10 Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Cat Happy, Healthy, and Fit with Exercise

Believe it or not, a cat spends the majority of her day napping in order to reserve energy for her hunting and survival skills.

Cats are notorious nappers, sleeping nearly 16 hours a day. We humans might consider it lazy or excessive, but the truth is, that’s how they’re wired. Cats are natural born predators and need to reserve their energy to keep their hunting skills sharp. That’s why they’re instinctively more active around dawn or dusk, a term known as crepuscular, as frequently exhibited by those random bursts of energy our cats can have. But because the majority of pet cats live in an environment in which their basic feeding needs are catered to, requiring little to no hunting skills, the need to expel energy is even more important for them to stay fit and healthy.

A sedentary lifestyle can be harmful to a cat. The Cornell Feline Health Center estimates more than 50 percent of cats seen at veterinary clinics are *overweight, if not obese. Obesity-related health problems include heart disease, ruptured ligaments, respiratory compromise, tiredness, diabetes, greater susceptibility to certain types of liver disease, and osteoarthritis. Cats typically get fat because they eat too much and exercise too little.

No matter how cute or compelling our feline friend might be, it’s best not to over-indulge her with human food that might not be good for her dietary needs.

As guardians to our pets, it’s up to us to provide them with the exercise and stimulation they need to keep their bodies fit and their minds sharp. If weight loss is necessary, crash diets aren’t appropriate and you should consult with your veterinarian before changing your cat’s eating habits. The type of exercise and duration will also depend on the age and health of your cat. A senior cat, or a cat that is overweight, for example, may no longer be able to jump to his favorite spots, but he might be enticed by a piece of ribbon, shoelace, or yarn that is wiggled across the floor. Just remember to put the string or ribbon away after playtime as it can be dangerous if ingested, causing kitty an emergency trip to the vet.

Zee is a senior cat and he enjoys toys that allow him to play low on the floor. This Star Chaser Turbo toy from Bergan has a scratching post center with a ball that circles around the inner ring.

There are numerous other activities you can incorporate into a daily routine with your cat – not only is it good for them, but it also relieves the stresses and boredom of their everyday environment and it’s a great opportunity for you to strengthen your feline-human bond. Try to engage in at least 10 to 15 minutes of playtime, a few times a day, more or less depending on the age and health of the cat.

Just like humans, cats need daily exercise to stay healthy and fit.

10 QUICK & EASY PLAYTIME TIPS AND EXERCISES FOR YOUR CAT:

1. Put an empty box on the floor. There are very few cats that aren’t tempted by the lure of a box and many will use it as a secret lair to simulate the hide/hunt/stalk/kill instinct (often translated by your cat “killing” a plush toy and dropping it into the box).

If you have an empty box, don’t throw it away! Bring it out on occasion for kitty to play with – it makes a great hiding spot and hunting liar!

2. Switch things up. Put a chair or pillow under a window that normally is not there or move a piece of furniture around. Cats like finding new areas to explore and it’s a nice change of pace for them.

3. Make treat time both a physical act and an act of cunning, rather than just handing your kitty a treat. Tuck treats in spots for your cat to seek out or buy one of those products that are made like a puzzle so that your cat has to figure out how to get the treat out before he can be rewarded for his hunting skills.

4. Take an old toy (or get a new one) and dust it with catnip. Either hide it for your cat to find, or toss it around for your cat to chase after (sometimes kitty will reward you by bringing the toy back to you for a game of toss and fetch).

Not all cats do it, but many of them enjoy a game of toss and fetch! It’s a great way to bond with your cat and is a wonderful exercise.

5. If weather permits and you have screens, open a window so your cat gets a whiff of some fresh air and new smells. Nothing helps stimulate a cat’s predatory mind more than the potential opportunity to spot birds, lizards, bugs, and more. Just make sure the screens are tightly secured, with no tears that could allow kitty to accidentally get outside. And if you live in an area where you feel it is safe and your cat is up for it, consider taking her outside for a walk in either a leash/harness or specially designed cat stroller that she can sit in to watch the world.

Nothing can beat a classic open window to stimulate a cat’s mind.

6. Crinkle up a piece of paper or foil and throw it on the floor so kitty can play a game of “hockey.” You’d be surprised at how much fun that simple act can provide a cat and it’s quick, easy, and inexpensive! Another quick and easy trick to get their motor running is to close a door. With you on one side and the cat on the other, take a string, feather, stick, or whatever and poke it under the door for your cat to pounce on!

