Like American humans, about 57% percent of North American indoor cats are overweight. In 2008 the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention determined that more than half of U.S. cats were too tubby for their own good. And an overweight cat is more prone to disease and other health problems.
The trouble is, just like with humans, American cats are eating too much and exercising too little. Controlling your cat’s food portion is one thing—that’s in your control as a pet owner—but how do you get your cat to exercise more?
Stimulating the Kitty Brain
Feral or homeless cats have a whole lot going on in their lives. They have to catch their food; they have to avoid being caught by dogs or other animals; they have to patrol and defend their territory. This, combined with a limited food supply, keeps feral cats trim.
When exercising your house cat, the trick is to mimic the experiences of wild cats, giving your pet opportunities to run and chase, stalk and hunt. This will not only keep your cat’s body agile, it’ll help stimulate their mind as well.
Bored cats tend to lie around more, sleeping the day away and limiting their exercise. This makes the cat even more listless, thus creating a self perpetuating problem.
Giving your cat a variety of toys to play with is the first step in preventing cat boredom. Purchase toys that mimic the look and movements of cat’s natural prey—toy mice and birds.
You may have to experiment with various types of toys to see which kinds your cat responds to best. Some cats will play by themselves with toy mice, batting them around the floor, while other cats will enjoy toy birds that you flick and make “fly.”
When playing with your cat, try to think like prey. Consider how mice scuttle and stop, change direction, and play dead. Your pet will enjoy the experience a lot more if they get to use their natural hunting skills.
Remember that cats usually only hunt in the wild for 5 or 6 minutes at a time. Don’t play much longer than this. Also, change it up as much as you can. Play mouse with your cat one day and bird the next.
Keeping things fresh and exciting will keep your cat interested.
Cats like to jump and climb. They like to perch in high places so that they can keep an eye on their domains. Another way to give your cat activity for mind and body is to purchase or build a cat gym. If you are the handy type, you can even build these cat castles yourself, adding various shelves, hiding holes, and steps as you please.
At first, your cat might be disinterested in playing on such structures, but you can stimulate their interest. Dangle your cat’s favorite toy from one of the platforms, enticing them to jump and stalk, thus interacting with the structure. You also may try rubbing the cat tower with catnip. Once your cat associates the play structure with fun times, they will be more likely to return to it.
Some folks go the extra mile to see if their cat is willing to tolerate a cat leash. Some cats may take readily to being leashed and will enjoy wandering about the neighborhood sniffing and exploring. Other cats will crouch and resist. It’s worth a shot, as long as it doesn’t create too much stress. Although these walks may not be a highly aerobic activity, they will stimulate your cat’s brain, helping to prevent boredom.
When bringing a new kitty home, ask yourself which environment is best for your new pet. Indoor cats live, on average, exponentially longer than free roaming cats. Many argue, however, that outdoor cats are happier and healthier. This is a personal choice, and the right decision is based largely on your cat’s prior history, and where you live. If you think it’s safe, try letting kitty run and chase out of doors. Behaving naturally, for cats, will ultimately be the best exercise.
More on Caring for Your Cat
What to Get Your Cat for the Holidays
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.