Your cats need to keep a healthy weight just like you do, and for all of the same reasons. According to the ASPCA, excess weight can increase a cat’s risk of diabetes, liver problems, and joint pain.
Humans who spend all day at desk jobs need to make time in their schedules to exercise. In the same way, cats who remain indoors need to get regular exercise. (Cats who go outside generally get enough exercise chasing prey and avoiding predators.) Unfortunately, your cats can’t get gym memberships, so you can’t just send them off for a workout. What you can do is bring the gym to them.
Make Them Work For Their Food
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. If your cats have a tall kitty condo or scratching post, just put their food bowl on top. They’ll get plenty of exercise climbing up to eat and then jumping down to eat the bits that fall on the floor.
If they don’t have a suitable climbing structure, consider an exercise feeder. There are two types: puzzle feeders and treat balls. Puzzle feeders are multi-level food dispensers that have a set of paw-sized holes in the sides. In order to get food into the cup at the bottom, your cats will have to reach in and swat the food. Treat balls are hollow balls with an opening. You place dry food or treats inside and the food falls out slowly as your cats chase the toy around the floor.
Play With Them
A cheap laser pointer is an excellent way to get your cats up and moving. Shine it on the floor and they’ll chase it across the room. Shine it on the wall and they’ll jump for it. For a real feline workout, try moving the pointer in smaller and smaller circles until your cats are spinning in place. If you’re going to try the circle technique, it’s best to do it on a carpet so your cats can get the maximum amount of traction.
Not all cats are interested in laser pointers. Especially as they get older, they seem to lose interest or have difficulty seeing the little red dot. Laser pointers can also be a problem if you have more than two cats. They get in each others way and block their line of sight. In these situations, try “fishing for cats”. A pole with a feathered toy attached at the end of a string is cheap and easy to find — you can even make one yourself (feathers not required, but they do help). Drag the toy in front of them to get them to chase it. Dangle it just above their heads to encourage them to stand on their hind legs. Twitch it in midair and watch them jump for it. It only takes a little practice to keep two or three cats actively engaged.
Exercise With Them
Many people get bored with their exercises and start slacking off if they don’t have a trainer or peer group to keep them oriented. The same is true of your cats: they’ll start slacking off if you don’t keep pushing them. The best way to do it is to make yourself part of their exercise routine. If you take the opportunity to give them pats and cuddles, they’ll be much more enthusiastic about exercise time.
Get a small foam or cloth ball and throw it for them. Many cats will quickly learn to play “fetch” if you encourage them to return the ball for the next throw with patting and cuddling.
Instead of “fishing for cats”, try holding the feathered toy in your hand and lead them on a romp around the room. Hold it over their heads so they jump for it, then pat them and congratulate them on how high they jump. They may not understand your words, but they’ll appreciate the positive interaction.
Give it a try. Not only will your cats be happier and healthier, but you’ll get a bit of exercise yourself.