As far as getting your dog some exercise goes, it’s usually a cinch. Go for a walk, jog through the park, toss a tennis ball, throw a Frisbee—everyone knows how to get a pup moving. But what about your cat? Pet parents are often at a loss when it comes to kitty cardio.
“We have an epidemic of obesity in cats,” says Dr. Shelby Neely. “This leads to diabetes and most of the same problems that accompany obesity in people. Combined with the right diet, exercise can help your cat stay slim and avoid these health problems, leading to a happier cat and a longer, healthier life.”
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of ways to encourage your cat to exercise. Here are 20 things to try:
Behold, the holy grail of cat toys. Laser pointers, like Ethical Pet’s Laser Exerciser, can be a great way to get your cat moving. PetSafe’s Bolt interactive laser toy does the work for you.
However, make sure the game concludes with your cat being able to catch his “prey.”
“When playing with laser pointers, a vigorous laser session needs to end with a little play with a similar toy that has something attached that the cat can actually get his paws on,” says Neely. “Otherwise, they are left very frustrated.”
Your dog enjoys a stroll around the neighborhood—and given the opportunity, your cat may, too.
“You can take your cat for walks on a leash,” says Neely. “It’s very important to use a harness, not just a collar, and to let your cat get accustomed to short periods of time wearing the harness indoors before going outside.”
PetSafe’s Come With Me harness and bungee cat leash, for example, is designed to give you control while keeping your cat comfortable.
Bird Feeders & Aquariums
An interesting, enriching environment naturally leads to exercise—and there’s nothing more interesting to a cat than watching birds and fish in their natural habitats.
“Cats need stimulation,” says Neely. “This includes multiple places to jump and climb, bird feeders [to watch] outside windows, aquariums to view and even videos made especially for cats that feature birds, fish, and other moving things that catch a cat’s interest.”
Make viewing the outside world easier with a cat window seat, like Oster’s Sunny Seat window-mounted cat bed, or by placing a cat tree in front of the window.
If you opt for real-deal animals over TV versions, make sure that all creatures are safely behind glass and out of your cat’s reach.
For kitties who respond to catnip, the plant can be a great way to kick playtime into high gear. Grow your own or look for cat toys stuffed with the good stuff.
Clicker training isn’t just for dogs. Not only do cats respond to the method, but they can learn some pretty impressive tricks, including obstacle courses.
“I had a cat who was 9 years old, who never had exposure to training, and I trained him to ride a skateboard,” says Ingrid Johnson, certified cat behavior consultant. “We don’t give cats enough credit.”
Although completely screened in, “catios” provide cats with an engaging, stimulating taste of outdoor life.
“They can experience the seasons, but they’re safe,” says Johnson, who custom-built her own catio. “It can be a pretty exciting place for a cat to be.”
Not only do food puzzles and foraging games prevent cats from eating too quickly, but they turn mealtime into exercise time.
Cats love feather toys because cats love birds. With that in mind, try to think like a bird.
“Interactive play is really important,” says Johnson. “You can’t just dangle a feather toy in front of your cat’s face—you have to be the prey, be the bird. Let it flutter, let it tumble across the floor.”
Pet Fit For Life’s 2 Feather Wand comes with two feathery attachments, like the name implies, and a detachable bell to help keep her interested.
As cliché as it is, a ball of yarn is cat toy gold.
“The old standby that cats cannot seem to resist is a string pulled along the floor,” says Susan Bulanda, a certified canine and feline behavior consultant.
For an engaging play session, make sure you dangle the string and move it across the floor as if it’s “alive” or a snake. Additionally, make sure you put away the string once you’re done playing with it, and make sure your cat is never left alone with a string toy.
Cats are natural hunters, and hiding treats provides exercise and a sense of adventure.
“Hide them in different places each time and check to see that the cat found them,” says Bulanda. “Since cats are smart and observant, don’t let the cat see where you hide the treats.”
Just like treats, cats want to stalk their toys.
“A basket of cat toys looks fun, but from the cat’s point of view, the basket is full of dead prey,” says Suzanne Denk, animal enrichment specialist at Animal Friends, a non-profit companion animal resource center. “Toys should be hidden so the cat can discover the toy in the course of the day. Toys should rotated so they stay new and interesting. ”
Fun to pop and chase, bubbles are a natural but often-overlooked cat toy that provide visual stimulation, says Denk.
Have a climber? Save your curtains by providing your cat with vertical space to explore.
“Cats enjoy any perch that expands their territory,” says Denk. “Cat trees are ideal but can be expensive. Provide a wall shelf with a pillow, a raised box or a basket on top of a cabinet.”
If a cat tree is in the budget, the right one can help keep your kitty entertained and fit.
“A good cat tree reaches from floor to ceiling, does not wobble and has several different materials on it for scratching as well as climbing,” says certified animal behavior consultant Debbie Winkler. Pro tip: Place the tree near a window for optimal bird watching.
Toilet Paper Roll Toys
Cats don’t just love unraveling toilet paper—the empty rolls are tempting toys, as well. Fray the ends of the cardboard roll with scissors and it’s a blast to bat around (assuming you’re a cat, of course).
Furry (Fake) Mice
The furry mouse toys you can pick up at almost any pet store are perennial favorites for a reason.
“Can a toy substitute for a mouse? No. It doesn’t smell right, it doesn’t make the right noise, and its movements aren’t right,” says author and behavior consultant Celia Haddon. Still, she highly recommends the furry fake mice as a satisfying alternative—not only is the texture appealing, but they’re lightweight enough to be batted around like prey.
Chances are your kitchen junk drawer is full of potential. Here are eight household items that can easily be turned into cat toys.
“Most cats get excited by hunting and will enjoy rod toys with feathers or fur mice,” says feline behavior consultant Anita Kelsey. “Even older cats or cats that appear not to play can be motivated by seeing the right ‘hunting’ toy.”
As crazy as a cat exercise wheel sounds, some friskier felines love them. Kelsey recommends them for clients who have agile, high-energy cats—and, of course, the space to accommodate a cat wheel.
Many cats love the high-energy play session that an electronic toy can provide. Kelsey recommends Undercover Mouse, which mimics a scurrying mouse (and doesn’t, thankfully, require an exterminator.) Just make sure to schedule interactive playtime with your kitty, too—there’s no substitute for you!
Monica Weymouth is a writer, editor and certified Weird Animal Lady. She lives in Philadelphia with her two rescued Shih Tzus.