Some cats are extremely active, especially young outdoor cats, whereas others will lounge around all day following the warmth of the sun. What can be done to encourage these lay-about cats to exercise, and does it really matter if they don't exercise?
Young kittens are full of energy and will play with just about anything, investigating and expending copious amounts of energy daily. While we don't recommend this at home, this fun video shows just how entertaining a kitten can be when it is entertaining itself!
Playing with active kittens can be a lot of fun and very rewarding for owners. It is suggested that playing with your kitten becomes a regular part of your day so that this relationship will continue naturally and easily into the animal's older years.
Kittens love to chase, stalk, hide, scratch and bite. It is important at this early stage to teach your kitten not to scratch or bite humans or furniture. Providing adequate toys and a scratching pole will assist with this. Never let your kitten bite or scratch your hand in play. Popular games with kittens often involve chasing the owners hand but this will teach the kitten inappropriate behaviours regarding biting and scratching.
If your cat is beyond the investigative kitten stage, how can you help it to exercise? Adult cats do require regular exercise to enhance their overall wellbeing, help maintain a healthy weight, and to provide mental stimulation. Whilst cat owners will acknowledge that encouraging a cat to play is no easy task compared to say a dog, it can be achieved.
Firstly owners need to ensure that their cat is physically capable of regular exercise. Your veterinarian can provide a general health check to advise of this. In order to ensure that the exercise regime will be long-term, owners need to consider their time availability, their preferences for interaction and their budget.
Cats instinctively like to hunt, prowl, pounce and jump. Providing cat toys and activities which encourage these activities will help stimulate your cat into action. Some cats are attracted to catnip so placing catnip on cat toys can help attract some cats to them. Cat toys such as balls which require chasing, toy mice which can be tossed into the air and caught, cat toys with feathers and cat toys which dangle off strings will help attract the cat┐s attention.
Providing challenges which require the use of a cat's natural predatory instincts will attract most cats. Dragging a cat toy on a string slowly around a corner or through a maze of tunnels and boxes will stimulate your cat's mental urges whilst also encouraging stalking, chasing and pouncing behaviours. The use of a laser light aimed towards the floor (but away from the cat's eyes) will allow a cat to chase and pounce and with the owner changing the direction and location of the light this will encourage a seeking strategy by the cat to redirect and focus on the new area. This can be very stimulating for cats (and highly entertaining for owners).
It is important to rotate the cat toys available for your cat regularly in order to prevent boredom. Cats are stimulating by changes and new challenges.
Whilst owners can easily make cat toys for cats at home it is important to recognise a few of the dangers which can arise. Cats will chew and swallow string, wool and the like. These can become caught in their gastrointestinal tract as linear foreign bodies which cause the intestinal tract to bunch up and this can lead to life-threatening medical and surgical emergencies. Similarly anything small enough to be swallowed may lead to an intestinal obstruction and similarly to emergency situations. Any broken or frayed cat toys should be discarded immediately.
Exercise and stimulation provided by products which don't require much owner input are available. They include cat treat balls which contain dry food cat treats and need to be pushed and chased around by the cat to allow the treat to fall out. Cat scratching posts and cat trees with toys attached to the top will encourage stretching and if a tiered post is provided, will allow for jumping and climbing. Placing a favourite cat toy or catnip on top of the post can encourage the cat to climb up.
Cats are very stimulated by outdoor environments due to their ever changing state. For cats which are housed purely indoors, the provision of an outdoor cat enclosure may be beneficial for providing enhanced stimulation and exercise. They can incorporate tunnels, climbing posts, tree branches and the like and can be custom designed for your particular environment and needs.
Although cats are not commonly seen going for walks with their owners, the use of a cat harness and lead can allow owners to walk their cat outside their usual environment, thus providing mental stimulation and additional exercise. This technique can be especially useful for indoor cats that may be able to be walked safely on a harness and lead in their owner┐s yard without the risk of running away.
So does it really matter if cats don't engage in some degree of regular exercise, especially as they age? In general, cats will benefit from continued mental stimulation and exercise throughout their lifetime. The physiological benefits, weight management, and overall health and mobility benefits are worth implementing a regular exercise regime for. Spending time exercising and stimulating your cat allows for more human-cat interaction which can also serve to strengthen the human-animal bond and initiate all the positive effects resulting from that bond.
So whether your cat is a natural exerciser or needs stimulating to rekindle those predatory kitten days, it is suggested that all cats engage in regular daily exercise of a moderate level for enhanced longevity and life enjoyment.