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Jafari Jamison Underfoot is a cat like no other. He’s not only mastered the art of wearing a harness and leash, but takes walks daily with his owner that often turn into short sprints. Living in picturesque Vancouver, British Columbia, the handsome Abyssinian cat has access to beautiful trails and the Pacific Ocean. “People just stare in disbelief. They’re not used to seeing a cat run,” says his owner, Christopher Weeks.
How did Jafari get to be such a great role model for active felines? Christopher says he began training his pet as a kitten. He taught Jafari to wear a harness using positive reinforcement, by associating the harness with treats and positive praise.
After he got used to the harness and leash inside, the two moved outside. “We would walk regularly, and Jafari always kept up. Then one day he started picking up the pace. That’s when we started running,” says the cat dad proudly.
Jafari doesn’t run long distances, but Christopher says the two are short distance runners who take lots of breaks. “We walk, run, stop, scratch and sniff, then we do it all over again.”
Dr. Liz Stelow, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at the University of California, Davis, says Jafari is unfortunately not the norm. “Most cats don’t get sufficient exercise. I don’t think most cat owners think about training their cats. It doesn’t even occur to them that their cat would find it rewarding.”
The veterinary behaviorist advocates that people and their cats exercise together. “We all need exercise for our physical and mental health,” she says. “Felines and humans need exercise to keep our muscles in shape, our bodies lean and our brains well-supplied with blood.” But while some cats can go outdoors, the veterinarian says that decision should be based on your cat’s personality. A scared cat that hides underneath the bed probably isn’t going to want to go on outdoor adventures.
Dr. Stelow insists that’s not a problem. There are still plenty of things you can do together, especially using toys. Wand toys are a universal favorite of all cats. She personally uses the Go Cat Brand wand toys, especially the Cat Catcher Mouse Wand, although she stresses that each cat is an individual, so experiment to see what works with your little lion.
With so many people working from home, the veterinarian says running through your house with your cat chasing you and the toy is great exercise. Doing this just once a day for five minutes is an awesome exercise routine for you and kitty.
She also stresses when choosing toys, pick ones that won’t fall apart and cause choking or end up in your feline’s stomach:
Dr. Stelow also gives Doc and Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Feeder ($19.99, Chewy) high marks. The interactive feeder made of little plastic mice you fill with kibble will give your kitty a higher calorie workout as he tries to find the kibble. The ever popular Cat Dancer is also a favorite of the California veterinarian.
Besides running, walking and toys, what else can you do with your kitty? More and more cat owners are getting creative:
Stroller Walks/Runs: Can’t get your cat in a harness or they get cold outdoors? Walks or runs in strollers are perfect, as they exercise your cat’s mind. Your cat can feel more secure zipped up in a stroller, and you can walk or run! Gradually build your cat’s time in the stroller and put treats and toys in it before you take them out so they associate the stroller with positive things. The Couch to 5K run/walk programs you find online are great for building endurance for you and your feline partner.
Cat Yoga: Meowmaste! Get out your mat and your cat and put on your favorite online yoga class. Kitties are curious and will try to get your attention when you start doing the downward dog. They’ll interrupt you, but know you’re going to get in some stretching while your cat jumps and climbs all over you.
Cat Weight Lifting: Use your cat as dumbbells or a medicine ball. Actor and weight lifter Travis DesLaurier uses his cat Jacob as his workout buddy. Whether doing leg lifts or pushups, the orange tabby helps his human keep his abs in rock hard shape. Travis even has a Youtube video that will show you exactly what you need to do for great strength training.
Trends of people exercising their cats also caught the attention of Laura Moss, the co-founder and editor -in-chief of Adventure Cats, a website to celebrate the outdoor feline lifestyle. She began the website as a resource and community for cat owners. “Kitties have defied my expectations. They’re capable of doing so much more than they’re offered,” says the outdoor enthusiast.
Her book, website and social media pages show cat lovers all over the world getting active with their living room lions. You can see cats visiting every national park in the country, felines paddle boarding and kittens going hiking, but the Atlanta-based writer believes you need to respect your cat. “If they don’t like being outside or doing a certain activity, don’t force them; that just hurts your relationship with your cat.”
Christopher echoes that statement. But luckily, his active Abyssinian loves the outdoors and can handle their adventures. “He’s converted people from not liking cats to liking cats. We’re so proud of him that he is a cat ambassador that can show the world the wonderful things you can do with a cat. Cats need exercise, and it’s always best when they can do it with you.”
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