cats are so small, even the tiniest bit of extra food every day can make a big difference to their weight over time.
If you really struggle with keeping their portion size to the correct amount, a brilliant way to help your cat counteract the extra calories is to hide tiny amounts of the food around the house. By having to scavenge and search for their food, they will burn those extra calories as well as use their brains which will further tire them out. Remember to put them in hard to reach places like on a windowsill or up some stairs. Or, perhaps leave a long trail of food around the house that they have to follow, or even hide it within a toy that they have to play with until the food comes out.
But given that you can’t easily put a lead on a cat and take it for a walk like you would a dog, begs the question how do you exercise your cat? Here, we look at some fantastic and innovative ways to keep your kitty in good shape simply by including a few short activities into your and your cat’s day. You’ll both love it and it will help build your bond and better your relationship even further.
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How to Exercise Your Cat
- A cat exercise wheel
Cat exercise wheels are a fantastic piece of equipment once your cat has got a handle of them. They are essentially large hamster wheels that mean that your cat can run and run continuously exhausting themselves out in the process. Some cats love these toys. Others take a little longer to get used to a cat exercise wheel, while some may simply be just too scared, or sometimes too lazy, to use it.
Sometimes it helps to encourage your cat with food onto the exercise wheel. This may sound a little bit counterintuitive if you are trying to get your cat to lose weight, but it can sometimes give them that tiny nudge to get used to a piece of equipment that often does not come naturally to cats. Many will be wary of cat exercise wheels at first, so a small piece of food on the wheel itself can help start the process of running around for hours on end on their new toy!
- A bird on a stick
This is a highly effective form of exercise for you to make into a fun activity for your cat. It does not have to be a bird on a stick if you cannot find one of these toys in your local pet shop, anything fluffy that is on the end of a stick will do, even just a small collection of feathers that you can easily pick up from a haberdasher.
The intention is to let them chase the stick until they are panting. Once they reach that stage, let them calm down and then do it again. Repeat until they lose interest or they have totally exhausted themselves.
Cats love this game and will gladly play it many times a day. You may also see this type of game referred to as a fishing pole toy. Many have mice attached to the end sometimes with catnip in it to keep their interest at sky-high levels. These fishing poles are great for owners who are a bit too tired at the end of the day to run around the house with their cat. The reel system on the pole means that owners can simply cast off the toy at the end of the line from a seated position and watch their feline friend chase after it.
Remember that cats are predatory animals so any game where they use their natural instinct to stalk and chase will be a big hit with them.
Laser pointers or lights on walls are a controversial way of getting your cat to move more. The reason that it can be controversial is that your cat may find it exceedingly frustrating that they actually never end up catching anything. Additionally, lasers are dangerous if they are ever shone into your or your cat’s eyes. There are obviously steps you can take to protect your eyes as well as theirs as if they like this game, it is a great one for you, as you can do it from the comfort of your own seat whilst you watch them play.
The activity works by shining the laser in lots of different places for your cat to chase. They do it instinctively, but obviously, there is nothing tangible there for them to catch so the game is never-ending as you move the laser or light around continuously until they are tired. Again, working them out until they are panting is a good way to gauge how much energy your cats are expanding, or how much more energy they have left in them to play.
Some lasers are specially designed for cats and so shine shapes of mice and birds so that they can attempt to catch those instead of a red light. This is really just a gimmick as your cat will naturally chase the light, whatever shape it is in.
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- Cat highway
A cat highway sounds complicated but really it is just a collection of high surfaces that cats can jump on and over so they do a circuit of a room in your home from above. Cats are natural climbers so putting up the floor to ceiling cat trees in your highway is a great idea – sometimes cat owners use window box bird feeders to get their cats to jump onto window sills and encourage them to start using the cat highway that has been created especially for them.
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Again, remember to take care of your cat’s weight before you start employing this form of exercise for your cat. Jumping around should come naturally to cats, but if they are obese it can be bad for them and actually do more harm than good. So it is best to get them to lose a few pounds before setting up one of these obstacle courses in your home.
- Walk them!
It may sound odd, but it is very easy to walk your own cat. Leads for catwalks do exist and actually, cats are easier to walk than their famous independent natures would lead us to believe. There are several types of cat lead at the pet store so you may have to try a few different ones several times within your home before you eventually take them out of doors. It is a good idea to practice walking them around your living room anyway before you finally go outside as it will be a weird feeling for them at first, so having dry runs in your home will let them slowly get used to the feeling of being on a lead.
Remember that cats are small so walks do not have to be long. Bearing that in mind, it makes it easier to tolerate the weird looks you may receive from onlookers!
- Get creative
If you are struggling to get to the pet store to buy any of this specialised equipment, do not worry – there are loads of things around your home that can get your cat to be more active. For example, a great way to encourage them to move is to walk around with a dressing gown cord hanging loose. Most cats will go crazy for this or anything similar that simulates something they have to stalk and chase.
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Another way to entertain your cat with things around the home is simply to release bouncy balls or ping pong balls into your bathtub. A cat’s reaction is hilarious as they try to pounce on these balls on the slippery surface. It is akin to setting up an ice rink for them which will keep them safe but happily entertained for a good while. The balls will be hard for them to catch in this type of space, so they get maximum exercise benefit while you have given minimal input.
Cats and Exercise: Important Ideas to Remember
Before embarking on all these activities with your cat, it is important to remember a few more things. Firstly, cats have incredibly short concentrations. They won’t want to play with you for too long so it really is very easy to include these activities in your day as they won’t take more than five minutes here and there.
Secondly, don’t try to play all of these games straight away. Be patient with your cat and build up their exercise slowly. Little and often is the best way with games like these for your feline pets. This is particularly important if your cat is very overweight. Too much exercise too soon can actually damage their joints if they are obese. Let them lose a little weight first before you encourage to run around the house jumping from surface to surface.
One more thing to note is that it is important to remember that cats are generally nocturnal animals so will only really want to play when the sun has gone down. If you try during the day, you may find that they are totally disinterested as they want to sleep. By doing it when they are keener, you will find it more rewarding too so are more likely to play with them regularly rather than try once or twice during the day only to be disappointed in how little they participate. As a consequence, you are less likely to repeat trying to get them to exercise.
Lastly, never try to use your hands as something for them to play with. They will gladly play with your hand and may well not hurt you, but the danger from this point onwards is that they see your hand at any time and try to paw at it. This can scratch and hurt you, even more so if they use their teeth, but additionally, it means they are likely to do so with unsuspecting strangers. The result is obviously not great if your cat hurts a friend simply while they are visiting your home.
This may all seem like a lot to bear in mind, but keeping your cat in shape is really very easy once you get into a routine and your cat starts to enjoy it more and more. Plus, the ultimate goal is improving the health and wellbeing of your cat. This will ultimately mean that your cat lives longer by your side.
- How to Exercise a Cat, WikiHow
- Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Exercise and Your Obese Cat, VCA Hospitals
- Help Your Cat Exercise More, WebMD