The ultimate cat exercise guide

18 August 2023 - 5 min read
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Cats aren’t dogs. Your feline friend probably won’t enjoy a ball-chasing-fest, and you probably won’t register them for an agility competition anytime soon. But your cat does need exercise to live their happiest, healthiest, and longest life. Physical activity helps prevent obesity, encourages healthy sleep patterns, and stimulates your furry friend’s magnificent mind.  

Adequate exercise requires more than just the occasional rubber mouse pounce-a-thon, though playtime is important. Cats need a natural playground where they can exercise independently, allowing their natural instincts for jumping, climbing, and exploring to flourish.

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Why exercise is so important for your cat

On a daily basis, cats need around 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise — though this may vary depending on age, breed, health issues, and other factors. This exercise helps them maintain their health in many, many ways.

Weight management

A tubby tabby is nothing to be desired. Just like in humans, carrying excess weight can lead to some major feline health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems. If you’ve been observing weight gain in your cat, it might be time to enhance their exercise regimen. More on this in a later section.

Exercise helps to burn calories and to keep your cat’s metabolism active, which means less fat accumulation and possibly some weight loss. Aside from promoting a healthy weight, exercise leads to stronger, leaner muscles.

Mental stimulation and emotional health

Cats are natural hunters. Believe it or not, free-ranging felines have singlehandedly caused dozens of species to go extinct as discussed in a US study. While many humans would be content to hunt down fish and chips from the local chippy, cats need to indulge in some of their primal instincts to remain sharp and serene. If you’ve been observing restlessness or destructive behaviour, it may well mean that your cat hasn’t been getting enough exercise or stimulation.

Indoor environments tend to inhibit your cat’s inborn instincts. This means your house-bound feline should mimic their natural behaviours in other ways, whether through interactive playtime or through an environment that promotes exploration and exercise.

Batting down boredom

Cats need exercise to fight off boredom and frustration. A bored cat is a miserable cat, and a miserable cat may misbehave out of pent-up energy. Boredom can lead to scratched-up furniture, endless meowing or even scratching and biting. Giving your cat the chance to explore can dramatically enrich their life, turning anguished meows into contented purrs.

Healthy sleep patterns

Cats sleep more than half the day. They even have a nap named after them. Just like in humans, sleep is crucial for feline health and vitality. Getting the right amount of exercise can help your cat sleep better at night, and during the day, and in the afternoon, and before dinner, and after, and whenever else they feel like it.

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Interactive play for cats

Regular exercise — coupled with a healthy, balanced diet — is key to keeping your cat in good shape and good spirits. If you provide your cat with the right environment (more on that soon) they’ll be able to get much of that exercise in their own time. 

That being said, human/kitty playtime is still important, especially for mental stimulation. Your cat may enjoy toys and activities like wands, puzzles, or laser pointer sessions. They may even respond well to clicker training. Who doesn’t love some good-old-fashioned hide-and-seek? 

Just remember that brief, frequent play sessions are more beneficial than lengthy, infrequent ones, with no two felines exactly the same. Factors like age, breed, health and personality will help determine your kitty’s playtime preferences.

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Exercise plans for kittens and younger cats

Young kitties need outlets for their boundless energy.

  • Ideal playtime: Aim for 20-30 minutes of active play spread across multiple sessions throughout the day.

  • Type of play: Use toys that mimic prey movements, and encourage stalking, pouncing and chasing. (Sorry, rubber mice.) You can also provide toys that keep your young kitty both mentally and physically engaged, like puzzle feeders or feathered wands

Exercise plans for adult cats

Adult cats usually aren’t as hyperactive as their kitten kin. But they’re still in their prime and need lots of exercise.  

  • Ideal playtime: At least 15-20 minutes of interactive play each day.

  • Type of play: Engage in interactive play daily, using toys that promote jumping, running, and stretching. 

