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Who Says Cats Won't Exercise? Try This Simple and Fun Trick

Obese Cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • Most U.S. pets are overweight or obese today. Over half of dogs are too heavy, as are almost 60 percent of cats -- and a majority of their owners are either unaware or unconcerned.
  • Obesity in dogs and cats is a direct result of owner over-indulgence, biologically inappropriate diets, and lack of adequate exercise. Sadly, obesity in pets causes many of the same painful, debilitating, and life-shortening diseases overweight humans suffer from, including diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, and diminished quality of life.
  • Dogs are generally much easier to exercise than cats, as anyone owned by a feline can attest to. But it IS possible to help your kitty get fit, so don’t despair. Here, Dr. Becker offers some of her favorite tips for getting couch-potato cats up and moving.
  • The first thing you should do for your chunkster is evaluate the food she’s consuming. A balanced, portion-controlled, species-appropriate diet will not only help your kitty lose weight, it will improve her overall health and well-being for the long haul.
  • Additional recommendations for getting your cat more active include investing in a cat tree or tower and a few interactive toys; engaging your kitty with low-tech amusements like ping-pong balls; thinking of ways to add exercise into everyday routines like mealtime; and getting your cat involved in feline agility, even if it’s right in your own home.

By Dr. Becker

Most pets in the U.S. today are overweight or obese, and a majority of their owners are either oblivious, or don't feel their pet's weight is reason for concern. According to the most recent information from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), over half of U.S. dogs are overweight, and almost 60 percent of cats are as well.1

Our beloved pets aren't designed to be overweight. You'll never find a wild feline with an ounce of fat on him. In part, this is because wild animals spend their lives in survival mode. But it's also because it is simply not natural for animals to overeat to the point of obesity.

Obesity in today's pets is caused by owner over-indulgence, biologically inappropriate food (and too much of it), and lack of physical activity. Obesity in a cat or dog is its own disease, and it's also the root cause of several other painful, debilitating diseases including hip dysplasia, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and a significant reduction in both quantity and quality of life.

While most dog guardians can think of several ways to help their pet get physically fit, people who share their lives with a corpulent cat often have no idea how to get beefy Bella to follow a workout routine. So without further adieu, here are my favorite recommendations for getting the overweight feline in your life up and moving.

Diet and Exercise Tips for Fat Cats

  • First things first. In order to slim down an overweight cat, you must feed a portion controlled, balanced, species-appropriate diet. In my experience, most overweight cats are fed a dry diet and are often free-fed, which means they're grazing day and night on food that is keeping them fat. If your cat is still eating kibble, she'll need to be slowly and safely transitioned to the right nutrition for her species: a moisture dense, preferably fresh diet. Not only will a better diet help with weight loss, it will make your feline companion much healthier overall. For detailed information on how to make the switch: Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat.
  • Next, make sure your kitty has at least one thing to climb on in your home, like a multi-level cat tree or tower. If he's willing to use it, he'll get some good stretching, scratching and climbing time in each day – even when you're not around. Every time you see him gazing down at you from atop his tree, you know that at least he got off the couch!
  • It's important to keep in mind that your cat has a very limited attention span. Consider investing in a laser toy, either a very inexpensive, simple one or something more sophisticated like the FrolicCat. Many kitties will maniacally dive around chasing the beams or dots from these toys.
  • You'll also want to invest in a few interactive cat toys. To pick the best ones, consider things from your pet's point of view. She's a hunter, so when choosing toys and activities to engage her, think in terms of appealing to her natural instincts to stalk and bring down prey. For example, if you have a cat toy like Da Bird, make it land and take off like the real thing. To keep her interest, every so often have the bird land on a tasty treat and let your cat discover it when she pounces on her prey.
  • Also keep some low-tech interactive toys on hand, like a piece of string you drag across the floor, ping-pong balls, or bits of paper rolled into balls. Any lightweight object that can be made to move fast and in unexpected directions will entice almost any cat to chase after it. Your cat will tell you when he's had enough, and you shouldn't expect one game with one toy to go on for very long. Cats in the wild stalk prey for only a few minutes at a time and then move on.
  • A little scheme I came up with for my own cats is to use mealtime as another opportunity to exercise them. I put their food in bowls, but rather than put the bowls down for them right away, I walk around the house with them. Of course, the kitties follow right along. After a few minutes of walking around the house, I begin stopping from time to time to hand out small bits of raw food from the bowls. Then we continue our march through the house and up and down the stairs. I can keep my cats moving for about 20 minutes this way because they are fixated on those bowls of food. They run along beside me, weave around my ankles, scoot ahead of me, turn and run back, stretch up toward their bowls, hop around on their back feet, and get a fairly good little workout before I put the bowls on the floor and let them finish eating.
  • Now this idea might be kind of "out there" for some of you, but have you ever considered feline agility? Believe it or not, agility competitions for cats do exist! Of course, many kitties want nothing to do with these events, but I think feline agility competitions can give us some good ideas for activities we can try at home to get our own cats moving. This series of short videos from the Cat Fanciers' Association offers some great 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.

I hope I've given you a bit of inspiration to help your own kitty lose weight and get physically fit. A little effort on your part can go a very long way toward slimming down your pet and vastly improving the quality and quantity of her life.