How To Exercise A Fat Cat?

Feline fitness: Activity is key to keeping cats in shape

By Chandra Orr
Copley News Service

From empty cardboard boxes to the laces on your favorite shoes, everyone knows cats can keep themselves entertained for hours. The trick, however, is to keep them moving for at least a few minutes each day. After all, obesity is just as detrimental to house cats as it is to humans.

“In nature, cats are going to be out hunting and working for their food, so they exercise more than the average house cat that just lays around and sleeps all day,” said veterinarian Jill Richardson, associate director of consumer relations and technical services with the Hartz Mountain Corp. “It’s important to encourage them to exercise because inactivity can lead to obesity, which can lead to health problems like feline diabetes.”

Because house cats don’t have to catch their own meals, play is a primary source of exercise. Games that mimic the natural predator-prey relationship are the best bet for keeping your cat moving.

“All cats have an innate need to play and be active. Any kitten is going to have that natural instinct to play – even feral kittens play. Depending on the environment, cats will continue to play as they age, but they will play less because they will be too busy sleeping,” Richardson said. “You want them to get moving and get some type of exercise for at least 10 to 20 minutes each day. Playing with toys is a great way to get that exercise.”

However, as any feline aficionado knows, keeping older cats interested in the latest toys takes some effort. Some cats love chasing feathers, while others adore catnip mice. Some enjoy balls that jingle, while others couldn’t care less. The key is coming up with a toy that taps into a cat’s natural instincts and satisfies a finicky feline’s sense of fun.

“You have to figure out which types of toys your cat likes,” Richardson said. “When they are kittens, they are just playing hard constantly. But as they age, most cats will only react to certain types of toys. You really just have to try things out and see how your cat responds.”

Toys that move like prey will peak a cat’s interest and get him moving. Nighttime toys take the fun one step further.

“Cats naturally hunt at night, so toys that light up like the glow-in-the-dark Night Play balls from Hartz will simulate nocturnal hunting,” Richardson said. “They like any toy that they can find at night when they have just a little bit of light – they love the Midnight Crazies, those little plastic balls with bells inside, at night.”

Felines also favor toys that take advantage of their innate urge to hide.

“Cats love playing in brown paper bags. They love crunchy things, and they love to hide,” Richardson said. “There are a lot of cat toys that provide a place to hide or take a nap, like the Hide ‘N Play Cat Activity Center from Hartz. They can crunch it and make the noise that they like, then go inside and take a nap when they get tired. They feel protected like they are in a little cave.”

Scratching posts play on a cat’s natural instincts to sharpen their nails and mark their territory with scent glands located on their paws. Even declawed cats will take advantage of textured surfaces.

“You might not think of a scratching post as a toy, but it is an environmental enrichment. Cats have a natural instinct to scratch their claws and rub their paws on things,” Richardson said.

No matter how much your favorite feline loves his new toy, though, boredom may inevitably creep in.

“You want to rotate their toys once every other month or so,” Richardson said. “A lot of times they like one toy, but you may want to mix it up. Let them have the toy for a while, then take it away and give them another, maybe offer them the same type of toy in a different shape.”

Cats that simply can’t be bothered with toys will certainly respond favorably to food. Hiding kitty treats in a toy makes them work for the reward. It’s a sneaky, yet effective, way to get sedentary cats moving, Richardson said.

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