Exercise plans for senior cats

Cats are just as lovable when they’re grey in the whiskers. But ageing brings changes in mobility, joint health, and stamina, which means you’ll need to respect their exercise limitations.

  • Ideal playtime: Around 10-15 minutes of gentle interactive play once or twice a day.

  • Type of play: Focus on low-impact exercises that maintain joint health, such as slow-paced play with feathered toys or mild laser pointer interactions. In their own time, they should have easy access to mildly elevated surfaces that they can reach without strain.

Exercise plans for overweight cats

If your cat is already overweight, don’t panic — but do get serious. Obesity can trigger diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and other serious health conditions in cats. It even puts them at greater risk for cancer. So do what you can to help your feline friend slim down. 

First: A healthy diet is just as important as exercise. Consult your veterinarian, as they may advise you to alter your cat’s diet, or even develop a completely new one. Working closely with your veterinarian, you can slowly introduce your cat to a lower-calorie diet. Your vet may even prescribe a specialised prescription diet. 

Exercise can also be hugely beneficial. But again, you should talk to your vet before initiating any new exercise regimen. 

You’ll need to begin by giving your overweight cat gentle exercise, then gradually increase the intensity if possible. This can be complicated by the fact that many overweight cats are on the older side, which can make robust exercise even tougher for them. 

As your cat’s new diet-and-exercise plan gets underway, it’s a good idea to take your cat to the vet for regular weigh-ins and check-ups.

  • Ideal playtime: Around 10-15 minutes of interactive play once or twice a day to get your overweight cat moving and engaged.

  • Type of play: Focus on low-impact exercises that stimulate your cat mentally without straining their joints or causing discomfort, like feathered toys or puzzle feeders.

Every cat is unique!

These are just general guidelines. You may find yourself with a singularly sedate kitten or a surprisingly spry senior. No two cats are exactly the same.

Also, keep in mind that some cat breeds are more active than others. High-energy breeds like Abyssinians and Bengals may need a great deal of physical activity. Meanwhile, lower-energy breeds like Persians and Ragdolls may do better with puzzles or other toys that stimulate them mentally without overwhelming them physically. 

Another thing you may need to take into account: Some cats are more introverted than others. If your kitty is a social butterfly, they may be more eager to engage in energetic play sessions. If your cat is shy, they may prefer quieter interactions, or even solitude. 

Also, you’ll likely need to take things easy on a cat who’s suffering from a disability, or from health problems like arthritis or heart disease.

You’ll need to tailor your playtime routine to your cat’s unique needs. 

Creating an exercise-friendly home

One-on-one play is certainly important, but it’s no secret that cats enjoy their solitude. When it comes to exercise, nothing is more important than establishing an exercise-friendly environment. Cats love to jump, climb, and scratch just as much as they love to hide and explore, so you’ll need to help them do all of the above!

  • Climbing opportunities: Cats adore climbing, and it’s wonderful exercise. Provide them with cat trees. these are also great for scratching, install wall-mounted shelves, or repurpose furniture to create elevated spaces. 

  • Indoor Cardio: If you’d like to see your cat do their best hamster impression, you can buy them an exercise wheel to help them run or walk in your home. (Yes, these exist.) This is particularly useful in flats or small homes with limited space.

  • “Catios” for safe outdoor exploration: We wouldn’t recommend free-ranging outdoor exploration — it’s been shown to reduce feline life expectancy by several years. But an enclosed outdoor “catio” is a great way to provide fresh air and sensory stimulation without putting your feline friend at risk.

Customising your environment to your cat’s unique needs will help keep them active and content.

How cat insurance can help

Regular exercise and playtime can dramatically enhance — and extend — your cat’s life. 

If your cat does develop obesity-related health conditions, cat insurance may be able to ease the financial burden of treatment. Just make sure to insure your cat when they’re still young so that chronic conditions may be covered. Otherwise, they may be excluded as pre-existing conditions.

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