Cats need regular exercise throughout their lives, just like people do. Unfortunately, housebound kitties tend to become lazy and overweight unless they are continually encouraged to play and exercise. Even outdoor cats can benefit from regular exercise, where their hearts get pumping at least 3 times a week. Obesity in cats is often caused or exacerbated by a sedentary life-style. Fat cats have an increased risk of developing a number of different diseases, and they also have shorter life spans than their healthier cousins. Obviously, cats can’t open the refrigerator or a can of cat food. Their owners are the ones responsible for making dietary decisions and are ultimately responsible if their cats become obese.
How To Exercise Your Cat
There are a number of techniques that owners can use to keep their cats active, trim and healthy. All of these rely on reduced caloric intake and increased activity to burn off the pounds. The phrase “use it, or lose it” applies to health, muscle tone, circulation, respiration, happiness and mental acuity, among many other things. One of the first things for the owner to do is consider herself or himself the cat’s personal fitness trainer.
Companion cats need to be kept stimulated to keep them active. They can quickly become bored with their surroundings, and this can cause them to eat more, play less, sleep more, gain weight and become lethargic and unhappy. As long as a cat’s veterinarian confirms that it is healthy enough to exercise, it should be given regular opportunities to stretch its muscles and get its heart rate up. Start slow with new exercise regimens, and don’t overdo it. Daily kitty activities should be increased gradually. A fit kitty will look and feel better and will have a longer, richer life. This will spill over to its relationship with its owner; there will be more purring, snuggling and general fun hanging-out together.
Cats can be kept mentally and physically stimulated in a number of ways. Their toys should be changed frequently, even every few days, to enhance their interest in playing with them. Owners can come up with creative games to entertain their cats. One of the most enjoyable ways to encourage a cat to exercise is to play with it with a small laser light or flashlight. Dim the lights in the house and then move the light beam across the floor and into the corners of the room. Almost all cats love this game and will get lots of exercise running after and trying to catch the light. Another fun game to play with a kitty uses a “fishing pole,” that can be as simple as a stick with a catnip-filled toy tied onto its end with a string. Tossing toys for a cat to retrieve can also be fun for everyone involved.
Kitty condos are great ways to encourage cats to exercise. Good quality commercially available cat condos can be expensive, but they usually last many years, making the initial investment worthwhile. The best kitty condos stand on the floor and reach nearly to the ceiling. They typically are carpeted and have different platforms and enclosed areas that the cat can jump or climb on or into. Cat condos usually have thick dangling ropes that encourage scratching and tugging. Toys can be hung off of the different levels. Even if a cat does not seem to play much on its multi-level condo, it will get plenty of exercise simply by climbing up and down it. Cats also love the security they feel from being high up on their private “tree.” Free cardboard boxes from the grocery store can also be attached together, with cut-outs for the cats to crawl through. Carpet remnants or inexpensive door mats can easily be glued to the boxes to provide a retreat and scratching area for cats. Many cats prefer the rougher underside of carpet fragments more so than the carpeted side for their stretching and scratching enjoyment.
Kitty gyms are another great source of activity and recreation, especially for indoor cats. This can be a room or part of a room. Empty boxes, paper bags, crunched up newspapers, old socks and ropes tied together make great cheap forms of feline entertainment. Shelf systems can be installed at relatively low cost to let cats climb up to an elevated comfy platform near a window. Almost all cats like high, warm places. Toys stuffed with catnip can be tied to strings and hung from the shelves when the cats are being supervised. However, strings can be dangerous to cats, because they can become wrapped around their tongues or necks. Carpeted and rope-covered boards, and even a log or piece of wood, can be set up for scratching posts. Just be sure to check them for bugs and spiders first!
Some cats love to bat at pieces of crumpled paper or other items. Others like to swat grapes, ice cubes, superballs or ping pong balls across the floor, which can be a bit messy. The ball or puck should be big enough that the cat can’t swallow it, or harmless enough that it won’t hurt the cat if it does decide to try and eat it. If a kitty is the only pet in the home, owners can consider having another cat, or even a well-mannered dog, over for play-days. Of course, all vaccinations should be up to date on all play-day participants, and they should be known to get along with each other’s species.
Indoor cats can thrive when given the opportunity for outdoor excursions. Most cats can be trained to walk on a harness and leash, which can be a great way for pet and owner both to enjoy the benefits of exercise and the great out-of-doors. Well-screened decks, patios or pens can also be built to provide exercise and play areas outside.