As senior cats slow down, they may walk a little slower, jump more gingerly and play a little less. While this is ordinary behavior for mature cats, the shift may worry pet parents. One way to ensure your pet stays spry is to encourage cat exercises to keep her brain and body active and limber. That little kitten you welcomed home years ago is now an older lady, and it's up to you to advocate for her mental and physical health.
Since cats don't have gym memberships, they'll rely on you to guide them on an exercise journey. Want to know the easiest way to get your pet active? Schedule time to play every single day. Cats are independent creatures, and some may scoff at the idea of working out, especially if they are older and arthritic. However, by tricking a senior cat into playing with you, she'll get the daily activity she needs in quick spurts around the home.
Invest in Playtime
There are many smart tools that can help your mature cat exercise more. These gadgets range from small to big and cheap to expensive, so start small, as your cat may like some and not engage with others. A quick trip to the pet store will give you endless options, so be sure to choose toys and tools that are age appropriate. Vetstreet offers a toy guideline for senior cats to help pet parents identify ideal toys for their elder furry friend.
Small toys and tools your cat may enjoy
- A wand or teaser with feathers that your cat can chase
- Catnip toys
- Puzzle toys that dispense treats
Large toys and tools your cat may enjoy
- A cat climber or condo
- Scratching posts
- A cat wheel (yes, just like a hamster wheel!)
Cat Exercise for Free
Cats love climbing, but senior cats who may experience arthritis will eventually have trouble climbing if it's not practiced regularly. Move around your furniture around so your cat is encouraged to jump from the floor to a footstool to the couch before perching on the top of it for her afternoon nap. If you already have a cat condo, persuade your cat to continue using it by hiding healthy cat treats on different levels so she has to jump to enjoy her snack. If you don't own a cat tree, it may be a good idea to invest in a tree or similar type of perch your cat can climb.
Do you happen to have any leftover catnip at home—maybe from a broken or torn old toy? Stuff an old sock with it. You'll get bonus points if you sew a string onto the sock so you can pull the catnip along the floor from a safe distance, making your cat chase it as you go.
Take a look around your house to see what you already own that your cat would love playing with. Have some old fabric you can sew into a ball? Your cat will swat and chase it all over your home. It is best to avoid yarn though, as the strings can be swallowed or get caught around her body causing safety issues. What about empty paper bags or cardboard boxes? Scratch the back of a bag or box and your cat will pounce on her "prey." Find a stick and some string to make a wand or a "fishing pole" to tease your cat. She'll swat and jump to catch whatever you put on the end of the string.
If your cat loves lazy afternoons watching nature from the warmth of a windowsill, install a bird feeder right outside the window. Like television for cats, a bird feeder will bring new (and tempting) creatures into your cat's line of sight. She'll jump up for a view of the hungry birds that are happy to entertain your kitty in exchange for a meal.
Do you have more than one cat? Multiple cats may be more likely to play with each other than one cat would be to start solo play time. Break out the toys and one may encourage the other to get moving.
Senior cats need to exercise their brain too. One way to keep your cat's brain as sharp as a kitten's is by playing food games with her. First, hide mini meals throughout your house in place of a large mid-day meal. Encourage your cat to find them, strategically positioned in low to high spots so your cat will need to work for the meals. Toy treat dispensers are another option to keep your cat using her brain while being rewarded with food. These toys require your cat to complete a puzzle or activity before the treat is released. Just always remember to keep the extra food or treats in proportions so that she is getting the optimum nutrition.
Choose Nourishing Food
Nutrition plays a valuable role in keeping senior cats active and healthy. Before making any changes to your cat's food, consult with your veterinarian. Make sure the meals and treats you're feeding your cat are suited to meet her physical and mental needs. According to the journal Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, maturing cats benefit from "food supplemented with antioxidants, fatty acids, and a prebiotic source."
If you're unsure if your cat is ready for a mature or senior cat food, check out this helpful cat aging tool—it helps you compare your cat's age to human years to get a better sense of where she is at in her lifestage. You can also get helpful facts on the signs of aging to discuss with your veterinarian. Upon talking to your vet, ask if feeding your cat Hill's® Science Diet® Youthful Vitality cat food is right for your cat. Youthful Vitality is specially formulated with aging cats' needs in mind, to help support your cat's ongoing vitality through increased activity, interaction and mobility.
If your cat enjoys toy puzzles, you'll need to store some extra treats in your home. You can make your own homemade healthy cat treats using Science Diet® pet food.
One final tip–don't wait too long before implementing these cat exercises into your pet's everyday life. The sooner your young kitten begins a lifetime of activity, the happier and healthier she'll be for years to come.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform–and even transform–its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.