All About Cat Exercise: Needs, Benefits, and Ways to Play

All About Cat Exercise: Needs, Benefits, and Ways to Play

Cat exercise is a daily non-negotiable for our feline friends. Here's how much they need and how to promote exercise through play.

We all know dogs have significant exercise needs, but this healthy practice often gets overlooked in our cats. Many healthy adult cats will meet their exercise needs independently, but it’s important that pet owners know how cat exercise benefits their feline friend so that they can encourage physical movement through play. While cats have less significant exercise requirements than dogs, they still need to get moving every day. Let’s look at how much exercise your cat needs, how it benefits your pet, and how you can encourage this exercise daily.

How Much Exercise Do Cats Need?

Experts say that the average, healthy adult cat needs about 30 minutes of exercise a day. This exercise does not need to be in a single period – in fact, it’s more natural for your cat to exercise in multiple short bursts. Several factors will impact your cats exercise needs:

  • Age
  • Mobility or health issues, including cat obesity
  • Environment

Kittens and Senior Cats Will Have Different Exercise Needs

Age plays a role in determining how much exercise a cat will need. Kittens under a year old, for example, will spend more time sleeping than adult cats. Thus, they won’t necessarily need the full 30 minutes of play each day, though the time they do spend playing will likely be more energetic and intense than that of an adult cat. Kittens rarely need encouragement to get the appropriate amount of exercise each day, as long as they are given space and the proper accessories for kitty fun (i.e., a scratching post, cat tower, and toys).

Senior and geriatric cats will also exercise less, not only because they sleep more in their old age, but also because of reduced mobility in their later years. It’s important not to encourage an especially young or old cat to play too much, as this could cause injury or even illness resulting from lack of sleep.

Cats with Health Issues May Need More or Less Daily Activity

If your cat has a mobility or health issue, it will likely impact their need and ability to take part in daily exercise. Obese cats certainly need to be getting exercise, but they will likely need to be eased into it with small, short bursts of gentle movement increasing over time. If you try to make an obese cat start exercising for 30 minutes a day after they’ve been sedentary for months or years, they are prone to injury.

Also, your cat’s exercise needs will be reduced when they are recovering from a surgery, injury, or illness. Recovery times change your cat’s health needs, so that should be considered.

A cat climbing on a fence with plants on the other side of it

An Outdoor Cat Will Meet His Exercise Needs Outside

Outdoor cats have much shorter lifespans than indoor cats because of the many risks they face outdoors, which is why experts recommend keeping your cat indoors whenever possible. But if your cat spends some time outside, his or her exercise needs will be reduced.

Cats who spend time outside are spending that time in a state of greater alertness, hunting and prowling, and generally using their physical body more than indoor cats. This will contribute to their physical engagement for the day, so their owners won’t need to engage them in as much play when they are indoors.

How Cat Exercise Benefits Your Pet

Exercise creates a wealth of benefits for your feline friend. These include:

  • Strengthening the bond between you and your cat
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Staving off depression

Cat Exercise Through Play Bonds You and Your Pet

One of the often-overlooked benefits of encouraging your cat to exercise through play is that it acts as bonding time for you and your pet. We often think of cats as very aloof creatures, and while they rarely have the same attention needs as more demanding pets like dogs, they are still social and want to interact with their humans.

Encouraging your cat to exercise with direct play not only has physical health benefits, but also emotional and mental ones. It strengthens the bond between human and animal and makes your cat feel safe and secure in their environment and their relationship with you.

Exercise Helps Your Cat Maintain a Healthy Weight

A cat who does not get the amount of exercise it needs each day is much more likely to become overweight, especially if their diet isn’t carefully monitored. Overweight and obese cats are more susceptible to a myriad of health issues like diabetes, kidney issues, and heart problems.

Exercise can help ensure your cat’s weight stays within a healthy range, even if their diet fluctuates a little bit. Keeping your cat active and ensuring they get their 30 minutes of daily exercise is a key component of keeping them from becoming obese, and therefore avoiding the negative health impacts that are associated with cats being overweight.

A Cat That Exercises Regularly Will Be More Entertained and Therefore Happier

Exercise impacts your cat’s mental health in a dramatic way, too. Cats can experience depression, especially if they are bored and understimulated. Playing with your cat daily and encouraging their physical movement staves off mental health issues like this, which can create other problems like weight loss and hair loss.

How to Encourage Your Cat to Exercise

Since one of the major benefits of cat exercise is that it bonds pets with their owner, you need to play an active role in encouraging your cat’s daily movement. Here are some tips for ensuring your feline friend meets her daily exercise quota:

  • Ensure your cat has appropriate toys and rotate them regularly
  • Learn the right way to play with your cat
  • Be creative

Good Toys Are Crucial for Cat Exercise

Your cat needs toys – they aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity for keeping your pet entertained and engaged. Cat toys run the gamut in terms of size, type, material, cost, and other factors. There’s no shortage of great cat toys on the market – you just need to decide what kind of toys your cat needs and keep them on hand.

A cat sitting on a curtain playing with a toy mouse

It’s also a good idea to change out the toys you’re playing with every few weeks. Like people, cats can get bored with using the same playthings over and over. So if you’ve been using a treat puzzle for a while, put that away and try a feather toy. You don’t have to buy a new toy every month – once a toy has been sitting on a shelf for a while, pull it back down and your cat will feel like it’s brand new.

Learn to Mimic the Predator/Prey Relationship With Your Cat

There are effective and less effective ways to play with your cat and encourage them to get exercise. Your cat will be most engaged when you are mimicking the predator/prey relationship and encouraging their hunting instincts. When cats tap into this primal behavior, they can use intense energy without even realizing it. Try to imitate the movements of a small prey animal, like a mouse or bird. This means sneaking around and using jerky movements to engage your cat.

Don’t Hesitate to Be Creative in Encouraging Cat Exercise

You might be surprised by some of the ways you can get your cat to play, so don’t be reluctant to get creative. Cats tend to find entertainment in odd places, like cardboard boxes. Engage your cat in the way they want to play and let them lead when they have found something they are curious about (as long as it is safe).

Helpful hint: If you’re going to be away from the house and still want to encourage your kitty to play, try an interactive toy to keep them engaged and moving while you’re gone!

Cat Exercise Is Part of a Healthy Daily Routine

Cat exercise is non-negotiable when it comes to keeping your furry friend happy and healthy. While your cat can probably meet his exercise needs on his own, he shouldn’t have to – engage with your pet and encourage your cat’s physical and mental health with bonding play time.