Obesity is a far too common epidemic in cats, and is a much more serious health concern than feline owners realize. Obesity commonly leads to pancreatic disease, diabetes, degenerative joint disease, and a host of other health problems. These health issues reduce quality of life, cause high veterinary bills, and shorten the precious lives of the already too short life spans of our feline friends. While of course there are nutritional solutions to obesity, this article is about battling feline obesity through exercise.
Exercise increases the basal metabolic rate, while increasing lean muscle mass and tone. This combination converts the body into a more efficient fat burning machine. With dogs, getting them to exercise is generally easy: throw a leash on the dog and go for a walk. With few exceptions, this does not work with cats. Put a leash on a kitty and try to get him to walk, and usually it is like dragging a sack of potatoes behind you. Below, are 5 ways that you can get your cat to engage in exercise.
1.) Laser pointer – These can be purchased online or at most pet stores. A laser pointer aimed at a wall or floor will provide a focus of light that any cats will chase. Moving it around, you get your cat actively trying to catch it, while getting a work out in the process (as well as providing entertainment for the cat owner).
2.) Provide them means to go vertical – Most cats love to climb. You can purchase or build kitty jungle gyms that have platforms, scratching posts, and hammocks, and boxes that they can hide in. Getting them to climb is a great source of exercise, while providing them a vertical refuge that they enjoy. In my household, we have three: one in our master bedroom, one in the cat room/wife’s office where the cat litter boxes are, and one in the formal living room. Perhaps it is a little overkill, but since our cats like to follow us into the rooms that we inhabit; they always have a means to climb. When they sleep curled up in their hammocks, it is also quite adorable.
3.) Separate water and food – When most cats eat, especially if they eat kibble, they like to take a drink during or after eating. Taking advantage of this tendency, you can separate the food and water into different rooms. In my home, the food is kept in the cat room and the water is kept on the complete opposite side of the house in the master bedroom. Thus, they are mandated to walk across the house to get that must needed post prandial drink.
4.) Fun with food – For our most enthusiastic feline eaters, when you feed them, grab the food dish every couple of minutes and move it around to make them follow it. Put it on a counter one moment, then in another room on the floor. After the floor, put it up on a dresser, etc.
5.) Take advantage of a favorite toy and/or cat nip – One my favorite (and my 6 year old son’s favorite) cat toys is a pretend fishing rod with a felt fish on the end of the line. You can cast it out and reel it in; meanwhile, kitty relentlessly chases and pounces on the fish. Find a toy that entertains and exercises your cat. Cat nip for many cats will give many cats a 15 minute burst of ecstatic activity. Buy some and use it…it is not bad for them.
Although with few exceptions, our kitties will not walk on a treadmill, walk on a leash, go jogging, or swim, there clearly are ways to get them moving and reap the health benefits if you are willing to put the time and effort in. These methods are mentally good for cats as well, and can even be entertaining for the feline owner.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.