While cats love to laze around and sleep, they also need to play and exercise. Find out how important exercise is to your cat, how to play with your cat and what games might become your cat’s favorite activity.
Would you be surprised to learn that domestic cats don’t get as much exercise as feral cats? But exercise and play are essential to their well-being. Cats are meant to hunt, with their tremendous instinct to stalk, chase and pounce on prey. Although domestic cats no longer need this hunting skill to survive, their reflexes still have an effect on their behavior. It’s important to allow your cat to satisfy its natural instincts by providing at least three five-minute periods of intense play each day.
Why is play and exercise so important for cats?
Playing with your cat is not only about spending time together, it’s also about maintaining your cat’s health so that you can enjoy the many years ahead together. Obesity rates among pets are on the rise worldwide. Incorporating exercise into their daily lives helps them maintain a healthy weight, preserve muscle strength and avoid obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
In addition to helping them stay physically healthy, play and exercise help your cat develop positive behaviors. Play stimulates your cat in a positive way and helps protect objects in the home, such as furniture and plants. Offering your cat a play schedule also teaches her that there are good and bad times to play, and keeps her mind sharp and active.
How much exercise does a cat need?
The amount of exercise will vary depending on your cat’s age, weight and current activity level, but in general, it’s recommended that you play with your cat intensely for five minutes, three times a day.
When playing with your cat, remember that she is a natural predator. These short, intense five-minute periods of activity compare to the way they would hunt in the wild. Because cats – even indoor cats – are built to climb, jump, stalk and hunt. Don’t be afraid to tap into your cat’s animal instincts and encourage his natural behaviors when you play with him. It’s in her genes!
How to exercise your cat
To find out if your cat prefers to climb or hunt, introduce her to one toy or activity at a time. You’ll soon learn which ones she prefers. It’s also a good idea to alternate between toys every couple of days, so she doesn’t get bored.
Here are some of the most popular toys that will help your cat get exercise:
- Cat Trees: The ideal cat tree is as tall as your room will allow and is made of different materials that allow your cat to climb and scratch. Make sure the base is very sturdy, as cats can leap from across the room and catapult themselves onto the cat tree with surprising strength. Climbing and playing on the cat tree is great exercise for cats. It’s also a way to use their natural instinct to climb real trees for shelter, or to get a bird’s eye view of their territory. It’s easier to spot prey from above, even if it’s a doggie!
- Mouse or other small stuffed animal: Your cat will get into shape by pawing at this toy from all sides as if it were prey, or by holding it back and pawing at it. Some of these toys contain catnip, making them even more irresistible to your kitty. Make sure the cords are securely attached to their toy, if applicable, and only buy toys designed for cats. If a toy’s string doesn’t feel secure, it’s best to remove it.
- Cat teasers: These toys look like birds, and cats are known to love chasing birds. But make sure your cat is only chasing the toy and not real prey – let’s protect our wildlife! Stimulate your cat’s interest by wiggling the cat teaser to mimic the movements of a bird flapping its wings, twirling in the air, etc. Inspect the toy first to make sure the feathers have not come loose. Don’t give your cat a chance to swallow them.
- Drone for cats: the latest trend in cat toys is the bird-shaped drone. These USB-cable rechargeable drones are remote-controlled and fly and twirl like real birds. These toys will arouse all of your cat’s hunting instincts, but the urge to kill its « prey » once caught means the toy may break very quickly.
- Cardboard boxes: When you receive a package, save the cardboard box for your cat. Cats love to hide inside a box and jump out. You could cut holes in one side or tie a few boxes together. Try putting a stuffed toy or ball inside to give your cat even more fun!
- Flashlights or lasers: Cats love to hunt, and it’s easy to get them moving by moving the light from a laser or flashlight across a room and up the walls. Be sure to finish the game by letting your cat catch its « prey » so it doesn’t get frustrated. (Remember, never aim a light beam at a cat’s eyes, especially not with a laser).
- Cat Exercise Wheel: If your cat has a lot of energy and you have enough space to install a cat wheel, this is a great tool to harness her running and hunting instincts. It’s a more expensive option, however, and you may have to invest some time in teaching your cat to use it. But if she adopts it for exercise, she may have a great time using it… and entertaining her owner at the same time!
While cats certainly enjoy lounging around the house, a regular dose of exercise and play is essential to their overall health. Whether you already have an exercise routine in place or are just starting one, remember that the type of play you choose should stimulate the cat’s natural instincts. There are many toys and exercise equipment designed for cats, so you should be able to find one that will keep your cat happy and active for years to come.