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How to Get Your Cat to Exercise With You: 12 Vet Approved Workout Ideas

Written by: Grant Piper

Last Updated on May 23, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Gray white cat lying lazily on treadmill with yoga mats in background

How to Get Your Cat to Exercise With You: 12 Vet Approved Workout Ideas


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Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats need exercise in order to stay healthy. But how do you get a cat to exercise? That is the million-dollar question. Cats tend to lean toward natural laziness, especially as they age. If your cat stops having the zoomies, how can you get them up and moving around? Here are 12 excellent workout ideas that you can try at home today.

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The 12 Ways to Get Your Cat to Exercise

1. Kitty Treadmill

Cat standing circle treadmill with yellow background
Image Credit: FrameFemme, Shutterstock
What You Will Need: A cat treadmill
Level of Involvement: High

Usually resembling giant hamster wheels, feline-powered treadmills are available. If your cat enjoys using a treadmill, it can be a great way to improve their indoor activity and reduce rates of obesity. However, these treadmills can be expensive. They also require assembly, and you need to teach your cat how to use it. You have to monitor your cat when they are on it and try to ensure that they are using it enough to make a difference. This can all be a little onerous for some owners, but the results can be stellar.

2. Laser Pointers

What You Will Need: A laser pointer or laser toy
Level of Involvement: Moderate

It is a well-established fact that cats love laser pointers. There are few things that can get a cat up and moving, like a good laser pointer. The good news is that laser pointers are affordable, and are a great way to stimulate your cat’s killer instinct and get their heart rate up. Every now and then let your cat ‘catch’ the laser. It’s important not to tease, stress or frustrate your cat when playing with a laser pointer. Short regular sessions are usually best, and be sure not to accidentally shine the laser in your cat’s eyes.

3. Use a Cat Condo / Tower

Abyssinian young cat sitting at tower
Image Credit: Darya Lavinskaya, Shutterstock
What You Will Need: A cat condo
Level of Involvement: Low

Cat condos can be a great place for your cat to take a nap, but they can also help foster greater movement and mobility. Getting on and off a cat tower requires effort. Some cats will like to climb the tower, scratch on the cat condo, or move up and down more often throughout the day. You can add some toys or catnip to the cat condo to facilitate greater use so that your cat gets up off the couch and starts climbing and jumping around. A laser pointer would work great in this situation as well if you can get your cat to climb up and down the cat condo for extra steps.

4. Use Electronic Toys

What You Will Need: Electronic or powered cat toys
Level of Involvement: Low

Electronic toys are a great way to increase your cat’s exercise at home with little effort. There are a number of different toys that will move around, squeak, and even fly that can help get your cat moving. There are remote controlled toys that you can steer yourself for maximum effect, or there are ones where you put them down and let them go. We have come a long way since the days of classic wind-up mice, but the principle is still the same. Get something to move around by itself so that your cat gets up and chases it. There are a number of options at various price points that you can check out to find one that works best for your cat.

5. Try Bubbles

cute kitten playing bubbles
Image Credit: Julie Bakke, Shutterstock
What You Will Need: Bubbles or a bubble blower
Level of Involvement: Moderate

Some cats like bubbles. Many dogs like bubbles. But not all cats will get into it. You should try using bubbles to get your cat engaged while at home. Blowing some bubbles will either excite your cat or bore your cat. If your cat likes bubbles, they will leap up and chase them around. Some cats even try to bat them or pop them with their mouths. This can be great exercise, but only if they are into it. Make sure that any bubbles you use are safe and non-toxic for pets as some can contain chemicals that may be harmful if ingested or get in your cats eyes.

6. Catnip

What You Will Need: Catnip or a catnip toy
Level of Involvement: Low

Catnip is a great way to break up your cat’s regular routine. Some cats turn into completely different pets when they are on catnip. If your cat is often lazy or unwilling to get up and do something out of routine, catnip can help them loosen up and enjoy the moment. You can give raw catnip to your cat in a sock, or you can buy elaborate cat toys prefilled with catnip. Many cats will be more playful and more willing to move when they are playing with catnip.

7. Feathered Wand Toy

light colored cat looking at toys on table catnip wand
Image Credit: winni-design, Shutterstock
What You Will Need: A wand toy
Level of Involvement: Moderate

Another classic cat toy that really gets cats into the groove is a feathered wand. There are dozens of different feathered wands on the market that are sure to delight your cat. Wands stimulate your cat’s instincts and get them into hunting mode. You can easily play with your cat with a feather wand from the comfort of your couch. Feathered wands are often super affordable and easy to use so you should give them a try if you haven’t before.

