Don’t underestimate the importance of feline fitness!
Cats are popular because they’re “easy” to care for. They don’t have to be walked or trained like a dog does. But that makes it easy to forget that they have the bodies of athletes, and they too need a daily feline fitness regime. They aren’t meant to spend all their time sleeping or lying around, but that’s what many end up doing, especially if they’re indoor cats.
Because of this, a large number of kitties today are on the chubby side. In fact, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 57.6% of cats are overweight, and that can lead to diabetes, respiratory and heart disease, joint problems, some forms of cancer, kidney disease, and overall decreased life expectancy.
Keeping your cat fit shouldn’t be limited to kitten-hood. Many people assume that cats slow down once they mature, so they don’t need to play or exercise as much. But exercise and fitness should remain a priority throughout the cat’s life. Some may play and run on their own, but more often than not, you’ll have to take responsibility for keeping the wiggle in your kitty’s butt by initiating a play routine. Think of it as spending quality time together!
Get her off the couch
Short of enrolling your cat in a gym membership, what can you do to keep her fit and healthy?
1. Nutrition is a foundation for proper feline fitness. We often equate food with love, and grab the treat jar or fill the bowl at the first pleading meow. A high quality, species-appropriate, whole meat-based diet is essential to maintaining optimum health, as well as good muscle tone and body condition. Avoid free-feeding – cats allowed to nibble 24/7 soon gain weight, especially if they’re given cheap carbohydrate-laden kibble.
2. Make your cat work for his treats by using puzzle toys – it’ll bring out her prey drive, keep her moving and stimulate her brain. Much better than simply camping out at the food bowl.
3. Cats are designed to hunt, and play is the best way to hone that skill. Fishing pole toys are a good way to start; they’re a dime a dozen and the permutations are endless. Learn how to make the toy act like prey and watch your cat leap and soar. Our young cat, Celica, favors an innocuous fuzzy square on a leather thong attached to a stick. Her athletic prowess is remarkable!
4. Laser toys can also give your cat a workout, but they can be a source of frustration if not used properly. Every hunt should end in a capture, so be sure there’s a reward for the workout – catnip or a treat. Keep in mind this mantra from cat guru Jackson Galaxy: “Hunt, catch, kill, eat.”
5. Boxes and paper bags are universally adored. Add a ping pong ball and let the fun begin!
6. The Turbo scratcher has been around for ages. It combines a ball in a track with a replaceable cardboard scratching pad. They last forever and kitty gets a great workout by batting the ball around and using the scratcher.
7. Although it’s essential to have at least one good, tall, sturdy scratching post, a few extra inexpensive cardboard scratchers, placed all around the house, are great for working out (and saving your furniture). Look at your cat when she stretches: her back is elongated and her butt elevated. The muscles in the front legs are being exercised while the rear legs are extended to support the back and butt.
8. If you have a treadmill, see if you can get your cat interested in it. Just be sure to supervise her while she’s on it, for safety’s sake, and don’t force her to get on it if she doesn’t want to. Cat exercise wheels are also becoming available, but again, there’s a need for supervision – and they don’t come cheap.
9. It’s no secret that cats need vertical space as well as horizontal surfaces. Nice tall cat trees and kitty condos allow them to stretch and jump.
10. If you’re thinking of adopting a kitten, adopt two. Kittens have boundless energy and a pair is sure to be active and self-amusing. And when added to a family of one or two adult cats, a kitten can add new life. In my own family, Tekla is 11 and Mollie is five. They’re in excellent health and not opposed to moving around. But when Celica arrived at just four months old, her energy definitely awakened their inner kittens!
It goes without saying that kittens are natural athletes. They have limitless energy and their activity is non-stop. The key is to sustain that energy through adulthood by maintaining a regular routine of play along with proper nutrition.