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While most dogs love exercise—long walks and games of chase-the-tennis-ball—cats often have a very different attitude toward exercise. Many cats would rather curl up for one of their frequent naps, followed by a visit to their food and water bowls. These inactive behaviors can lead to weight gain, muscle depletion, and hip and joint issues. Without daily exercise, your cat’s health can deteriorate over time and even shorten their life span.

Cats need exercise just like dogs do-- especially fully indoor cats! Of course, keeping your cat indoors helps keep them safe from outdoor hazards, protects native wildlife, and prevents the cat from getting or passing on an infectious disease like FIV. And with the right encouragement and a variety of ways to exercise—running, jumping, climbing, and chasing—your indoor cat can replace some of their lazy habits with active, more healthful ones.

Remember to start slowly, especially if you’re helping an adult cat exercise. Start with activities that your cat enjoys, and plan for short, 3-5 minute play sessions a few times each day. As your cat builds stamina, you can make play times longer and use higher-energy games.

Here are some of the best methods for encouraging your cat to play and exercise.

  • To encourage your cat to hop and climb, use a cat tower, a series of empty boxes that will fit your cat’s body, or your stairway. Place a toy or treat where you want the cat to begin climbing and playing, or use a laser pointer for the cat to chase up the tower, into the boxes, and up and down your stairs.
  • Give your cat lots of toy options to keep them moving. Try hiding some of the toys so your cat can have the thrill of finding them. Change and rotate the toys frequently so your cat doesn’t get bored. You don’t have to spend a lot on toys – try ping pong balls and balled-up pipe cleaners, and put a ball into a big open box or your bathtub to create an instant “hockey rink” for your cat to chase and bounce the ball. Two very good sites for more toy ideas are www.worldsbestcatlitter.com/2014/03/the-10-best-homemade-cat-toys/ and https://rawznaturalpetfood.com/diy-cat-toys/
  • Tie some feathers, or a toy on a string, to a long wand and let your cat leap and run to catch the prize.
  • Online apps can challenge your cat to chase a bee or hamster or pounce on meandering mice and frisky fish. After physical exercise, open a cat app to offer your cat mental stimulation and entertainment. Find apps by Googling ‘cat app.’
  • Train your kitten—or older cat, if possible—to walk wearing a well-fitted soft harness attached to a leash. Let your cat wear just the harness for a week. Then attach the leash and let the cat drag it. Finally, pick up the leash and put a slight pressure on it. When your cat walks easily and happily on the leash, you can go to a safe location for a cat-directed walk as you follow the cat with the leash held very loosely. Be ready to pull the cat out of danger if necessary.
  • An agility course with several obstacles can challenge and exercise your cat. Arrange bars for the cat to jump over, tunnels to pass through, or a line of bottles to weave between (start with two bottles and extend the line as your cat learns). You can find excellent DIY ideas at www.petfinder.com/cats-and-kittens/training/general/how-to-make-your-own-agility-cat/ and www.outdoorbengal.com/blogs/clicker-training-cats/cat-agility.
  • Puzzle feeders and puzzle toys give your cat mental exercise as well as physical training.

All these activities are fine for the daytime. But what if your cat is active at night when you prefer to be asleep? Some toys allow cats to play and exercise on their own.

  • Catnip toys can be big enough for your cat to wrestle with. You can open a seam in one of your cat’s favorite stuffed animals, insert catnip, and stitch the seam tightly closed.
  • Hanging cat toys hang from a doorknob or window, and their location can be changed to make jumping for them more interesting for your cat.
  • Motion-activated toys begin to move, quiver, and roll when the cat pats or jumps on them.
  • Automatic lasers encourage jumping, pouncing, and running as the toy creates a sporadic laser that moves around the room. Keep in mind that because the cat can never catch the laser, this unwinnable game may be more frustrating than fun.

If you decide to use these solo-play toys for nighttime exercise, try to also interest your cat in playing with you during the day. As your cat learns how much fun you are, the bond between you and the cat will grow stronger—along with your cat’s strength and well-being.

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