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Four for Friday: Four Ways to Exercise Your Cat

It's true that cats are natural loungers...that's evolutionary. Just look at lions, for goodness sake! Most photos taken of these cats, king of all beasts, show them lying around squinting in the sun. Even without a lot of exercise, cats have high metabolisms - which means that young cats can fairly easily maintain their trim physique. But just like humans, as cats age their metabolism slows down. In an inactive cat, obesity often results.

Exercise is critical in keeping your cat's muscles strong and flexible. It can also be excellent for providing mental stimulation. There are a number of ways to keep your cat moving, read on.....

1. The Ever Irresistible Laser Pointer

You can get most cats to move fairly quickly with the innocuous red bead of a laser pointer. Cats chase these glowing treats as if they were flies or moths. If you get them really involved, they'll even try to climb the walls. Most pet stores offer packaged laser pointers that are small enough to fit on a keychain and most come with extra batteries. But if hypnotizing your feline with a laser isn't for you, there ares automated version of the laser pointer. You can place them on a table or floor (or hold them in your hand) and they will randomly create light patterns that your cat can chase.

2. The Hunt for Food

Cats are natural hunters. Hunting uses up energy. A feral cat needs to kill and eat an average of 12 mice per day to meet its daily energy requirement. Now, feral cats don't hunt down 12 mice and then sit down to eat all 12 in a heavy meal. They also don't kill 6 mice in the morning - and eat them. And then kill 6 mice in the evening - and eat them. No, when cats have to feed themselves they eat multiple small meals throughout the day and night. In comparison, our house cats mostly just walk over to their food bowls once or twice a day.

Try hiding their kibble. Put a few pieces under the couch (unless there are dust bunnies the size of your cat under there), put a few pieces in a closed paper bag, put a few pieces up high so they have to jump. Put a few pieces in a partially opened drawer. Make them think, make them work, make them hunt their food!

There are a number of products available on the market right now aimed at making cats figure out a puzzle to get to their food. These are great for mental stimulation and slowing down the meal consumption. BUT, if you need your cat to MOVE, your best bet is to spread that food around and to get those paws a-going!

3. The Ubiquitous Cat Tree and the Omnipresent Scratching Post

These guys are everywhere for a good reason. They entice a cat to climb. Climbing uses muscle. And if it wears down nails at the same time, well, that's just good on top of good. The problem is traditional cat trees are often rather ugly and covered in uninspired carpet samples. If you or someone who also loves your cat is handy, you can build your own version. Wall mounted shelves and steps take up no floorspace, but when staggered, allow your cat to literally climb the walls to higher places. Some cat owners install relatively shallow shelves at the top of the wall as a destination - a place where the cat can go to look down on its kingdom. Although, cats don't have to be up high to look down on us, do they? Need inspiration? Look to Japan and The Cat House, a dream come true for 16 well-loved kitties. It was designed by the Japanese architecture firm Fauna+DeSIGN and almost makes you wish you were a cat.

There are also a number of interesting cat trees and scratching posts available for purchase. If you are a Pinterest user, you can find a wealth of ideas by just typing in Cat Tree.....or Mod Cat Tree, DIY Cat Tree, Simple Cat Tree, Natural Cat Tree. You can even try Enchanted Cat Tree. Really. You'll see some things that will make you say, "That is SO cool!", and a few that will make you just say, "[email protected]?!"

4. Lastly, Try Playing With Your Cat

It can be hard to play with your cat, especially if you've worked all day. But 15 minutes spent dangling a feather toy or wiggling a shoelace to engage your cat's stalking instincts not only exercises your cat, it strengthens the bond you share (make sure you put away the shoelace, please - we don't like intestinal linear foreign bodies at ACC!). Try having your cat chase your hand under a blanket, or pull a silly mouse on a string around the house. Or get your 4 year old to do it. This strengthens the bond between your cat and your 4 year old. There are also remote control mice if you don't have a 4 year old AND you don't have energy. The point is: engage your cat's stalking instinct to inspire it to play.

You should aim for several play sessions of 10-15 minutes a day with your cat. Kittens can require more playtime and our older kitties usually require less. Exercise keeps your cat fit, fosters mental agility, and helps strengthen your bond. Tired out kitties are less likely to be trouble makers. This means they’re more likely to be purring in your lap which is right where you want them at the end of the day.