Does your cat spend too much time napping? Is her sole source of exercise the trip from the sofa to the food bowl? Has she gone from a slender, sinewy feline to a chunky monkey? Then maybe you and your furry couch potato should take the Feline Fitness Challenge. Read on for four fun ways to encourage your kitty to get some physical activity.
1. Run and play
As a species, cats sleep a lot. Indoor cats that get bored will sleep even more than average because they have nothing better to do. But daily exercise is very important for both her body and mind, so it’s up to you to get your cat moving and help keep her fit.
Interactive play with your cat is good for burning calories and building muscle mass. It’s also a great way to strengthen your bond with her. There are many different types of interactive toys on the market as well as toys your cat can play with solo or with a feline companion. One of my own cats’ favorites is the Dipsy Doodle Tiger Toy, a hanging mobile which is a miniature version of an exerciser used by zoos to amuse Bengal tigers.
HINT: Try to schedule several play sessions per day, at ten to fifteen minutes each.
Most cats will chase a laser light. This type of activity provides great aerobic exercise. Just be careful not to shine the light into her eyes, and use caution if you are running more than one cat at a time so they don’t collide and injure themselves.
If your cat is overweight, start with very short sessions and gradually build up to ten or fifteen minutes of strenuous exercise.
2. Tricks and treasure hunts
Do as many dog trainers do and make your cat work for her dinner, or at least part of it! Many cats take well to clicker training. This involves using a plastic clicker to mark desirable behavior. By initially pairing the click with a reward of a small piece of food or a healthy treat, you may be able to teach your cat some simple tricks such as jumping over a low obstacle or even through a hoop.
If your cat isn’t inclined to do tricks for her meals, hide pieces of food or treats throughout the house and let her perform her own search-and-munch exercises. Getting your cat to work for her food is natural as well as good exercise – after all, wild cats have to hunt for their meals. In any case, leaving food available for your cat 24/7 is not a healthy practice and is likely to lead to obesity. It’s best to feed her several small meals a day. To build lean muscle mass, and for optimum wellness, look for a food with a high meat content.
3. Scratch and climb
Cats love to climb and scratch on rough surfaces. These are natural and necessary activities that help keep their claws, paws and leg muscles in good shape, so the more scratching posts, cat trees or kitty condos you can provide, the happier your kitty will be. Make sure you situate them in rooms that your cat spends a lot of time in – she won’t bother with them if they’re tucked away in a corner of the basement or some other unfrequented area.
HINT: A cat tree placed under a high window sill will encourage your feline to climb by giving her a destination to aim for.
My cats have a 5’ wooden ladder that I wrapped in sisal rope, and another constructed of wood with tree limbs for the rungs. Both lead to wooden shelves mounted close to the ceiling that I covered with sisal fabric. They have fun jumping from shelf to shelf, and I often see them chasing each other back and forth, running from ladder to shelf to ladder.
4. Outdoor adventures
Some cats, especially if they are started as kittens, will walk outside on a harness and leash. Taking your cat for a daily walk is a great form of exercise for both of you. And chasing a laser light or feather on a stick is much more exciting for a cat if she can do it on grass in the fresh air!
If walking on a leash isn’t an option, many companies make feline-specific outdoor enclosures and cat-proof fencing, so your kitty can enjoy the great outdoors in safety. Both Purr…Fect Fence (www.purrfectfence.com) and Cat Fence-In (www.catfencein.com) offer climb-proof fences for cats. These products are designed to keep your cats in and other animals out. Purr…fect Fence is a complete fencing system while Cat Fence-in attaches to an existing fence.
If you prefer an enclosure, The Cat’s Den (www.thecatsden.net) and Kittywalk Systems (www.kittywalk.com) offer a variety of products in different sizes and configurations. Several of the models offered by Kittywalk are portable, which means you can give your cat a change of scene from time to time.
“I put a small dog crate out a window like an air conditioner. My cats spent many hours there sunning, getting some fresh air, and watching the squirrels and birds.”
If you’re creative, you can easily make your own outdoor cat containment system. When I lived in the city, I put a small dog crate out a window like an air conditioner. My cats spent many hours there sunning, getting some fresh air, and watching the squirrels and birds.
An overweight, inactive cat is more prone to disease so it’s in her best interests that you make sure she gets daily exercise and remains at an ideal body weight throughout her life. This four-part Feline Fitness Challenge will help you achieve that goal – after all, much of the innate beauty of a cat lies in her athleticism. I love a warm cat on my lap, but I also love to watch them in action!