Enticing your dog to get active with a walk around the block or a game of fetch is a no-brainer, and a fairly common pet health practice. But when it comes to cats, most people don’t realize the value of exercise. Many veterinarians recommend cat workouts to keep cats healthy well into his old age. And though a cat won’t exercise as readily as a dog will, there are a few strategies that will help you keep your cat active and mobile. Try these 10 cat exercise tips:
1. Pair up exercise partners.
Since a cat won’t respond to your requests to play as easily as a dog might, Jean Hofve, DVM, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and current president of the Rocky Mountain Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, has a simple solution to ensure that felines get their needed cat exercise: Start with two cats. “A pair of cats who get along well will get plenty of exercise through their own wrestling and chasing games. I have a pair of 8-year-old brothers who still play like kittens!” says Dr. Hofve, adding that it’s better to get two cats at the same time than to introduce a second cat later on.
2. Try a cat tower.
The multi-tiered “cat towers” sold online and in pet stores are another good way to ensure that your cat will have plenty of places to play and areas to climb for a good cat workout. Susan Nelson, DVM, an assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, suggests placing small treats in different parts of the tower to encourage climbing and playing.
3. Keep plenty of toys around.
Because cats tend to keep to themselves much more than dogs, the best strategy for cat workouts is to give them plenty of options in the form of toys. And these don’t have to be expensive toys from the pet store, either. Dr. Nelson says that yarn, rope, ping pong balls, empty spools, and pens are just a few of the everyday household objects that you can use as toys to encourage cat exercise.
4. Create a hockey rink.
To make things even more interactive and fun, Nelson advises putting a ball in a large cardboard box or the bathtub to create an instant “hockey rink” for your cat. As the ball goes flying off the walls (and the cat goes flying after it), you’ll get some laughs and your cat will get some much-needed exercise.
5. Have fun with lasers.
Speaking of laughs, few things will entertain you more — or have your cat moving faster — than a laser pointer on the end of a pen or leveling tool. “Laser toys are often good entertainment, but follow it up with a real toy the cat can catch to avoid fixation and frustration over never being able to catch the light beam,” says Hofve.
6. Give your cat a wand.
For great cat exercise and a good follow-up to the laser, says Hofve, is one of the flexible wand-style toys with a feather, mouse, or other diversion on the far end. “Interactive play with a wand or fishing-pole type toy is fabulous exercise, usually quite funny, and extremely satisfying for the big hunter in your little cat,” says Hofve. “You can make it more challenging by running the toy up and over the sofa or up and down stairs to increase the exercise intensity.”
7. Use catnip wisely.
Catnip is a useful tool for getting your cat to exercise, but Hofve says it’s best to use it only in the proper situations. “Remember that not all cats respond to catnip, and of those that do, a few will become aggressive from catnip,” she says. “Also, never give catnip before a stressful event, such as a trip to the vet. Your vet will thank you!”
8. Tempt your cat with treats.
Cori Gross, DVM, a VPI Pet Insurance field veterinarian near Seattle, says that you can always count on cats responding to treats, so she advises putting treats in different parts of the house to give her something to search for. Also, try a puzzle toy, which is a pet toy that your cat will have to knock around in order to get the treat. “You can make your own by taping together the top and bottom of a small box, cutting a small hole in the side, and placing a few treats inside,” says Dr. Gross. “The cat will have to bat and knock the toy around quite a bit before the treats will fall out.”
9. Get your cat on a treadmill.
Believe it or not, you can actually teach your cat to run on a treadmill for exercise, says Hofve. “It’s best to start when they are young, have lots of energy to burn, and are easy to entice with a toy,” she says. “Also, on the treadmill the cat should always be supervised.”
10. Go outside. Finally, with the proper training and the right equipment, you can entice your cat to walk with a leash and a harness outside just like dogs do. “Leash-walking is great if you can get your cat to tolerate the harness and lead,” says Hofve. “Make sure the harness fits properly and can’t be wriggled out of. Young cats are easier to train, but in all cases it takes patience and perseverance.”