7 ways to exercise your cat (a critical viewpoint)

There are apparently seven ways to exercise your cat. There are probably more ways, but in practice there are less. I’m going to list seven possible ways to exercise your cat and comment critically on those suggestions. In my view there are three general ways to exercise your cat: allow them to go outside to roam freely, fully enrich the inside of your home if they are full-time indoor cats, and thirdly, play with them a lot. The first idea is becoming less and less popular because of the dangers and the second and third ideas are often not complied with.

Exercising my cat by taking him for a walk in the early hours of the morning
Exercising my cat by taking him for a walk in the early hours of the morning. Screenshot of video which you can see by clicking the link below.
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1. Play with them

Clearly the best way to exercise your cat is to play with him/her. This is common sense. Cat owners do it from time to time. But I am convinced that, in general, the vast majority of cat owners do not exercise their cat by playing with them anywhere near enough for it to make a significant difference to their cat’s health. I’m being negative and critical but I said I would be. The reason: it is boring for a cat owner to play with their cat for longer than a few minutes. Cats enjoy play but it is not a two-way process. The person is giving and providing the play whereas the cat is receiving and enjoying it. It’s a one-sided event.

2. Automated toys

I’ve never tried these but I have suspicions that they have limited life spans. These are interactive toys which are meant to stimulate a domestic cat into playing with them. They probably might work for a while for a decent percentage of domestic cats. That is probably about as good a recommendation you can make for these sorts of cat toys. And they can be quite expensive. You are likely to have a bunch of plastic cat toys in a large cardboard box in the attic at the end of the day.

3. Puzzle feeders

These are interactive feeders. I have one on which my cat likes to use. I have currently taken it off him for the following reason. Interactive feeders use dry cat food. The cat pushes them around and the dry cat food pellets fallout. The cat eats it. All this happens on the floor, normally the kitchen floor which is hard. The problem is that you get lots of bits of dry cat food lying around the floor over a period of time. You have to hoover them up. It’s messy. I don’t like mess in the kitchen. It might not bother some people but I didn’t really like it.

Picture of a tabby cat using an interactive cat feeder
Picture of a tabby cat using an interactive cat feeder. Photo: MikeB

As to the exercise provided by an interactive feeder, this is minimal. In fact, I would state that these are not meant to be exercise devices. Correction: they do exercise the cat’s mind which is their purpose but they don’t provide physical exercise to any extent.

4. Provide things to explore

This is a reference, I believe, to enriching the indoor home environment. You need to provide high-level walkways and other areas which pretty well replicate what a cat might enjoy if allowed outside to roam freely. Very few people do this. It requires a reworking of the interior of one’s home. People are reluctant to do that because the home is primarily the home for people and no matter how good a cat caregiver is they tend to treat their cat as a second-class citizen when it comes to interior decoration!

5. Provide them with scratching posts

I certainly agree with this but scratching posts are not really designed to exercise a domestic cat. A cat will stretch their back when scratching at a large vertical scratching post and deposit scent onto the post with their paws and slough off the outer cuticle of their claws when required but this is not really a form of exercise.

6. Take them for a walk

Funny enough, I do this with my cat every morning when I buy the newspaper – see below. Don’t forget to turn on the sound 👍.

He follows me down to the end of the road where he stops and hides while I walk onto the petrol station to buy the paper which is about a seven-minute walk there and back. He then picks me up and we walk home together for about 150 yards. I do this very early in the morning at about 6 o’clock. This is to avoid traffic. It is not entirely safe and it concerns me a bit, but he gets exercise. He behaves like a dog on these occasions.

Normally people wouldn’t do this. It looks unusual and people look at me and my cat as if we are rather unusual. It is unusual. Normally you would take your cat for a walk on a lead. Very few people train their cat to use a lead. Harnesses tend to make a cat go floppy. It takes a while to train that out of them. Very few cat owners have the patience to train their cat to walk on a lead. They don’t do it naturally. I don’t want to be too negative because some people do this but it is rare. This is not a highly practical idea, regrettably.

7. Provide them with an outdoor space

This, in my view, is a reference to providing a full garden enclosure or a catio. That means placing a customised cat confinement fence around your backyard. This keeps your cat in but allows him to play in your backyard. This is a good idea. Catios are also a good idea. They are a nice compromise between providing an outdoor space for your cat while keeping them safe. It’s between the full roaming cat and a full-time indoor cat. It’s probably the best thing you can do. Catios don’t really provide great exercise for your cat because they tend to pick a spot and rest in it and watch the outside. A cat confined to a garden enclosure will get more exercise and I for one would recommend it. Once again, very few people go this route.

There can be complications such as trees at the periphery of a backyard which means that a cat confinement fence cannot work effectively. And, secondly, they can be quite expensive to erect and thirdly people don’t want to mess around with their backyard or back garden. I’m being somewhat negative again but I think I’m being realistic and practical.

If you did a survey on the percentage of cat owners who had an enclosure in their backyard for their cat you will find a very small percentage of people have one. My guess it will be something like 0.05%.

The bottom line is that free-roaming cats get the best exercise but they do this in an unsafe environment if they live near road traffic. And, in America, there are predators who regard domestic cats as prey animals.

The difficulty in providing your cat with safe exercise is one of the great dilemmas of cat ownership.

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