By Dr. Becker
As my regular readers and visitors to Mercola Healthy Pets know, I talk a lot about the need for pets to get consistent, heart-thumping exercise.
Animals are built for movement.
Our pets are born athletes, and it’s up to us to provide them with opportunities to exercise and be physically active.
Uninjured, healthy canines and felines in the wild are incredibly muscular and fit because they live the lifestyle they were designed for.
There are no obese couch potato animals in the wild.
Regular aerobic activity provides so many benefits for our furry companions, including:
- Helps to maintain a healthy weight
- Keeps muscles supple and strong
- Promotes organ health, including the heart, as well as the overall structural integrity of your pet’s body
- Cures boredom and the undesirable behaviors that come along with it
- Helps strengthen the bond you share with your dog or cat
For the vast majority of dog owners, the only thing standing between their pet and regular exercise is their own commitment to get it done.
Exercise opportunities for canine companions are limited only by the imagination and willingness of their owners.
Even in winter months, there are plenty of ways to keep your dog physically active.
Helping Kitties Get Adequate Exercise is a Special Challenge
Indoor cats, on the other hand, are often not as easy to keep fit as their canine counterparts.
Feeding a portion controlled, balanced, species-appropriate diet will go a long way toward keeping your favorite feline from getting fat. But even cats at a healthy weight need to be physically active on a regular basis.
There aren’t a whole lot of aerobic-type activities for kitties to engage in to begin with, and cats being cats, it will of course be up to them if and when they choose to participate in whatever foolishness their humans come up with.
It’s helpful to provide your cat with something to climb on, like a multi-level cat tree or tower. At least you’ll know he’s been stretching, clawing and working his climbing muscles whenever you see him gazing down at you from atop his tree.
You can also consider investing in a laser toy, either a very inexpensive, simple one or something a bit more sophisticated like the Frolicat™ line. Many kitties will happily exhaust themselves chasing the beams or dots from these toys. (So will many dogs, so if you have both, I recommend you separate them and exercise them individually. Most cats are a little intimidated by an excited dog bouncing around after a laser light!)
Other Interactive Toy Ideas
There are a wide variety of interactive kitty toys available on the market, one or several of which may help you help your cat stay well-exercised.
In order to be effective, first you need to think like your predatory pet. She’s a hunter, so when choosing toys and activities to engage her in, think about appealing to her natural instincts to stalk and bring down prey.
When you move a toy in front of her to entice her to join in the fun, think about how her natural prey moves and move the toy the same way. Birds land and take off, so if you’re trying to involve your cat with a toy like Da Bird, make it land and take off. Jiggling the thing in her face won’t be nearly as interesting to her, so try to make the toy move like the real deal.
Every so often, when the bird ‘lands’ on the floor, slip a tasty treat underneath and let your cat discover it when she pounces on her prey.
When choosing toys, you don’t necessarily have to go high tech. Dragging a piece of string across the floor is enough to entice many cats to chase after it. Ping pong balls are another feline favorite, along with bits of paper rolled into balls, and pretty much any light object that can be made to move fast and in unexpected directions.
Needless to say, your cat will let you know when she’s had enough. Don’t expect one game with one toy to go on indefinitely. Cats in the wild stalk prey for only a few minutes at a time and then move on.
Using Mealtime to Exercise Your Cat
Like many of you, I work all day most days, so I have to get really creative when it comes to keeping my own pack physically fit.
As a result, I try to work a little exercise into normal, everyday activities, like for example at feeding time.
Now, this is a slightly sneaky thing I do with my cats, but remember, it’s for a good cause.
My kitties eat twice a day, in the morning and evening.
They are very aware of mom’s every move when it gets to be ‘that time,’ so as soon as they see their food dishes come out, I have their full attention. They are immediately underfoot, following my every move.
When I have the food in the dishes, rather than plunk them immediately on the floor, I walk around the house with them – with the cats in tow. They follow along behind me like a small furry parade.
After a few minutes of this, I begin stopping at certain intervals to give them small bits of raw food from the dishes. Then we continue our march.
Believe it or not, I can keep my cats moving for 20 minutes this way because they’re sure at any second I’ll finally lower those dishes to the floor and let them at it. They march, meow, weave around my ankles, run ahead of me then turn and run back, stretch up toward their dishes, hop a bit on their back feet, and get a fairly decent little workout before they eat. Most recently, we’ve added stairs to the equation, for even more of a work out.
After about 20 minutes, I put the dishes on the floor and they finish their meals.
This mildly scheming behavior on my part has the benefit of getting the kitties moving, which improves their cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, range of motion and circulation in their joints.
Have You Considered Agility Training for Your Cat?
You might be thinking right about now that I’ve lost my mind, putting ‘training’ and ‘cat’ in the same sentence!
But believe it or not, feline agility competitions really do exist. And while convincing your cat to actually compete might be out of the question, I think there are some great ideas we can borrow from these events to help our own kitties stay physically active.
Feline agility competitions are modeled after dog competitions. Cats run through a scaled down, feline-friendly obstacle course which includes hurdles, tunnels, hoops and poles.
Cat owners use a feather or other type of wand to persuade their pets to make their way over, under, around and through each of the obstacles on the course in as little time as possible.
Some cats zip through the course in mere seconds.
Others, as you might expect, show utter disdain for such nonsense. They look at their silly human cooing and waving a toy at them. They yawn, clean a bit of litter from between their toes, stretch and lie down for a nap at the starting gate.
Most of the kitties who tear through the obstacle course have been trained from a very young age with food treats, praise and neck rubs.
Of course, these are also cats with personalities that lend themselves to this type of activity. No amount of yummy treats or petting will convince an unwilling feline to do, well … anything he doesn’t want to do.
But I think feline agility competitions give us some good ideas for activities we can try at home to get our house cats moving. Most of the cat owners who train their pets to compete make their own agility equipment – like this homemade ramp.
This series of short videos from the Cat Fanciers’ Association offers some really excellent tips on how to get your cat involved in agility training -- either around your house or in actual competition. The videos also provide lots of ideas for what types of obstacles make sense for kitties and how to find them around your house, or make them, and also where to buy them.
With a little imagination and a small monetary investment, I think it’s possible to build a ramp, a tunnel, a hoop or a hurdle (or a combination), and patiently entice your cat to use agility equipment to get some healthy, heart-thumping exercise.