Fitness for cats in lockdown

Does your cat get enough exercise during lockdown? Just a 15 to 20 minute daily commitment from you can be very beneficial to your pet’s health. Cats who laze about all day tend to gain weight, while those who do get exercise have stronger muscles and healthier organs.

Getting a cat to exercise also helps to strengthen the bond between pet and owner. It’s a great way to keep your feline friend alert and engaged – and it beats boredom!

Kittens and younger cats should easily be interested in a rousing play session, but if you have an older cat, you’ll need to be creative and persistent in your efforts. A little coaxing and some healthy treats are a good start to get a couch potato kitty up and moving – just remember to adjust her dinner so she isn’t eating over her recommended kilojoules for that day. Find an activity that your cat enjoys, then keep it fresh by adding new things. If your cat enjoys her toys, alternate them every week or so to prevent boredom.

Walk on lead

Choose a harness or walking jacket according to what your cat will prefer. Both shouldn’t be too tight.

* Take a few days to introduce your cat to the harness or jacket. At first just let her see and sniff it before you put it on her. (See Animaltalk October 2017 for the article on how to teach your cat to walk on a leach.)

* Put it on and allow her to walk around the house for a while. Monitor her closely.

* Once she is happy to wear the harness or jacket, clip on a lead and let her walk around the house with the leash tagging along behind. Follow along to prevent accidents.

* After a few days, pick up the end of the leash and follow her. Allow her to dictate where she wants to go. Practise this every day until your cat is completely comfortable and allows you some control of where to go.

* Once she is confident indoors, move outdoors into the garden.

* When she’s ready, and regulations allow freedom again, take her to a quiet park or area where no dogs are allowed.

Clicker training can also be used when training cats to walk on lead.

Play with a feather wand

A selection of cat toys that capture your cat’s attention is perfect for exercise. Some cats are intrigued by the fast movements of feather wands. There are a number of feather wands on the market. You can also make your own. Use a length of 15mm dowel and tie on a piece of ribbon. At the end of the ribbon, tie on an assortment of colourful feathers. Use a quick up-and-down motion to make the feathers ‘fly’. If your cat is interested in the toy, her attention will immediately be piqued and she’ll probably get off the couch for a closer look. Reward her efforts with tasty treats, but play fair and let her catch her ‘prey’ some of the time.

Climb a cat tree

Climbing can really boost your cat’s fitness. Most cats use their cat trees or cat gyms as an extra place for naptime, but with a bit of encouragement from your side, you can get her to use the tree for exercise. Mix playtime with mealtimes by feeding her at the top of the tree, then dropping the food and encouraging her to get down for it. You can also use healthy treats.

Mimic a hunt  

Cats are natural-born hunters, so you can use this innate ability to get kitty moving. A simple wind-up mouse or treat ball puts her hunting skills of seeking, stalking, pouncing and capturing into practice, all while exercising her muscles. If your cat is keen on the ‘hunt’, even a child’s remote control car can be used to pique her interest and get her moving.

Feline agility training

You may have heard of agility for dogs. But cats? Yes, cat agility is offered as a competition sport in a number of countries. The course comprises hurdles (small jumps) at different heights, hoop jumps, weave poles, tunnels and A-frames.

You can simulate an agility course in your living room to get your cat moving. First, kitty will need to learn how to do each of the obstacles. Start with a soft tunnel. Place a treat at one end and coax kitty through. Once she gets the hang of it, introduce other equipment. Try coaxing her to walk along an A-frame, a type of see-saw, or to jump through a plastic hoop. Build up her repertoire of activities until she can complete five or six in her agility course. Take your time and don’t force your cat to do something she isn’t comfortable with. Make it fun – with lots of healthy treats! If your cat is comfortable, you can take the course outdoors, but only if your garden is secure.

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