7. Provide your cat with lots of shelves, cat trees, cat condos, and more to give them the freedom of jumping up to high places. Not only does this give them exercise, it’s an important part of their instinctual need to claim territorial ownership of vertical space for perching, hiding, and pouncing on prey.  

A cat tree is so important to the everyday environment of a cat. It’s a place to perch, hide, nap, and claim territory of. This beautifully hand-crafted tree is from Pet Tree Houses of DeBary, Florida.

8. As long as there is nothing dangerous in the room, consider opening a door that is normally closed, such as a closet or guest bedroom. Something that is typically off-limits to a cat is quite exciting to explore when given the opportunity.

9. Make sure your cat has plenty of scratching options. Cats are born with claws for a reason and providing them with safe outlets to scratch is important to their health and well-being. Scratching allows them to stretch and flex their body to work off energy as well as to sharpen and remove the dead outer layer of their claws.

Having several cat scratchers available to your cat not only provides healthy exercise, it’s good for your cat’s claws as well.

10. Consider purchasing a small motorized furry toy, such as a fake mouse to get your cat’s attention. Wand toys are also great, especially the feather toys that mimic the movement of a bird, one of a cat’s favorite objects for stalking (just keep in mind your cat should never have access to feather toys without supervision, as they can be very dangerous if swallowed).

These are just a few of the many things you can do to help keep your cat in tip-top mental and physical health. A well-exercised cat is more likely to be a happy and content cat, and given that our cats can live upwards of 15 years, it’s up to us to provide them with the proper environment, diet, and stimulation to do so.

*While a trusted veterinarian can give you the best inclination as to whether or not your cat is overweight, please visit the article “Obesity in Cats” as published in VetStreet.com for a general overview.

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  1. These are all great ideas! I once had a vet tell me to divide Lita’s food up into a few bowls so she’d have to move around from place to place to eat her kibble. 🙂

  2. Charles Huss says:

    Those are great tips. I give Stella and Chewy’s freeze-dried raw for treats and my Floki chases it around the house before eating it.

  3. Brian Frum says:

    That was a fun post and I’m ready for more playtime!

  4. Johnny says:

    Great tips!! I’m definitely going to try some of these

  5. jmuhj says:

    Thank you for these excellent suggestions, which not only keep cats fit, interested and entertained, but also help their human servants to be less sedentary!

  6. ConnieMarie says:

    My cats love the Star Turbo cat scratcher from Bergan! I try to keep extra light up balls in the house just in case! I hear them playing with it even after we all go to bed. I get mine from Chewy.com

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  8. HAhaha, what Trout Talkin’ Tabbie’s commented!

  9. Great tips ! We’re lucky, Claire already does many of them ! Purrs

  10. Ellen Pilch says:

    Thanks for all these great tips.

  11. meowmeowmans says:

    Such great tips! Hey, we’re going to go try some of these right now. 🙂

  12. Great tips! As you know, the shelves in my apartment are a godsend for my high energy kitties. They love the challenge of the climb and especially enjoy looking down over their queendom!!!
    When Coco was the solo kitten in the warehouse apartment, I was not as aware of the kitty energy cycles. I can remember one time she traveled with me to my parents and had the zoomies when it was bed time. I was so upset with her, I crated her! Luckily, Coco was (and still is) a very patient kitty with me, but I now know that had I just played with her before lights out, she would have settled in for the night with ease. I use that story as a teaching point with friends who get kittens. Now I can use this post to help further educate people on the variety of options to try. Coco, for example, doesn’t like the shelves–she’s more like Zee, prefers her toys on the floor and LOVES to chase balls!

  13. Jo Singer says:

    Great suggestions!

    I just wanted to add something that I do with our kitties at least one time a day, and I try to make these times consistent with time, mainly before meal times. I play with them interactively with toys on a string attached to a wand and make that toy behave as realistically as possible. I begin moving it slowly, and then hide it under a chair, and slowly let it move out onto the floor, wiggle it, make it as “alive” as I can. I love watching the cats start to crouch and lift their hind ends up, wiggling, getting ready for the pounce. Just before they capture the beasty, I move it away and the chase commences. Our Oriental kitty, Aki will leap into the air trying to catch it. Poe, our domestic shorthair stalks it. I spend between 10 and 15 minutes in this play which gives them a lot of exercise and when we are finished with the session it is time to feed them. During play I also praise them, and give vocal commands such as “kill it”, or “where is it?” which encourages more interest. I rotate toys so they don’t get bored with them. We both have a lot of fun, and sometimes they are so funny that I am laughing with them.