Pet Science

Do Cats Need To Exercise? A Veterinarian Reveals The Ultimate Feline Workout

Aim for 10 minutes, three times a day.

Woman playing a feather toy with cat in white bedroom. a cute  cat looking curiously at a feather to...
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Pet Science

From apex predators and kings of the jungle (savannah, actually) to goblin babies unable to kill a cockroach, cats have near-perfect physiques. The latter, however, likely doesn’t need to hunt for its food. Even if today’s house cat doesn’t need to work to survive, keeping their body healthy is still critical to a long, healthy life with their human. Indeed, exercise for cats is indeed necessary.

Feline exercises, however, shouldn’t feel like a chore for you or your cat. In fact, you’re probably helping your cat exercise every day already. Dr. Jardayna Werlin, a veterinarian and the medical director at Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) City Cats Hospital in Massachusetts, suggests how much time your kitty needs to frolic every day to stay in good health.

Does my cat need exercise?

Your house cat might live the good life but still needs regular doses of healthy movement. Exercise keeps their muscles and joints well-tuned, which lets them perform necessary tasks like grooming, jumping, and attacking your feet in the middle of the night. Getting their heart rate up also keeps their body healthy into old age.

“In older pets especially, lack of exercise can lead to muscle atrophy, joint stiffness, and difficulty with mobility,” Werlin writes to Inverse.

Cats’ lithe frames can struggle with excess weight. The VCA reports that in North America, about 60 percent of domestic cats are overweight or obese. Surplus weight can erode cartilage — a condition known as osteoarthritis — and cause diabetes and cardiovascular impairment.

Exercise is as important to mental stimulation as to physical. If pets don’t get the engagement they need, they get bored. Boredom could grow into anxiety, which could manifest in undesired and even destructive behaviors, like ripping up furniture and even licking themselves raw.

How much exercise does my cat need?

Werlin says that 30 minutes daily is “ideal” for cats, advising that pet owners break that time into 10-minute sessions. “It is probably not realistic to accomplish that in one sitting,” she acknowledges. Not only do cats have a short attention span that may lead them to abandon toys quickly, but you’ve probably noticed that if they were track athletes, they’d be better at a 100-meter dash than a marathon.

“As anyone who has observed a cat do the zoomies knows, sustained aerobic exercise is not natural for the species,” Werlin writes. Short bursts of activity, she recommends, are best.

What exercises are good for cats?

According to Werlin, any activity that pumps heart rate at least 20 percent above resting counts as exercise. Zoomies, chases, and climbing land are in that category. If you’ve watched cats chase a laser pointer dot, you know that they can do sprints for quite a while. Of course, any number of oscillating toys can get the job done, including a toy critter on a string attached to a rod.

Werlin emphasizes that consistency is most important, both for physical health and for your sacred bond with your kitty. “Starting an exercise routine with a cat can be challenging,” she writes, “but scheduling play time will eventually lead to your pet looking forward to that specific time and experience.”

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