How to Encourage Exercise and Playtime for Bored and Sedentary Cats
Sat, December 3, 2022

How to Encourage Exercise and Playtime for Bored and Sedentary Cats


Have you ever asked yourself, “Does my cat get enough exercise?” Cats have the evolutionary advantage of a high metabolism even if they are just chilling out in your house, explained pet information source PetMD. But this does not mean it should live a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, your feline companion still needs some exercise to reduce the likelihood of obesity.

It is possible to train your cat to walk on a leash and go for a stroll, but training has to start from kitten-hood. Don’t worry if this is not the case as there are still ways to encourage your indoor cat to stay fit and active. Playing with it is one form of encouragement. All you have to is use your imagination to make your cat stimulated and entertained.

Why Indoor Cats Are More Likely to Become Obese

The American Pet Product Association’s National Pet Owners survey found that about a third of all cats could go indoors or outdoors as they pleased in 2004, with 17% being outdoors only, cited Steve Dale of Catster, a website dedicated to cat owners and lovers. By 2014, about 70% were indoors only, about 25% of cats were inside or outside as they desired, and 5% were described as outside only. As more cats stayed indoors, they also became susceptible to developing obesity. 

Respondents from 81 countries completed a questionnaire, with most of them originating from the US, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand, as stated in a 2019 study published in the biomedical and life sciences journal portal PMC. A total of 3,347 respondents (48.9%) indicated that their pets lived indoors only, 1,168 (17%) acquired their cats from a registered breeder while 1,928 (28.2%) got theirs from rescue groups or centers.

Additionally, 2,478 respondents (36.3%) believed that they were unable to control what their cat eats on a daily basis. The owners cited hunting and eating prey (51.7%), stealing human food (26.6%), and stealing another cat’s food (26.2%) as their main reasons. Researchers said cats that were housed either exclusively outdoors—or outdoors with restricted indoor access—were less likely to be obese than cats that lived exclusively indoors.

Outdoor cats find their environment more stimulating, possibly helping to reduce begging and overeating due to boredom. For cats living in multi-cat homes, the outdoors might be less stressful as stress could lead to increased calorie intake and adiposity. Additionally, increased physical activity due to outdoor housing might aid in moderating appetite and food intake and increasing the amount of calories burned.

Daily Interactions of Owners with Their Cats

Beth L. Strickler and Elizabeth A. Shull surveyed the owners of indoor cats to study the frequency and duration of their daily interactions with their pet felines, the provision of toys and activities, and the prevalence of behavioral problems, which was included in their study published in the journal portal Science Direct. Such behavioral problems include aggression to the owner, aggression to visitors, periuria, inappropriate defecation, inter-household cat aggression, and aggression to outdoor cats.

Strickler and Shull gathered 277 clients from five veterinary practices, who presented their cat for anything except a behavior problem. They found that the average number of toys and activities provided by the owners to their cat was seven.

Furry mice (64%) were the most common toys/activities used by owners, followed by catnip toys (62%), and balls with bells (62%). In total, 78% of owners said they leave the cat’s toys available all the time. All owners in the survey said they play with their cat while 64% played with their pet more than two times per day and reported play bout durations of five (33%) or 10 minutes (25%). Owners who reported play bout time of five minutes or more said their cat exhibited fewer behavioral problems.

A total of 61% of the owners stated that their cat showed one or more of the six selected behavior problems. However, only 54% who observed behavior problems in their cat said they had spoken to their veterinarian about the problem. Aggression to the owners (36%) and periuria (24%) were the most frequently reported behavior problems. Interestingly, female cats were 50% less likely to exhibit one or more behavior problems than males despite an equal sex distribution in Strickler and Shull’s survey.

How Much Time Should I Have My Pet Cat Exercise?

Physical activity helps your cat maintain a healthy weight and keeps its muscles toned and strong. It also keeps the animal’s mind alert and active. Try to let your cat exercise for at least 10 to 15 minutes a few times each day. Young cats and kittens usually take the initiative in playing with you or find ways to entertain themselves. Younger felines tend to be easily amused and will most likely want to continue playing with you even if you are tired.

However, older and overweight cats are much tougher since they usually do not have the endurance or interest in physical activity for extended periods. They can still benefit from short activities for a few minutes at a time each day. If you find an activity that piques your cat’s interest, it is recommended to introduce variation to that activity. Then, gradually increase your pet’s playtime.

How Should I Encourage My Cat to Play and Exercise?

Activities that stimulate your cat’s natural hunting instincts are the best. For example, you can set up an area where your cat can climb and explore its surroundings, although it depends on your pet feline’s age, weight, temperament, and interests. Nevertheless, this area can be filled with cat trees and scratching posts. You can even construct your own cat jungle gym if you are adept at tools. If not, you can purchase one from a local pet store.  

Non-motorized mice are great too since they simulate mouse movements using a string. All you have to do is move the toy and watch your cat catch its mock prey. Feather toys make excellent bird replicas. Because they are attached to the end of a stick or string, you can mimic a wounded bird’s movements, which is one of your cat’s favorite objects for stalking. Pet food company Purina said feather toys help cats express their hunting instincts.

Kittens love yarn, shoelace, or a piece of thick ribbon. These can be wiggled in front of your cat or placed beneath a closed door with you on one side of the door and your pet on the other. Most cats will outgrow their fascination with strings, but it does not hurt to try with your older feline.

If your cat is obese or overweight, opt to purchase an exercise wheel (made just for cats) to help shed excess weight. Exercise wheels don’t take much space, so your cat can run to their heart’s content.

It is also recommended to frequently rotate the toys in your pet cat’s play area to prevent it from being bored of seeing the same objects. The more interested your cat is with their toys, the more it is going to stay active. But do remember that most cats like a certain amount of routine. Hence, try to stick to the same feeding times and avoid making abrupt, dramatic changes.

You should dedicate a block of time for playing with your indoor cat. Help it express its hunting instincts through toys to cure its boredom. Exercise can also help prevent behavior problems and curb overeating. Not only will playtime make your cat happier, but it will also help it become healthier.