Here is something to keep your cat entertained while you’re stuck at home. Research shows that in addition to helping to prevent weight gain, physical exercise increases muscle tone and strengthens and improves joint flexibility, digestion and circulation in cats.
On the emotional side, a mentally stimulated cat is less likely to develop depression and difficult behaviour problems, like over-grooming, spraying and even aggression. Not all cats fancy all types of exercise, so persevere until you find something your cat enjoys.
Start off with an activity session of 10-15 minutes, one to two times per day. Increase this to three or four play sessions daily once your cat gets used to the additional exercise. If you want to exercise an older cat used to a sedentary lifestyle, you’ll need to take it slow. Start off with short play sessions of three to five minutes once or twice per day.
Use treat toys
If your cat enjoys her food and treats, getting her to exercise more could be as simple as throwing or hiding treats for her to find. Also consider a treat dispenser, which is great for physical activity but also provides your cat with mental stimulation. To avoid weigh gain, remember to check the energy contents of treats and factor this in with your cat’s daily diet.
Climb up high
Cat towers are not just for hiding out and sleeping. If you take the initiative, a multi-storey cat tower is a great way to get your cat moving. Purchase or make your own feather wands and fishing poles and use these toys to encourage kitty to climb the tower. Offer a treat, then get her to climb down again. With biting teeth and scratching claws, toys don’t last forever. Check them often for loose bits that may be a choking hazard. Replace worn toys regularly.
Simulate the hunt
Just like wands and fishing poles encourage your cat to jump, string and ribbons can be used to encourage movement and play that simulate a cat’s natural hunting instinct. Tie a toy mouse or bird to the end of a long shoelace or thick ribbon. These are inexpensive to make and you can also use crumpled paper, feathers and empty toilet roles. Drag the toy along the ground, wringing and twisting it to catch your cat’s attention. When you engage in this type of play, remember to allow your cat to enjoy all the components of the feline hunt – stalking, chasing, pouncing and eating. Allow her to ‘catch’ the prey, then offer a treat, so she remains engaged. Always supervise when your cat plays with string and ribbons.
Build an obstacle course
Build your own cat agility or obstacle course. Initially, you’ll need to use feather wands and treats to entice your cat to give it a go. Consider a few pieces of equipment to start off – a collapsible cat play tunnel, simple A-frame or a see-saw and ramp. Place treats at one end and encourage kitty to run through. Walking an A-frame can take some getting used to. Don’t force your cat – allow her to master it at her own pace. Make sure the equipment is sturdy and safe, so your cat won’t fall off or hurt herself, as this may put her off trying the course again. Expand the course over time with new and interesting items.