We tend to think of cats as lithe and agile creatures easily capable of treading railings or leaping to a high perch. However, feline obesity can both curb a cat’s ability and willingness to exercise and can contribute to health problems such as diabetes, arthritis, and other diseases.
That's why it's important to make sure your cat exercises adequately, about 30 minutes each day. It's not just overweight cats that can benefit from a fitness program. Even cats that appear to be at or below their optimal weight need regular exercise to keep their cardiovascular systems working at peak performance and to also help them live to a ripe old age.
Tips for getting your cat into a healthy exercise regimen?
Schedule short periods of interactive play. Cats naturally tend to sleep a lot. And when they are active, it’s often expressed in short bursts of frantic play several times a day. The good news is that, unlike humans, it doesn’t take an hour on a treadmill to jumpstart your cat’s metabolism and begin building muscle tone. Set aside a few minutes two or three times a day when you and your cat can play. You can use a feather teaser, a laser pointer, a squeaky toy, or even a ball of wadded paper—whatever gets your cat excited. Since cats are by nature nocturnal, try and schedule a few minutes of feline play just before bedtime.
Use your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Cats are natural predators, with bodies ideally suited to pursuing small, fast-moving prey. It shouldn’t take more than a few sudden erratic movements from a cat toy to awaken that hunter instinct in your feline. But for particularly reluctant cats, you can try a few tricks. Hiding small portions of food around the house can make your feline work for its meals while employing that keen sense of smell that makes cats such effective hunters. A touch of catnip inside a “treat ball” toy can also entice even the most sedentary cats into a round of healthy play.
Think vertically. Cats are natural climbers and jumpers—and you can use these instincts to create an exercise-positive environment for your cat. A carpeted “cat tree,” for example is almost irresistible to most cats. If your feline is hesitant, you can use a feather teaser to entice it to climb or simply place a small treat on each perch. Over time, you can stop the enticements, the cat will jump or climb just for the fun of it. Some more elaborate cat trees even feature an exercise wheel—similar to a large version of a hamster wheel—to help your cat run off any extra energy.
Try a kitty gym. In extreme cases, you may want to try extreme measures. There are feline rehabs that help injured cats regain their function and assist obese cats in getting active. Your veterinarian can help you decide if physical rehab is the best choice for your cat and your budget.
Harness that energy. Does your cat love the great outdoors? In a perfect world, it would be fine for your cat to roam freely. In reality, cats are best kept indoors for several reasons: For one thing, cats can have a huge impact on their environment. It is estimated, for instance, that cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds each year in the United States. Your cat’s safety is another reason to keep your feline indoors. The outdoors is full of hazards for cats, including predators and automobiles. If you really want to take your cat outside, consider teaching your feline how to walk with a harness and a leash. While not a common sight, many feline owners find that taking their cats on a walk is a great way to satisfy their need for a little outdoor fun.
A note about diet. While exercise is an essential component of feline health, the food your cat eats influences not only its weight but its nutrition and willingness to exercise. Make sure to feed your feline a diet that mimics what it would eat in the wild. One that is low in carbohydrates and fillers, but that is high in the protein your cat's body needs to build muscles. For overeaters, limiting portions and setting a regular feeding schedule can also help improve your cat’s health and boost its energy levels.
We hope these tips help your cat to achieve a healthier, more active lifestyle!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.