There’s no denying that cats love to lay around and be lazy, but that doesn’t mean that they still don’t need exercise! And oftentimes, our kitty friends actually aren’t getting enough exercise. In fact, according to Canada’s Pet Wellness Report, veterinarians believe that 70 percent of their feline patients don’t get enough exercise to maintain good health. This is a shocking number when you consider the fact that exercise helps with everything from physical health to anxiety, boredom, and destructive behavior.
To determine whether or not your cat is getting enough exercise, let’s look at the importance of exercise for cats, help figure out how much exercise your cat needs, signs that your cat isn’t getting enough exercise, and suggestions to encourage more physical activity for your kitty.
The Importance of Exercise for Cats
The importance of exercise for humans is well-known and many of those same benefits translate to our cats, as well. Cats are natural-born hunters so it’s important for them to use those instincts to keep their body moving. Have you ever seen a cat jump straight up to a counter that’s nearly seven times their own height? Or run up to 30MPH? Their agile bodies are pretty much made for movement! Cats are flexible, graceful, and have incredible agility.
In addition to keeping their amazing athletic abilities up to par, cats also need exercise to stimulate their minds. Cats already sleep a lot naturally, and indoor cats run the risk of being too sedentary. This sedentary lifestyle can lead to boredom, anxiety, stress, or destructive behavior. Cats are brilliant animals and need something to keep their mind occupied, like a puzzle or a good old fashioned chase around the house.
Just as giving your cat the right cat litter will keep them happy, keeping your cat active will help their mind and body. It will also help reduce the chance of health conditions like being overweight.
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How Much Exercise Does My Cat Need?
Many cat behaviorists and vets recommend that indoor cats get at least 20-60 minutes of exercise a day. They also recommend splitting this playtime up into short bursts. Cats are very routine-driven, so having a few scheduled playtimes throughout the day will help your cat stay active without wearing them out. These short, 10-15 minute bursts could include chasing a laser around the house, climbing up and down a cat tower, or working on a cat puzzle together.
The goal of this playtime is to mimic the bursts of activity cats in the wild get from hunting. If you’ve ever seen a lion, they can spend most of their day lounging under a tree, but when it comes time to eat, they often have to run miles to chase down their prey. Our housecats are just little lions, after all!
Signs That Your Cat Isn’t Getting Enough Exercise
It’s essential to to know how much exercise your cat needs and it’s also important to look out for signs to determine whether or not your cat is getting enough exercise. Some of these signs are obvious, like a scratched-up couch, and some of them aren’t as obvious, like lethargy or boredom. Let’s look at some of the most common signs that your cat isn’t getting enough exercise, and then provide some recommendations about what to do about it.
This sign is pretty obvious. Just like humans, cats that aren’t getting enough exercise can gain weight, and being an overweight cat or obese increases the risk of other serious conditions. An unhealthy weight can lead to diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, urinary problems, GI diseases, and much more. Exercise helps your kitty maintain a healthy weight and therefore live longer and healthier.
If you have a multi-cat household and notice that your cats are picking fights with each other (or with you) more often, it may be because they aren’t getting enough exercise. They have all this pent up energy and nothing to do with it, so they turn to aggression to get it out. To discourage this behavior, redirect this energy into healthy playtime.
If you don’t play with your cat, they may take it upon themselves to find their own cat toy, namely your couch, rug, toilet paper, or leg. As we mentioned above, cats are natural hunters and will find something to hunt if they’re not getting regular exercise. If you notice that your cat is being destructive and scratching the couch or carpet or even spraying on things, try to encourage more physical activity so they attack their toys, not your furniture!
Like humans, cats will turn to overeating if they’re bored and there’s nothing better to do (but unlike us, they don’t open the fridge and stare longingly at it, hoping that a delicious snack will magically materialize). If you free-feed your cat, meaning that they always have food available, this can also increase the problem if you’re not playing with your cat enough. To avoid cat obesity, make sure you’re feeding your cat a healthy diet in the first place and play with them more to get their mind off the catnip.
Overgrooming is a common symptom of anxiety or stress in cats and this stress can be caused by lack of physical activity and regular exercise. If you notice that your cat is grooming themselves too much to the point of bald spots or sores, speak to your vet. One of the remedies may be that they need more playtime!
Lastly, depression is a sign that your cat may not be getting enough physical activity. Yes, cats can get depressed just like humans and show it through lethargic behavior, body language like ears held back or tail tucked, hiding, excessive sleep, poor or too much grooming, changes in eating, scratching, or spraying. Making sure that your cat gets moving can help combat these symptoms. If you notice that your cat is depressed or their behavior has changed, talk to your vet.
How to Encourage More Physical Activity
If you have an indoor cat, it may be hard to think of ways to get them moving beside a few tried-and-tested toys. Cats love variety, so encouraging different types of playtime is sure to encourage their inner hunter. Adding more playtime into your cat’s schedule doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming, and it comes with so many benefits that it’s worth it. Plus, it’s a chance to spend some quality time with your four-legged feline friend!
Here are some simple ways to encourage more exercise from your cat:
If your cat isn’t used to a lot of playtime, start small to get them used to it and to reduce the risk of fatigue or injury. Five minutes here and there can really add up and get your cat used to moving more.
Provide Access to Jumping and Climbing
Cats love to have different levels of play space, so encourage this movement by supplying a cat tower that they can jump on. This is also good for playtime because you can move a toy up and down a cat tower (or stairs) to encourage more activity.
Simple is Better
If you know cats, you know that sometimes a cardboard box catches their interest more than the fancy toy that came in the box. You can use this to your advantage and get your cat moving by encouraging them to play with things as simple as a box, a paper bag, a hair tie or crumpled up receipt on the ground, or a string (just make sure to put them all away when you’re done).
Cats are like children in that the newest toy is always the most exciting. Instead of buying a ton of toys for your cat, rotate them so every cat toy seems new when they get it again. You might have five toys out for a month, and then switch it up with five other toys. This will keep their interest more than just having the same toys out all the time.
Even the laziest cats need enough exercise and too often, an indoor cat can become too sedentary. Not getting enough exercise can lead to anxiety, boredom, depression, obesity, and destructive behavior.
Luckily, getting enough cat exercise doesn’t have to be hard! Cats should get around 20-60 minutes of active playtime a day and this time can be spread out in short bursts. A few 10-minute play sessions can really add up. By incorporating vertical towers, starting small, and rotating toys, you can encourage your cat to become more active and reap the many benefits of exercise for cats.