by Ben Team
In the wild, cats spend lots of time moving. They still nap for long stretches and enjoy plenty of downtime, but they have to move around to ensure their needs are met. But the cat curled up on your feet right now is a different story. Unlike her wild counterparts, your domestic diva enjoys a life of cushy comfort. She doesn’t need to flee predators or hunt her own food. You give her a safe place to live and offer up dinner on a plate.
This type of low-activity lifestyle can cause problems for your cat and prevent her from living her best life. Below, we’ll point out some of the signs that indicate your cat may need more activity, share a few cat exercises and explain how to help a cat lose weight.
Signs That Your Cat Needs More Exercise
In some cases, it's obvious that your cat should get some more exercise. If your cat needs a nap after making the trek from the litter box to his favorite perch, you should probably try to get him moving a bit more.
But there are also several subtler signs that your cat needs more exercise — signs that many cat owners may miss. These include:
Poor Body-Condition Score
Determining your cat’s body condition score is often helpful when trying to assess your cat’s relative need for exercise. Body condition scores — which range from 1 to 9 — are obtained by analyzing the relative amount of body fat on your pet’s body.
Cats who score at the low end of the scale are underweight (which could be a sign your kitty is stressed), while those scoring a 4, 5 or 6 are considered in good physical condition. Unfortunately, many felines receive a score of 7 or more, which indicates that you have an overweight cat on your hands who needs more exercise.
Owners can learn to assess their cat’s body condition score at home, but it is advisable to consult with your vet at the outset. This will help ensure that you arrive at an accurate score.
Boredom or Depression
Cats who don’t enjoy enough exercise may not only become overweight, but they may also suffer from boredom or depression. This means that instead of spending time exploring your home, stalking you for fun and occasionally launching herself around the room at warp speed, she’ll tend to lounge about, doing little more than sleeping. She may also become withdrawn and spend most of her time in isolation.
Fortunately, while physical activity clearly provides physical benefits for your cat, exercise can also help her mental and emotional states, too.
Cats who exercise regularly tend to remain in better spirits and behave in more natural ways.
Insufficient exercise may cause some cats to become depressed, but it can trigger others to become destructive. Your cat may, for example, begin scratching up your leather furniture or uprooting your favorite houseplants.
It’s important to understand that these behaviors are often the manifestation of your cat’s natural instincts. He’s not clawing the couch because he’s mischievous; he’s destroying your furniture because he doesn’t have a constructive outlet for his innate desire to climb trees and hunt prey.
By providing your cat with more exercise, you can often redirect these behaviors and allow him to express them in a healthier (and more home-friendly) manner.
Good Cat Exercises for Your Feline Friend
Knowing that you have an overweight cat who needs exercise is one thing, but knowing how to get your four-footer moving around more is an entirely different issue. Many owners don’t have a clue how to start.
Don’t worry — there are a variety of fun ways to interact with your cat and increase her activity level. We’ll discuss a few of the most effective methods below.
Flirt Pole Fun
Flirt poles are awesome toys for felines, and they are very effective for encouraging cat exercise.
Consisting of a long pole, a length of twine and a furry or feather-laden lure, flirt poles trigger your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Many cats will become completely mesmerized by the faux prey item and spend long periods of time stalking, pouncing and “killing” it.
Best of all, it’s easy for you to wield a flirt pole while relaxing. Just keep it in a handy place near your favorite lounging location and twitch the toy around in front of your cat while you watch your favorite TV show.
Laser Pointer Pouncing
They probably have other purposes, but it certainly seems like laser pointers were invented specifically for feline fun. Indeed, few other things in the world will excite your cat the way a small colored dot will as it bounces around your home.
As with a flirt pole, a laser will excite your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Your cat will see the point of light as “prey” and likely begin stalking it as though it were her next meal. And because you can move the laser around quickly, this type of play encourages a considerable amount of physical activity.
Note that it is probably a good idea to provide some sort of “closure” at the end of laser play sessions. One great way to do so is by tossing a treat on the floor and then leading your cat to it when you’re ready to stop playing.
As you probably already know, many cats love inspecting new items their humans bring home.. Getting the chance to examine something unusual will allow your cat to use her brain, and it’ll often encourage her to move around as she tries to figure out the unexpected item placed in her domain.
It doesn’t even have to be anything particularly interesting, either. An empty cardboard box will often captivate a cat for several minutes, and something no more complex than a ball of yarn may keep your cat occupied for a half hour or more.
So, try to add new and interesting items to your cat’s play space from time to time. Be sure to mix them up a bit to provide plenty of variety. For example, you may give her a cardboard box to inspect one day and a big piece of bubble wrap the next.
Ben Team is a lifelong environmental educator and animal-care professional who now writes about animals, outdoor recreation and the natural world. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with a spoiled-rotten Rottweiler, who is probably begging him to go to the park at this very moment.