8 tips on exercising your cat

Think of your cat and what it does most of the time. Right, and it's not aerobics. But cats need exercise too, if they are to stay healthy and not get obese. But this, you might think, is definitely easier said than done.

What helps is that cats are natural hunters. They are carnivores and nocturnal predators. Games where the cat can chase an imaginary 'prey' will keep it moving for quite a while. And cats will chase just about anything. They also like rough-and-tumble with other cats.

What doesn't help is that cats spend about two-thirds of their lives sleeping. But that's just what cats do – even in the wild. Lions spend most of their time chilling out – in between hunting sessions that is. And these are few and far between.

So how on earth do you go about doing this?

Not out for a walk
Abandon all ideas of kitty on a leash. It's just not going to happen. You might have seen video footage of some unfortunate feline being subjected to taking a walk on "America's Funniest Home Videos". Most cats are too independent-minded for this. They are hunters, not pack or herd animals and they will never follow a leader.

Sibling rough-and-tumble
If you have two cats that are siblings, or who just get on with each other, they will spend a fair amount of time stalking and "catching" each other. This is good exercise. It may look fairly vicious as claws come out and fangs are bared. It may also be accompanied by a fair amount of hissing and yowling. Only step in when you see evidence of wounds or if one cat is obviously very much stronger than the other one. But for most of the time, this kitty behaviour is just par for the course.

Invest in some toys
Pet shops sell toys that look like mice or other furry creatures. Or balls with a little bell in it. In short, cats will play with anything that moves, looks alive, or makes a noise. They are programmed for hunting, and will enjoy these toys. Make sure that they're not always around, otherwise the novelty will wear off.

Time out
A play session of ten or fifteen minutes is quite enough. Cats in the wild do not sustain energetic activity for long. Their activity comes in bursts – well, as long as it takes to catch a mole or a buck. And then it is back to lazing about under the shade after a hefty meal.

Get a scratch post
That is if you don't want to sacrifice your furniture in the cause of kitty's claws. If you don't have a garden with trees where the cats can roam, a scratch post is the only way to go. And keeping those claws sharpened takes a fair amount of effort and stretching, so it is also good exercise.

Dim the lights
Cats are nocturnal hunters, and are more likely to 'hunt' things in your lounge if the light is not so bright. So before you take out kitty's toys for a playing session, dim those lights. Cats respond to movement, and if you don't have neon lights shining overhead, a cat is also more likely to mistake the fluffy toy for something worth hunting.

Make some toys
You don't have to spend a fortune on shop toys. On the contrary, a cat is most likely to enjoy a piece of wool, a plastic bottle top, or a crumpled up piece of paper just as much as an expensive toy. In fact, anything that moves, or that can be rolled or pawed across the floor, is likely to be a hit. Just be careful of things like plastic bags or things that have fluff on them that can get stuck in a cat's throat.

Hands off
Never encourage a cat to 'attack' your hands. This might be cute when it is a six-week-old kitten, but it is less cute when the cat weighs twelve pounds and is capable of beating up the dog next door. In fact, keep your hands clear of those claws at all times – there is a nasty condition called Cat Scratch disease, that is best to avoid.

(Susan Erasmus/Health24, December 2008)

- Last updated: June 2010

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