There’s a big problem when it comes to cat health. Literally. According to a recent study from Banfield Pet Hospital, more than 1 in 3 cats are overweight or obese. Those extra pounds can put a cat at increased risk for arthritis, diabetes, urinary stones, heart problems, and more. Managing food and treats is an important part of keeping cats at a healthy weight. But so is exercise. And there are plenty of fun ways you can help your cat stay active.
A few rules for kitty playtime
First things first: be sure not to force your cat to do an activity they don’t want to do. It may take some trial and error, but find a game your cat enjoys. Better yet, find one you both enjoy doing together. Aim for about 30 minutes of total exercise per day, but keep sessions short. Cats tend to have short bursts of energy (and if it’s up to them, they occur at around 2 a.m.), so it’s ideal to break up playtime into 5-15 minute blocks.
And with that, let’s get to the fun stuff!
Fishing poles and wands
If you attach something to a stick and wave it around, chances are you’ll get your cat’s attention. Fishing poles and wand toys adorned with ribbons and feathers are a great way to get your kitty moving. Drag it around the floor to get them running or fling it up on a bed or couch so they can show off their jumping skills.
If your cat’s energy burst coincides with your video conference call, let battery-operated toys be their exercise buddy. Hexbug makes some great robotic toys that will keep your cat moving while you’re working away at your desk. (But don’t worry, you’ll still be your cat’s favorite workout partner.)
If there’s one thing we know about cats, it’s that they’re clever. Puzzle toys are great exercise for their bodies and their brains. Toys filled with hidden treats, catnip toys, or jingle balls encourage hunting (one of a cat’s favorite pastimes) and require cats to figure out how to access the secret treasure.
any cats love being outside and going on adventures with their people. That makes them great candidates for leash-walking. The Bengal, Pixiebob, and American Bobtail are a few cat breeds known to enjoy a good stroll, but plenty of others also fit the bill. Just be sure to ease them into the idea by getting them used to the harness and leash in the house and then the backyard before you head out into the neighborhood.
Some cats, like the Abyssinian, love to climb to high places. Cat trees allow athletic cats to fulfill their desire to climb and jump. They can use these trees to exercise on their own, but you can also incorporate them into your play sessions by throwing toys on them to encourage activity. Best of all, once playtime is over, cat trees make a perfect place to birdwatch (or nap).
Let’s be clear. Every cat deserves a treat now and then. But instead of just handing your cat one for, say, being adorable, make them work for it. Toss a treat across the room and let them chase after it.
We all know cats think the best part of a gift is the box it came in. So give them what they want by building a fort out of empty cardboard boxes and letting them explore. You can even throw toys or catnip pouches into the boxes to give them something to hunt.
Dogs may think they own the game of fetch, but there are plenty of cat breeds—including the Burmese, Maine Coon, and Ragdoll—that would beg to differ. Many cats can learn to fetch, and they enjoy having that level of engagement with their humans. And if your cat wants to bring something to you, better the toy you threw versus the lizard they found in the backyard...
Yes, we said swimming. Of course, not every cat will be up for a dip in the pool, but some cats enjoy the water. In fact, the Turkish Van is known for its love of splashing around in lakes and streams. Test the waters (literally) to gauge your cat’s reaction. And, for safety, always keep an eye on your pet when they’re around any body of water.
Laser pointers are often a go-to activity. And they’re great—with one caveat. It can be frustrating for a cat to run, leap, and pounce after the moving red light and never actually "catch" it. To avoid this, stop the laser pointer on a treat or toy every once in a while. That gives your cat opportunities for satisfying rewards during the game.
Whatever activity you choose to do with your kitty, the most important part is to have fun. If your cat is moving and you’re both enjoying yourselves, you’re doing it right!