How to Exercise and Play with Your Cat
It's important to you that your pets lead healthier, happier lives. Whether you want veterinary advice, behavioral insight, or the best-in-market pet essentials that make every day more joyful, for both you and your cat or dog, The Well-Balanced Pet offers practical tips you can use.
Don't let their propensity for hours-long naps fool you: Cats need exercise—and a lot of it. But many cats don't move nearly as much as they need to, and that's in part due to their confined environments and some owners' lack of understanding. According to Mikel Maria Delgado, Ph.D., a certified cat behavior consultant, "exercise should be part of any 'wellness plan' for your cat to improve both their physical and mental health." So, here's how to make sure your cat gets enough exercise.
Choose interactive toys.
Interactive toys are ones that you must move—such as a feather wand or a stick with a string—that can mimic prey, explains Delgado. "These toys are most likely to bring out your cat's inner predator—remembering that in their mind, they are hunting, not just playing," she says. Move the toy like a bird or mouse, alternating small, slow movements with larger, faster movements—or try hiding the toy occasionally—to give your cat a workout and relieve their stress, she says.
Toss their treats.
Rather than handing your cat his treats, consider throwing them one at a time, far enough away that he has to run to get them, suggests Lynn Bahr, D.V.M., and founder of Dezi & Roo. "It's a good way to make their cats work for treats and makes the interaction more interesting," Bahr says. "Alternatively, you can walk around the house dropping treats so your cats will follow."
Take your cat for a (backyard) walk.
Buy a secure harness, then train your cat to wear it by placing them in it—inside, of course—for short amounts of time while giving him treats. Then, when he's comfortable, take him outside to your backyard for a walk, says Delgado. "In general, I don't recommend harness walking your cat in public areas, as there are safety concerns that may be beyond your control," she advises.
Design tunnels and other play areas.
You can buy tunnels for your cats to explore, or create them—or other play areas—by using blankets or sheets thrown over chairs, or cutting holes into boxes and then placing them upside down, says Bahr. Once they're built, "moving tunnels from room to room also makes like more interesting and entices cats to explore more," helping them log additional exercise, Bahr says.
Entice with food toys.
Some toys force cats to play for their food. If your cat is food-motivated, then consider investing in a food toy or two, such as rolling or bouncing balls that hold treats that will fall out when your cat plays with them, Delgado says, or food puzzles and mazes that you can use with wet food.