How to Get Your Cat to Be More Active

Veterinarians and pet experts share their advice to help your four-legged friend lead a healthier lifestyle.

yellow cat playing with toy
Photo: Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

As a pet owner, it's our job to look out for their health. Exercise is an important part of that process, but unlike a dog, who we can take for a walk or to run around in a nearby park, knowing how to keep a cat active can be tricky. But keeping Fluffy active is just as important as it is for Fido, as extra pounds can make it difficult for cats to groom. According to Aimee Simpson, medical director of VCA Animal Hospitals, this can also increase their chance of developing conditions like diabetes and arthritis. But an intense diet isn't the best solution: Losing weight too quickly can also put your beloved cat at risk for liver disease. Instead, try placing interactive feeders over his bowl during mealtime, provide plenty of vertical-climbing options, and rotate out toys so he doesn't get bored.

Finally, spend five to 10 minutes playing with him several times a day instead of one marathon session, says Simpson: "Cats are built for speed, not endurance." Moving interactive toys, like a feather wand or a stick with a string, that mimic prey can also get your cat moving. "These toys are most likely to bring out your cat's inner predator—remembering that in their mind, they are hunting, not just playing," Mikel Maria Delgado, PhD, a certified cat behavior consultant, says.

If you'd rather get outside with your your cat, you'll need to do so safely. Delgado recommends buying a secure harness, then training your cat to wear it by allowing them to wear it inside first for short periods of time. Give them treats during this process, too. Once your cat gets used to the harness, you can head outside. "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 shares.

You might also consider constructing play areas specifically for your cat inside your home if the backyard seems too risky. You can find tunnels at pet stores that you can bring in your house. Simply place blankets over chairs or cut holes in boxes and flip them upside down to give them room to play and explore as other alternatives. After they're built, "moving tunnels from room to room also makes like more interesting and entices cats to explore more," to get them some additional exercise, Lynn Bahr, DVM, and founder of Dezi & Roo, says.

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