Tips on How to Exercise Your Cat
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
When we think about exercising a dog, it is really not that hard. They love to exercise and get out that energy. There are tons of ways to get their much needed exercise in – such as tossing a ball or taking a walk or run. However, with cats it is a little more difficult, but since most of the cats that we see are overweight and heading towards health issues, such as heart and lung problems, arthritis, diabetes, etc., it is even more important to keep them at a healthy weight. To get your cat to exercise you need to be much more creative than when it comes to your dogs!
Keep in mind that it is totally worth the extra effort since we know that by keeping your cat active and at a healthy weight we can avoid a multitude of health issues and even add years to their lives. Also, encouraging and maintaining mobility not only helps keep a pet’s weight in check, but it also provides mental stimulation which can help avoid behavior issues.
A few different exercise ideas for your cat include having a feather or mouse on a stick or laser pointers on hand for your cat to chase. For those of us with crazy busy schedules, they even sell laser pointers that you can set up in your house to have the laser go in random directions to keep your cat entertained and mobile while you are gone. There are also cats that will play fetch – they tend to prefer balled up paper that they can easily pick up and bring back to you. When you are first starting an exercise routine, you may only hold their attention for five minutes per day, but they really need at least two to three play session of twenty minutes. Depending on your cat’s attention span you can try to have the total of fourty to sixty minutes in those twenty minute sessions, but with some cats you will need to spread it out throughout the day. Cats are nocturnal so they tend to be more active at night, so you may want to start with evening sessions and then see if you can get them moving at different times during the day.
Cats are also used to hunting for their food and eating several small meals throughout the day. When feral cat colonies were studied it was noted that they tend to eat nine to ten mice spread out through the day. That does not mean it is a good idea to leave food out for your cat all the time since they are generally just lounging around the house and certainly do not have to forage for their food if it is in a single bowl left out all day. You may want to try taking your cat’s daily food portion and divide it into several bowls placed around the house so that they will have to go from room to room to find the food. Keep in mind you still want to measure out the entire amount so you are not overfeeding. We also strongly recommend Hill’s M/D, which is the best diet for them since it is based on the make-up of a mouse and is not just a dog food with higher protein content. You may also place food dishes on elevated platforms that will require them to work a little harder to get to the food and help stimulate them mentally as they figure out the best way to get to the food. There are also a number of toys where you can put your cats daily allotted food amount in, but your cat has to engage in the toy in order to get the kibble to come out – again, getting them moving and keeping them on their toes. If these tips do not work for your cat after you have given it a couple months to allow them to adjust, you can at least toss each kibble across the floor to force your cat to get up and get mobile in order to eat each kibble.
Always encourage your cat to play by keeping toys available and make sure to change them up to keep it exciting. This doesn’t have to be expensive; I’ve seen a cat spend hours chasing around the ring that comes off of your milk container! Also, be sure to have a cat tree or other apparatus to climb up to help your cat strengthen her muscles. This is also helpful because cats tend to feel safer when at a more elevated height, so it can provide both exercise and a full, more relaxing place to spend time. If your kitty is an only child, you may want to consider getting another cat so they can play with each other and burn more calories. It is always best to foster first to be sure that your cat gets along with other cats or be prepared if they do not get along to have to deal with the stress of having to adjust the living situation in the house so each cat has their own space and is not stressed or getting beat up all the time.
Most cats these days are overweight and it is so critical to get both a good feeding plan (including the best type of food and the amount the cat should eat per day) and a good exercise plan together. However, it is critical to get the whole household on board. Helping your cat lose weight is a process that takes time and dedication from the entire family and if someone is sneaking treats or table food or more cat food to your cat, it undermines the entire plan and the people following the program are likely to get frustrated since they are not seeing the results they would like or expect.
Not only will these changes help your kitty both physically and mentally, but will also allow you to form a tighter bond with your cat. Be sure to go into this process with realistic expectation because it is a life-long commitment to the health of your baby and results do not happen overnight. Be sure to stay positive and be patient. A general rule of thumb is that you want to see at least a ten percent weight loss over the first six months. Regular weigh-ins with your veterinary team will help you see your progress and help you to adjust as needed. Remember, we are all here to help too!