Cat owners may be surprised to learn that their feline friends need exercise, just like their canine counterparts. Partaking in regular activities that get your cat moving is just as important as their other basic needs—food, water, shelter—and it helps ensure they live a long and healthy life.
Don’t know how to exercise your cat? Read on to find out the importance of exercise and play, the types of activities you can do with your cat, how much exercise is good (or bad), and any issues you need to be aware of.
Why Exercise Is Important for Your Cat
Exercise helps release pent-up energy (so they don’t claw at those new curtains), particularly in kittens and young cats. It can also help ease the pain of arthritis in older cats, making them more mobile, and movement in general helps aid digestion.
Obviously, one of the biggest reasons to exercise your cat is to keep their weight in check, which prevents weight-related issues like diabetes and respiratory issues. Being overweight can also restrict movement needed to groom comfortably and properly, which can cause skin problems. Obesity in both cats and dogs is becoming an epidemic, making it incumbent upon you to ensure that they stay fit and trim.
What types of exercise can your cat participate in? Let’s find out….
Types of Exercise
While there is a wide range of activities for your furry friend, you will need to gauge their interest and hone in on those that they will enjoy most. Many of these activities can be done indoors or outdoors, depending on your cat’s proclivities and the weather.
This inexpensive investment will provide plenty of hours of fun! You can get your cat to play with the laser pointer while you’re on the phone, watching TV, or relaxing outside. Be mindful of where the laser is pointing, as it can damage feline and human eyes. Always direct the beam at the ground or a wall.
Climbing Tower/Scratching Post
Cats love high places! Ideally, you would want a tower that goes from floor to ceiling, with multiple perches or hidey-holes will give your pet room to climb, scratch and have some fun. There are a variety of options: covered in rope, carpet, fake grass, and sometimes a bit of each. Be sure to place your tower near a sliding glass door or window, so that they can watch the world go by.
Cats like a variety of toys: solid balls, ping pong balls, plastic balls with bells in them, felt mice, feathered items — anything that looks like prey! They especially love toys they can bat around. You don’t need to spend a lot; in fact there is probably a good selection at your local dollar store. You can also choose children’s bubbles, which they love to chase or jump up and catch…they will go wild!
A popular toy, “fishing poles,” have prey attached—felt fish, mice or lizards, or even feathers. Waving the pole around makes them chase the object, which they eventually catch and wrestle with. It’s not only fun for them, it’s fun to watch!
This common herb has several effects on cats. It is typically dried and stuffed into a toy, where it acts as a stimulant and makes them react crazily. They will roughhouse with the toy, toss it around, chase it and generally act a bit cuckoo. On the other end of the spectrum, if they eat fresh catnip, it can act as a sedative. You can grow your own and provide fresh leaves for them to smell and roll around on, and even re-stuff toys with it. (Note: Not all cats react to catnip.)
If you’re willing to make the investment, a catio is a great place for your cat to get outdoors without climbing fences and invading the yards of your neighbors. It’s basically an enclosed space, usually a screened in area, where they can watch the world go by, chase after birds, and get some fresh air.
How Much Exercise?
The more play they get, the more tired and relaxed they’ll be when play is over. Ideally, you or family members should try to play with them several times a day; morning and evening at least. Play periods don’t necessarily need be long, and your cat will probably let you know when they’re done. Typically they just walk away from the activity.
If your cat is a night owl, prowling around or bothering you while you sleep, then having a longer session before bed might help both of you get some sleep.
Both extreme heat and extreme cold can be hard on animals, just like it is for humans. When the weather gets above 85 or 90 degrees or below freezing, extra caution is necessary if you conduct play outside. During the hot summer months, make sure that there is plenty of water available after play time. In the winter, check their paws for the harsh salt and chemicals used on sidewalks, driveways and roadways, and make sure to dry them off when they come in from outside.
Breeds that have shorter snouts or flat faces (Persians, Himalayans, Exotic Shorthair, etc.) can have difficulty breathing if they overexert (particularly in warmer weather). Don’t overdo play time, using multiple shorter bursts of exercise rather than one longer session.
You’ll find you need to be more careful with cats at either end of the age spectrum. Kittens have boundless energy, while at the same have developing bones and joints. It’s better to have multiple, shorter bursts of play time to give them time to recover in between. Older cats will definitely become slower in their gait as their joints become arthritic, so you’ll need to keep their play time a bit restricted and less strenuous.
If your cat has been ill and is underweight, they will need to get some exercise. Until they are back up to their normal weight, take it easy and go slow. The same can be said for cats that are overweight. Carrying around those extra pounds can be hard on the heart, so start slowly and build up your exercise routine with them. As the pounds come off, they’ll be able to do more and for longer periods of time.
Exercise is just as important to your cat as it is yourself, and by keeping them active, you will keep them happy and healthy, leading to a longer life.