Brings Out Kitty's Best, Gives Her the Time of Her Life and Boosts Your Special Bond

Story at-a-glance -

  • We have a feline obesity epidemic in this country, and one of the reasons is because our indoor cats are overfed couch potatoes
  • Just because kitties are more independent than dogs doesn’t mean they don’t need the tools and motivation to exercise daily
  • It’s easier to get your cat physically active than you might think, for example, hide kitty’s food around the house and let her hunt for it
  • Ensure your cat has climbing and scratching surfaces, high perches, and interactive toys that bring out his predator instincts
  • Also consider providing your kitty with a safe, secure outdoor enclosure and/or train her to walk with you on a harness and leash

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

We have a feline obesity epidemic in this country, and one of the reasons is because our indoor cats are overfed couch potatoes. Just because kitties are more independent than dogs doesn't mean they don't need the tools and motivation to get regular heart-thumping exercise.

It's easier to get your cat physically active than you might think, for example, hide kitty's portion-controlled food around the house and let her hunt for it. Ensure she has climbing and scratching surfaces, high perches and interactive toys that bring out her predator instincts. Also consider providing your kitty with a safe, secure outdoor enclosure and/or train her to walk with you on a harness and leash

10 Ways to Help Your Cat Exercise

1. Hunting for food and treats

Your cat, while domesticated, has maintained much of his natural drive to engage in the same behaviors as his counterparts in the wild, including hunting for food, which also happens to be great exercise. A great way to do that with an indoor cat is to have him "hunt" for his meals and treats.

Separate his daily portion of food into three to five small meals fed throughout the day in a variety of puzzle toys or indoor hunting feeder mice. You can also hide his food bowls or food puzzle toys in various spots around the house.

2. Cat trees and elevated vertical spaces

Climbing, scratching and stretching are natural feline activities that help keep their bodies well-conditioned and their minds stimulated. Indoor cat trees should ideally reach from floor to ceiling, be very stable (not wobbly) and covered with a variety of cat-tractive materials to entice kitty to climb, stretch and claw. If you can place your cat tree near a window, even better.

Cats also enjoy climbing to high perches to watch the world from a safe distance, so make sure the cat tree has at least one. You can also add wall shelves and window seats to give kitty a range of choices.

3. Outdoor enclosures

Providing your indoor cat the opportunity to experience the outdoors safely provides both physical and mental stimulation without the risks of free roaming. It also gives her an opportunity for beneficial grounding.

Many cat parents are creating safe outdoor enclosures or cat patios — catios — that allow their feline family members secure access to the outdoors. The enclosure should be open air, allowing kitty exposure to fresh air and sunlight, but shielded enough to prevent escape or a predator from gaining access.

4. Leash walks

Another way to get a willing cat outdoors in nice weather is to walk him on a harness and leash. This obviously won't be the answer for every cat, but if you feel yours might enjoy going for walks, here are 10 tips for training a cat to walk on a leash.

5. Laser pointers

Laser pointers can be used to get kitty chasing and pouncing on the red dot for five or 10 minutes a day. The problem is there's nothing for her to actually catch, so she'll probably tire of it quickly. But definitely keep it in your cat's toybox if you know it will get her moving for short periods of time.

6. Feather toys

Interactive feather toys, especially one called Da Bird, are irresistible to most cats. "What I recommend is two play sessions a day, and work up to 10 or 15 minutes per play session," says feline behavior consultant Dr. Marci Koski. "You want to get your cat running, leaping and jumping. You want to get him engaged in the prey sequence, which is staring, stalking and chasing, pouncing and grabbing, and then performing a kill bite. That will tap into his predatory instincts and let him feel like a cat."

7. Fake furry mice

These little mouse toys are also a hit with most cats. They're not the real thing, of course, and your kitty knows it, but they'll do in a pinch. Cats seem to like the size, texture and "battability" of the mice. Try flicking one across the floor in front of your kitty and see how she reacts.

8. Soap bubbles

Many cats think it's great fun to chase and swat bubbles floating in the air!

9. Catnip

Some kitties go wild for catnip, so a catnip toy can be an ideal way to get your kitty in the mood for some interactive playtime. When a susceptible cat (not all cats are affected by catnip) absorbs the nepetalactone in the herb, her pleasure centers in the brain are activated and the next thing you know, she's rolling around in a state of goofy bliss. And despite the fact that catnip appears to make kitties "high," it's an entirely harmless and non-addictive herb.

10. Hiding boxes

When cats in the wild feel threatened, they head for trees, dens or caves to seek safety. Captive kitties don't have that option, so their obsession with hiding in boxes may be an adaptation. And studies show access to hiding boxes reduces feline stress, especially in shelter cats. Many cats also use hiding boxes as cardboard jungle gyms and spend time playing in and around them.

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