The idea that cats don’t need a lot of physical activity is a common misconception. Find out how much exercise your feline friend really needs, and how to prevent him from being a couch potato.
Cats differ from dogs in many ways, but one thing they have in common is a need for regular exercise. Although our kitties can sometimes appear lazy, and may seem more content to curl up on the sofa than run around and play, they need daily physical activity in order to stay fit and well, and to prevent unhealthy weight gain. This is especially true for indoor cats, who often become couch potatoes. Find out how much exercise cats really require, and how you can provide adequate physical activity for your own feline friend.
Cats should be active at least 30 minutes a day
Most experts agree that cats need about 30 minutes of exercise a day. Kittens and young cats need one to two hours. If you have a pair of kittens or younger cats, they’ll generally look after their own exercise needs by playing, wrestling, and chasing each other around the house.
Solitary cats, however, and those that are getting into middle age, tend to become more sedentary and may need some encouragement to get moving — although even these cats will often do some of their own exercise. Witness the “zoomies”, when a cat tears through the house for no particular reason (although this often coincides with a successful visit to the litter box!). Or the self-amusing bottle cap chase. Even stretching and giving the scratching post a workout exercises a cat’s muscles. But these activities on their own won’t add up to enough if your cat spends the rest of his time sleeping or watching birds out the window.
In order to ensure your cat gets enough daily exercise, he needs to be engaged in interactive play on a regular basis. If playing with your cat for an hour or so every day doesn’t fit into your schedule, break it down by scheduling a few shorter sessions throughout the day. This is a good idea anyhow, since cats prefer short bursts of activity; your kitty will be happy with short exercise sessions and may even learn to anticipate them if you do them at consistent times. Just be sure the sessions add up to a total of at least 30 minutes a day. Short periods of exercise are also better for older or overweight kitties.
Toys help make exercise fun
Getting your cat to move keeps her mentally and physically stimulated and builds a bond between you. Making exercise fun helps encourage physical activity; and since play and exercise are usually intertwined when it comes to cats, it’s easier than you might think to ensure your feline friend is getting her daily workout. Not surprisingly, toys play a big part in engaging your cat in interactive exercise.
If you’ve lived with cats long enough, you’ll notice they have their favorite toys – the milk ring, the catnip banana, the sparkle ball, the little furry mouse. Cats also like things that move, so determine which toy is your kitty’s fav, and try throwing it for him to chase down the hall or up a set of stairs. Chances are, you’ll have to retrieve it from him to throw again, but some cats will play fetch and bring the toy back to you to throw again.
Few cats fail to be intrigued by a fishing pole toy — but it’s what’s on the end that makes the difference. In our household, there’s always one of these toys within reach. The Galkie Kitty Tease from years back (we still have a couple) was a pioneer fishing pole toy, and featured just a simple scrap of cloth as the “tease”. As simple as it is, this toy has given our cats many hours of entertainment, plus it’s easy to replace the scrap – or even make one yourself. Another longtime interactive favorite is the Cat Dancer, with little cardboard tubes attached to the end of a bouncy wire. Others, such as Neko Flies, have interchangeable ends, including a furry mouse and various bugs. Da Bird is, as the name suggests, bird-like and provides kitties with a realistic prey experience.
Laser toys are great for a feline workout, but can be controversial because they do not offer the ultimate satisfaction of a catch-and-kill, the way real toys do. It’s recommended that you offer your cat a treat reward to avoid frustration when he “catches” the laser light. It’s also vital that you don’t shine the light in your cat’s eyes (or anyone else’s).
The allure of a cat wheel can be epitomized by the image of an energetic Bengal running at warp speed! It can be a pretty pricey investment, however, costing from $800 to $1,000, depending on the manufacturer. But it could be cheaper than a new sofa if you have a high-energy kitty on your hands.
Toys aren’t the only way to engage your cat in exercise (see sidebar). Experiment and change things up to find out what your cat likes doing most. The more she loves the activity, the more willing she’ll be to do it. By combining your cat’s natural athleticism with at least half an hour of daily exercise, you’ll keep her trim and mentally stimulated, while strengthening your bond of love and companionship.
Sally E. Bahner specializes in cat-related issues, specifically nutrition, holistic care and behavior. She has offered her services as a feline behavior and care consultant and gives classes on cat care. Sally is the resident cat behavior expert on Tracie Hotchner’s Cat Chat radio program, and a member of the Cat Writers’ Association and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.