Happy New Year! Was “work out more” on your resolution list? Might I suggest adding “help the cat” in front of that? “Help the cat work out more” – much better!
Just as in people, exercise has lots of benefits for cats. Stretching and working muscles relieves tension and builds strength, physical activity helps maintain a health weight, and exercise burns energy that may otherwise be put to use in naughty ways. Beyond that, exercise for cats makes use of their natural abilities and drives, allowing them to climb, stalk, run, and pounce. Having outlets for these behaviors can decrease unwanted or problem behaviors. Play and exploration that uses both mind and body is a great way to reduce stress and overall improve your cat’s health, behavior, and life.
Does Your Cat Need More Exercise?
Probably yes. Like many of us these days, indoor cats often spend a lot of their day sitting (or laying) still. They get up to go to the food bowl and then go back to sleep. Frequently naps are part of a cat’s natural rhythm but little to no activity in between those naps isn’t good for them. A cat who is bored is a cat that is more likely to overeat or get into trouble.
It’s important to check with your vet about your cat’s physical needs and limits. Overweight, senior, or special-needs cats may need extra care when introducing new activities and adventures. There are many ways to adjust the following suggestions for cats that need it. Few cats won’t benefit in some way from a little more movement and stimulation.
Ideas For Exercising Your Cat
Exercise for cats typically looks like hunting, playing (which is basically hunting), or exploring. You probably won’t be taking a jog around the park with your cat!
Engage your cat’s hunting instincts through interactive play, moving toys, and food puzzles. Toys that just sit on the floor are boring compared to toys that move across the floor and through the air like prey. Encourage your cat to chase their toys around furniture, up and down their cat tree, and around the room (or house!). Food puzzles typically work your cat’s mind more than body but are still great for adding much needed activity to their day.
With just a little more work, you can teach your cat to walk on leash and let them safely explore new outdoor environments. Set up small jumps and tunnels to create an indoor agility course. (You can buy supplies or use what you have; YouTube has great examples.) There are also special cat running wheels (like giant hamster wheels) that you can train your cat to run on. Not every cat takes to these but highly active cats will appreciate having a way to exercise whenever they want.
Modifications for Physically Limited Cats
As mentioned before, it’s important to consult with your vet about what physical activity is appropriate for your cat. If you’re worried about your cat’s physical ability to exercise, there are a few modifications that are generally appropriate for all cats.
When playing, slow down the movements of the toy and keep it low. Don’t encourage your cat to leap for it or make tight, sharp turns. Play on non-slip surfaces only. If your cat just wants to watch the toy or crouches but doesn’t pounce, that’s completely fine and still worth the time. Many cats spend more time in the “watch and stalk” part of play than the “chase and grab” part. It may seem more boring for you but put on your favorite song or TV show and give your cat 3-5 minutes of what they need.
Food puzzles are generally a great thing for any cat. Monitor your cat to make sure they are still eating enough as they learn to use the puzzles but otherwise these are ideal for senior, overweight, or physically limited cats.
Playing training games can be good for encouraging controlled, appropriate movement. You can train your cat to hop on and off low objects, come to you from across the room, spin or turn in a circle, weave around objects on the ground, or other gentle activities. In this way, your cat can slowly start moving and stretching in more ways, at whatever pace is comfortable.
Happy, Healthy Cats
Our cats deserve to live long, healthy lives and exercise and stimulation play an important role in that. On top of that, a tired cat who has outlets for their natural behaviors will be a better behaved companion!
If you want to learn more about the exercise ideas or training suggestions here or if your cat has a behavior problem you’d like help with, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.