It’s common knowledge that if you own a dog you should take them for a walk. Yet, less people know how important exercise is for cats. In fact, many behavior problems can be prevented or improved by adding exercise to your cat’s daily routing.
Am I saying all cats should go out for a walk like dogs? No, not exactly. While some cats may enjoy a walk, for most cats, the best kind of exercise is to let them go hunting…indoors.
Cats are obligate carnivores and retain much of their wild hunting instincts. Outdoor cats, such barn cats and feral cats, naturally get exercise by hunting birds, mice, and other small animals for food. Our indoor kitty companions have these instincts to hunt, chase, and capture but unless you live in a mice infested house (and I hope you don’t!) your cat doesn’t have much of an outlet for their predatory instincts. This can lead to pent up energy and frustration.
How to Play Hunting Games with Your Cats
Things you will need:
- A cat
- A human
- A fishing rod style cat toy (end to end: a stick, attached to a string, attached to a toy)
- Floor space
- Obstacles such as boxes or furniture (optional)
Move the rod so that the toy on the end mimics the movement of a pray animal, and catches your cat’s attention. Let the cat chase the toy then catch it. If the cat drops the toy, move it, so they toy looks like it is running away. You can also wiggle the toy while it is in the cat’s mouth. Continue playing for about 10 to 15 minutes or until your cat starts to get tired or less interested. End each play session with your cat successfully catching the toy just before you stop moving it as though it is dead. Then feed your cat a treat or their regular meal. Optional: place obstacles around the floor for the toy to hid behind and for your cat to peak around and dodge while stocking their toy pray.
- Move the toy as though it was the type of small animal it looks like, such as a mouse moving along the ground, feathers flying around in the air like a bird, or a ribbon or string slithering on the ground like a snake. Be creative and have fun!
- Toys used for this game should be kept special and out of reach, except during play sessions, so they are more interesting since your cat is not used to seeing them lying “dead” on the floor all the time.
While hunting outdoors is undeniably the most natural form of exercise for a cat, our indoor kitties can enjoy the benefit of stocking, chasing, and catching pray without the risk of that pray biting them or risking other outdoor hazards such as cars or coyotes. Playing with your cat also strengthens your relationship with each other by providing mutual enjoyment. And you’re providing your cat with something they need, an outlet for their natural instincts. You’re giving your cat the opportunity to be a cat.
Always, when providing exercise, keep in mind your cat’s energy level. Elderly arthritic felines are likely to prefer to sleep rather than exercise, so let them relax. Don’t force your cat to run and play if they don’t want to. But lots of young energetic kitties would love to play and enjoy a stronger bond with their loving two legged owner.