8. Leash Training

What You Will Need: A leash, a harness, time to invest
Level of Involvement: High

One interesting and effective way to get your cat moving is to leash train them. Taking your cat for a walk will guarantee that they stretch their legs and get some mental engagement. However, walking a cat can be a challenge. You might even get some funny looks. You need to get the right equipment, do some research, and take your time to learn and train your cat on a leash so they can be safe when they are outside. If you are willing to give it a try, your cat might love taking walks. It is a great way to get your feline some additional exercise and it can help get you up and out of the house as well.

9. Build a Catio

Image Credit: TheCats, Shutterstock
What You Will Need: Building supplies, screened in porch, outdoor cat condos
Level of Involvement: High

Catios are outdoor areas where your cat can go out and play without the risk of running away or getting tangled up with the local wildlife. Usually, they are modified screened in porches, but you can also build a separate cage in your yard where you can bring your cat when they need some outdoor time. When a cat is outside, they will smell new things, watch wildlife, and generally move and play more than if they are stuck inside. Building a catio can be a daunting task, but if you pull it off, it can be a great way to get your cat some mental and physical enrichment. Just remember, cats with claws can climb porch screens and even shred them if they get the urge so be careful letting your cat out into a regular screened in porch without supervision.

10. Get Your Cat a Friend

What You Will Need: A new cat
Level of Involvement: High

Cats are naturally solitary animals and are often content without the company of another cat. However, especially if you take on two littermates when they are young, they usually get on well and are likely to play and keep themselves active.

If you plan to introduce a new cat when you already have one, it’s really hard to tell if they will happily get on and play together. If your cat is neutered, younger and generally seems amenable to other cats then that’s a good starting point, but it’s no guarantee. If your only reason for introducing a new cat to your family is to get your current cat to exercise more, we suggest using our other tips.

11. Provide Puzzle Toys

cat playing with an interactive puzzle toy
Image Credit: Maximilian100, Shutterstock
What You Will Need: Special puzzle toys that engage your cat, treats
Level of Involvement: Low

Not all cats enjoy puzzles, but the ones that do can spend hours engaged with them. Many puzzle toys require your cat to unlock a treat by doing some sort of activity. Anything that gets your cat’s brain and body engaged is good for your cat. There are a number of puzzle toys for cats that you can find online or in your local pet store. Try some out and see if any of them will appeal to your feline friend.

Just be sure to limit the number of treats or kibbles that your cat can get out of the toy. If you provide too many treats or calories, it can defeat the purpose of trying to get your cat up and moving around.

12. Use Household Items

What You Will Need: Cardboard boxes, pillows, and creativity
Level of Involvement: Low–Moderate

The last thing you can try to get your cat moving is to put something together from household items that will hold their attention. One classic example is cardboard boxes. A lot of cats love cardboard boxes, and getting your cat to jump, run, and squirm their way into a cardboard box is a surefire way to get their heartbeat up. You can also use pillows to build an obstacle course, cardboard tubes, crates, chairs, and more. You want to create elevation or craft activities that will get your cat interested so they will start moving more. Every situation is different, but if you use your creativity, you can create something for your cats to play with without having to leave the house. Although cats love to chase toys attached to string, never leave your cat alone with any type of string. If ingested it can get stuck in their gastrointestinal tract causing life threatening problems.

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Why Cats Need Exercise

According to Cornell University’s School of Veterinary Medicine around half of all cats that are seen by veterinarians are obese. That is a lot of fat cats! Many indoor cats tend to be lazy and food motivated, which is a bad combination. Obesity can increase the risk of a lot of feline health problems such as diabetes, arthritis and cystitis. It is best to avoid letting your cat get overweight however possible.

There are only two good ways to stave off obesity in cats: cut calories or increase exercise. You can ask your vet to suggest food options that can help your cat lose weight, but it’s important to also make sure that you are feeding them the appropriate portions. But exercise is one of the most important ways to decrease cat obesity. Cats need exercise in order to remain at a healthy weight. Neglecting exercise can lead to obesity, which can degrade your cat’s quality of life, especially as they get older.

You Might Need to Get More Involved

Some people want to find an exercise method for their cat that requires very little input. That is understandable, but it might not work for all cats. Some cats will only exercise or play when you play with them. You might have to break out the laser pointer or build something for your cats to use. Not all cats will be happy chasing around an electronic toy. If your cat is not moving enough or getting obese, you might need to change what you’re doing in order to change what your cat is doing. Many cats won’t run around on their own if you are lying on the couch. They will want to sit on you instead. Try to set aside time from your day to play with your cat so they get the necessary exercise and mental stimulation.

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It is not an easy task to get your cat up and moving. In the wild, most of their exercise comes from hunting, so playing with them to encourage chasing and pouncing is a good way to get them to move around and bond with them. Depending on the age, health and preferences of your cat, any one of these methods can be used to keep them healthy and in shape. You do not want to neglect your cat’s exercise as it can lead to mobility issues and obesity as they age.

Featured Image Credit: RelentlessImages, Shutterstock

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