Have you ever watched your cat exercise? Perhaps your kitty’s exercise regimen consists of a mad dash around the house — a furry bullet dashing from room to room. Or possibly it’s jumping up on horizontal (and even vertical) surfaces, tearing up the carpets and furniture, or attacking your feet in the middle of the night.
Exercise is as important to your cat as it is to you. Young cats, as well as healthy adult cats, need periods of exercise. Even our senior pets need regular exercise to maintain their health and well-being.
We all know that exercise affects us both physically and mentally. The same is true for your cat. Your kitty can become depressed if not sufficiently stimulated. He may keep you awake at night if he does not receive enough exercise during the day. Cats are wonderful athletes, but they generally like to exercise for brief periods only. A vigorous play session before bed may help you both get some sleep.
Here are some of our favorite ways to get active with our cats.
The first step in exercising with your feline friend is understanding how cats play. Cats, like all mammals, engage in play as youngsters and continue to do so even after they have grown up. Play is a complex learning activity that helps kittens develop social relationships and hone their physical and mental skills. But it is also fun, which is why adult cat continue to do it. A cat’s play takes three forms, though often it is often difficult to separate them.
Social play is how kittens learn to interact with their littermates, their mother, other cats, other household pets, and you. During social play, kittens test their world and learn their place in it. Kittens develop personality traits that accompany them into adulthood based on these playful interactions. As a kitten grows, social play with littermates gives way to social play with their human caregiver(s), assuming that the kitten is adopted into a family and is not simply fending for herself.
Object play — poking, batting, and tossing around small objects — is the way that kittens learn about how to deal with prey. During such play sessions they develop the survival skills that they might need if they ever have to provide for themselves. You may see your kitten stomp on her toys, flip them over, and circle them once they land – acts that mimic overpowering and killing a prey animal for food. Object play teaches a cat how the world and things in it feel, what is animate and what is inanimate. She may jump up from her toys as if noxious, invisible rays emanate from them, and then dissolve into fits of sheer delight and discovery.
An active cat is a confident cat. The running and jumping of locomotor play helps a kitten increase strength, coordination, and flexibility. Locomotor play stimulates a cat’s appetite while helping to keep her physically fit. In addition, locomotor play helps eliminate boredom. An active play session in the evening can help reduce a cat’s nocturnal perambulations, which otherwise may keep the cat’s owner awake.
In addition to the physical lessons play teaches kittens and cats, play also teaches emotional ones. Kittens learn that playing is just plain fun and that it feels good to run, jump, and cavort with other cats and animals, including human ones.
Choose the Right Toys
There are tons and tons of cat toys on the market. But do you know your cat’s toy preference? Is your cat a birder, a mouser, or a bugger? Does your cat prefer toys that mimic birds, mice or catching bugs? There are many types of cat toys made for cats and each cat has his or her own preferences as to what stimulates them to interact.
Buy several cat toys and roll them or toss them to your cat to determine his or her preference. Watch to see which type of toy is most interesting to your cat. For example, you may see a trend of your cat preferring toys that simulate birds such as bird shaped toys, toys that chirp, toys made of a bird-type substrate (feathers), or toys that create bird-like movements (fluttering toys). Other cats will prefer toys that mimic “catching small rodents,” such as cat toys shaped like mice, toys that squeak, toys made of fur, or toys that have jerking movements. They may also enjoy tossing, biting or carrying their “prey.” Movements that simulate bug catching are a favorite play type of many cats. You can test this by giving your cat a kibble of food to chase, use a laser light on the floor or wall, or by playing with a string with a knot on the end and moving it quickly.