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Fat Cats Are Not OK: Why Your Cat Needs Exercise

Your cat might be a ball of roly poly cuteness, but obesity introduces risk for health problems.

 |  Feb 11th 2014  |   47 Contributions


As 2014 kicks into gear, many of us have vowed to improve our exercise routines and get into shape. Gym memberships get renewed, exercise videos are dusted off, and we finally stop using our treadmill as a drying rack. Some of us even incorporate our dogs into our routines, promising to walk them twice a day and more on weekends. But aren't we forgetting that special someone curled up in the corner of the couch? Hint: They are furry, sophisticated, and every bit as cute as your dog. 

That's right, our feline friends need exercise, too! In case you need some convincing, here are three good reasons to crank up the calorie burn with your cat this year. I'll also share a few of the ways I like to tone up Tulip, my cat. 

Tulip and I have a well-deserved rest after our workout.

1. Fitness fights feline flab

You know you've seen it before and didn't want to admit it. Looking at your cat, you think maybe that's just a little extra fur, fluffing out underneath his belly. But then you notice it jiggles when he runs, and uh-oh -- it's not smoothed down by the brush. You start to realize your cat hasn't stopped eating, but maybe you've been watching a little too much Breaking Bad with him curled up on your lap! It happens to the best of us.

Dogs don't let us forget when they need exercise, but cats are like the average person this way. If they don't have a specific motivation, they're perfectly happy to chill. But we can't eat Cheetos while having a Netflix marathon every day, and neither can our cats. It's our job to fight their flab! Exercising your cat daily will help maintain a healthy weight. 

Tulip loves to jump for the dangling toys.

"So who cares if my cat is pleasingly plump? I still love her," you may be asking. No one is saying your cats aren't precious pounds of roly poly cuteness, but obesity puts a cat at risk for a variety of health problems. According to CNN.com, some of these include cardiac disease, arthritis, and diabetes. In fact, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University reports that overweight cats are even susceptible to a feline form of depression. Exercising your cat for just 10 minutes a day can help keep off unwanted pounds and promote good health. Who doesn't want their kitty around for as long as possible?

2. Playing boosts that bond 

Although I'm never one to agree with the yucky stereotype that cats are "standoffish" or "aloof," they aren't always easy to connect with. Cats may follow you from room to room one day, and then stay away the next. Also, when we get busy with life, we sometimes forget to show our pets we love them. Working out with your cat brings you closer together, and isn't that amazing bond the point of having a furry friend in the first place? 

At times, I get wrapped up with obligations and forget that I haven't played with Tulip in a few days. As soon as I whip out a string or some sort of dangly toy (her faves), her green eyes brighten and her pitter-pattering little feet are following me all over the house. After her workout is over, she's even more eager to recharge with a snuggle.

Tulip and I feel much better after a workout.

3. Exercise banishes bad behavior 

As angelic as all cats are (ha), they have their brushes with bad behavior. This can range from scratching furniture to aggressive behavior with humans or other pets. I feel fortunate that Tulip is a pretty well-behaved girl, but I do notice a positive difference in her behavior when I'm playing with her more often. 

For example, a few months ago Tulip went through what I call her "construction" phase. I would wake up to tapping, scratching, and pounding in the middle of the night between 3 and 5 a.m. Tulip would be "doing construction" as I called it, directly under my bed as I was sleeping! They were the most obnoxious sounds, and not even the spray bottle would make her stop. It wasn't until I started helping her get more exercise in the early evening hours that I saw the situation improve. She no longer felt the need to "do construction" because she was moving and getting attention in other ways, and thankfully at much more appropriate times of day! 

When Tulip wants to play, I'll drop everything.

Finding ways to exercise your cat is certainly not all that complicated, and most cat owners already know a variety of ways. However, one of the most important things I've observed is that it's important to keep things fresh! Just like we might get bored with the same workout again and again, so do cats. Switch up the rooms, the toys, and your methods.

Here are a few I've witnessed to be successful:

1. The tried and true string

No matter what, Tulip never gets sick of the string. It doesn't matter if it's an old shoelace, a piece of twine, or a fancy dangly toy from the pet store. I simply jog from room to room dragging the string, and she happily chases and pounces. Fun alternative: If you have a dog, and he gets along well with your cat, tie a string to his collar and have the cat chase him around! It's great exercise for both of them, and you'll die laughing.

2. The crinkly mouse/squirrel/bird/unknown animal

Tulip loves to romp around with these little creatures. In fact, the way she rolls around with them on the floor makes me wonder if she was really spayed! This form of exercise is perfect for tired humans, because very little energy is required. I usually just start off throwing it around a little and having it "peek" around corners, and before I know it Tulip is spooning with it on the floor all on her own.

Tulip loves to cuddle and fight her toy squirrel.

3. The brown paper shopping bag

Tulip is a little skittish for the paper bag, but my roommate's cat, Jack, is smitten. All she does is lay it on the floor and Jack enters it like it's a tunnel to a world of cat treats (even if there are none in there!). He will roll around inside or scoot right across the kitchen floor in it. Tapping gently on the bag with your hand or foot makes it even more fun!

Do you have any innovative or entertaining ways you work out with your cat? Share in the comments below because we all want our cats happy, healthy, and here in 2014 and beyond.

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