Why Exercise Is Important for Cats
Cats are notorious for their appreciation of the finer lounging places in life, but despite their reputation for snoozing, they also enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs and get some exercise on a daily basis. Fortunately for cat owners who take after their cats, exercising a cat doesn't take much time or energy.
It's estimated that between 25 and 40 percent of cats seen by veterinarians in the United States are overweight, with many being obese. A cat that is overweight may not be able to jump to his favorite spots and can't play as much as he might like. Obesity is also associated with several medical problems, including increased chance of arthritis, ligament damage, diabetes mellitus, breathing difficulties, liver problems, surgical risk and urinary tract disease.
Although reducing food intake (ask your vet about the safest way to do this) is the number-one way to combat obesity, increasing exercise is also helpful and should be part of every cat's daily routine. As predators, cats naturally sleep a lot, but they also have bursts of activity. They're sprinters, not marathon runners. This means you don't have to buy your cat a treadmill or take him hiking and swimming. But you still can't ignore his basic need to exert himself a few times a day.
Get Your Cat Moving
Cats that have access to the outdoors are more likely to stay fit by hunting, climbing and investigating, but the dangers inherent in allowing cats to roam offset those advantages in most situations. If your cat lives indoors, you need to take on the role of coach in encouraging him to get moving. An assistant coach, in the form of another cat, is one of the easiest ways to get your cat playing and moving. But you can also encourage movement by providing a cat tree and a variety of climbing and perching posts, as well as scratching posts.
You can place food treats (or even a small meal of dry kibble) in interactive toys that require the cat to roll and manipulate them to get the food, you can hide the food around the house (remember where you put it!), or you can throw it piece by piece for your cat to run after. Interactive toys such as feather wands, kitty "fishing poles" and laser light pointers can provide even more exercise. Several toys are available that allow your cat to play by himself when you're away.
One good way to exercise your cat is to take him for a walk. The safest way to do this is by walking him on a cat harness. It's much easier to teach a kitten to walk on a harness than it is an adult cat, but it can be done. You may need to lure him along a step at a time at first, rewarding him with a treat for following you. Once he gets the hang of it, be sure to only walk him in safe places where loose dogs can't come after him. And don't forget to administer flea, tick and heartworm prevention.
Even handicapped cats can get exercise. For example, obese cats may have to play games by swatting at things when lying down, and blind cats can chase toys that make noise. As cats age, they desire less exercise, but you should still strive to get in a short active session once a day. Be prepared to reduce the intensity to what your cat can safely do. And check with your veterinarian about joint supplements, pain medications, or other things that can help make your cat more comfortable and willing to exercise.
Exercise is important for your cat, not only to keep him fit and trim, but also because he needs mental stimulation. Cats, especially young cats, that are left alone all day with nothing to do can create their own games, which may not be healthy for your household belongings. Even though cat videos are available that many cats find amusing, many more cats are bored and would welcome the diversion of getting some exercise. A well-exercised cat is more likely to be a contented cat.