Does your cat need exercise?

Veterinary surgeon Rebecca Cannon explains how regular activity can help your cat’s health and happiness.


Just like humans, cats approach the idea of exercise with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Whether they’re an athlete, a couch potato or somewhere in the middle, cats sleep for about 16 hours every day – while older cats can doze for more than 20 hours a day.

During the hours they’re awake, your cat’s motivation and ability to enjoy exercise is influenced by their age, personality, body condition and any health issues they might have.

But regular activity is really important for them; naturally playful and sociable, cats can become bored and lethargic when not exercising regularly.

As a result, they might be affected by:

  • Weight gain
  • Poor health
  • Behaviour changes

If you think your cat could benefit from more exercise, you should be able to find something that entertains even the most reluctant feline. But if you’re in any doubt about the amount or type of exercise to introduce, it’s worth getting some veterinary advice before starting a new regime.


Indoor or outdoor cat?

Many cats enjoy spending time outside, roaming over large territories and hunting wildlife, while others are less adventurous and would simply prefer to sit on the patio or sofa.

For some cats, going outdoors is not an option because of their owner's living arrangements, lifestyle or preference, or because they suffer from a health condition - an enclosed outdoor run offers a compromise option.

Since the indoor environment may present fewer opportunities for exercise, you’ll need to gently encourage your house cat to engage in some regular activity. Unlike nipping out for a dog walk or throwing a ball in the garden, working exercise into a cat’s daily routine can take a little more thought, but it is hugely rewarding.


Exercise ideas for indoor cats

The easiest starting point is to plan some regular play sessions. Not only is it fascinating to watch cats demonstrating their natural skills such as stalking, chasing and pouncing, but they’ll also benefit enormously from the mental and physical stimulation.

Short bursts of play activity usually work best as this most closely mimics hunting behaviour. Young cats may want to play 10 times per day or more, however elderly cats may well still enjoy several sessions.

You can use a range of different activities and pet toys including:

  • Chaser sticks
  • Laser pointers (remember not to shine directly into the eyes, and reward with a real toy at some point during a play session)
  • Toy mice
  • Cardboard boxes with holes cut out
  • Cat activity centres with different platform heights

One new invention that’s recently become available is the indoor cat exercise wheel. Like the small ones that are found inside hamster cages, they’re solid free-spinning circular treadmills.

After a gentle introduction to the technique required, some cats really enjoy this work-out tool. But you shouldn’t allow unsupervised access and it’s best to ask your vet’s opinion before investing in one.


Start your cat’s exercise regime gently

Whatever changes you decide to make, remember to introduce new ideas gradually. A ‘little and often’ approach and plenty of positive feedback (treats and love) should ensure that the whole process is enjoyable for both you and your furry friend.

As an extension of simple play, some eminent behaviourists also encourage reward-based training and obedience exercises. Cats can be taught to sit, stay, retrieve and even walk on a lead or harness. In fact, a walk around the block can be a great option for the modern cat fanatic!

Recommended guides

Choosing the best food for your cat

Tips for training your kitten

Fun games to play with your cat

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