Does your cat need to lose a few pounds? Incorporate play into her daily routine!

By Ron Bast | Updated: March 27, 2016, 10 am

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You can only handle so many fat jokes, subtle references to Atkins and pointed remarks about extreme makeovers before you decide that your cat needs to shape up.

It's not like you hadn't noticed. These days Fluffy only drags her growing frame off the couch long enough to hit the litterbox and the food dish. It's a feline dream turned into a nightmare.

Sadly, we've all gone soft. Exercise is a dirty word for many cats and humans. Maybe it's time for all of us to shape up.

Unlike many humans, cats actually like to exercise. Watch them in their natural habitat: They climb, run, jump, stretch and spar. They move like Tai Chi masters and prima ballerinas. They can leap two or three times their body lengths, move almost as fast vertically as they can horizontally and perform midair maneuvers that make gymnasts look like klutzes. In short, they're athletes, until they learn otherwise.

Plan Your Play
"Too many people bring home a lovely kitten full of life and then immediately try to dismantle the very energy that makes them what they are," said Ellen Stevens, a Persian breeder in Whittier, Calif. "We punish them when they climb the curtains, get on the table or mess with the stuff on our desk. We won't play with them for more than a few seconds, and then only when it suits us. And heaven help them if they want to play at night when we're watching TV or trying to sleep! Pretty soon the kittens get the hint and stop racing around. Then they turn into lazy bums."

Keeping cats indoors, a necessary precaution these days, adds to the problem, as does leaving them alone for hours and days at a time. Boredom does not beget exercise, so cats need to schedule their exercise sessions. But it's your job to get things moving.

Check with your vet before putting your couch potato on the treadmill, Stevens said. "Overweight cats often have some other underlying health problems like arthritis or heart disease, so you'll want to check all that out first," she said.

Then it's time to go to work. You can take the direct approach with a harness, lead and mandatory daily walks, but most cats resist that kind of regimen. According to Dale Williams, a cat behaviorist in Chicago, you're better off being sneaky.

"Cats are like us," Williams said. "They love to play, but they hate formal exercise, so make the exercise into play. Get out the laser pointer or flashlight and drive them crazy. Or get a wand toy and tease them with it until they react. Anything you can do to get the cat's hunting instincts going will work. Do it regularly and your cat will begin to get the exercise she needs.

"You can spend a fortune on cat toys, and that's fine. A lot of them are great fun, but you don't have to spend anything if you don't want to," Williams said. "Cats are pretty easy to please. Interactive toys are the best, but leave plenty of interesting stuff lying around so the cat will have something to play with when you're not home."

Make sure whatever you use is safe for your cat, Williams added. "No sharp ends or pieces the cat can swallow. Be creative, but be careful."

Snack Time Moves

Some cats are so deep in their lazy rut that play won't work. When that happens, go beyond sneaky to downright dirty, said Alan Peters, an animal trainer and Ragdoll enthusiast in Charleston, S.C.

"When they won't play, it's time to hit them where they live," Peters said. "In the food bowl. The laziest cat in the world will work for food. You just have to put it in places that require exercise to get at it. Put tiny portions in a number of different places around the house: on top of the cat tree, upstairs in the attic, downstairs in the basement and under the couch. Don't put a meal's worth in any one place. That way, the bum will have to keep working throughout the day."

Once you've got the cat moving, ambush it, Peters said. "Lazy is just another bad habit. Most cats really do want to move around and exercise, so once he's moving, reintroduce the idea of play," he said. "It doesn't have to be 30 minutes of aerobics. Cats are designed for short, intense bursts of activity followed by a good rest. Give them that and they'll be happy."

For the ultimate automated workout, Peters suggested bringing home another cat. "For me, that's a rule: a minimum of two cats. That way the workout goes on even when I'm not around, and when I'm home I don't have to do a darn thing besides watch and laugh my head off. Now that's the way to deal with exercise."
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Reader Comments

Karen    Encino, CA

3/29/2016 11:02:25 AM

The important thing for me is to never allow free feeding. It is easier when you have one or two cats but in multi cat households it can be hard because some cats will eat everyone else's food. I keep my cats separate at feeding time and divide their portions of food into two feedings. I also don't over feed. I give them portions according to the weight and activity. In other words, whatever their daily portion should be cut in half and give half in the morning and other half at night.

lisa    elkhart, IN

10/21/2013 1:50:22 PM

great story

haven    woodlands, TX

3/27/2013 4:32:41 PM

thanks this helped me alot

Mouse    Ewa Beach, HI

1/23/2013 2:22:33 PM

My kids would rather play with the cat's toys than the cat. If I do interactive play, same thing. Silly kids.

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