By Catherine Holm
Like humans, cats get sluggish and flabby if they don't get enough exercise. Left to their own devices, some cats will take the couch-potato route. And, at least in my experience, adding cats to the household doesn't automatically mean that the cats will step up to the plate and exercise themselves and one another. It's just as likely that they'll all join one another in a couch-potato spree.
Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need to relax a little more and our cats can certainly lead by example. However, I think my cats are happy with some exercise. And since my cats don't go outside, exercise inside becomes even more important. Add to this scenario my really small living space, and it means that I have to think about exercise for the cats in a new way. But, there's always a solution. Sure, I dream of the day when my cats have a large space where they can fly up and down steps, leap onto many windowsills, and maybe even enjoy a screened porch or a catio. In the meantime, here's what we do in a small space to exercise the cats.
1. We run in circles
Sounds crazy, but it's true. You have to take advantage of the traffic paths in your living space if you want to get your cat to run. In my case, one of the few traffic spaces in my living space is the area around a big buffet cabinet, which serves as sort of a makeshift island in the kitchen. And so, when I want my cats to run, I'll drag the Feline Fisher on the floor, or a long shoelace, and let the cats tear after it. Pro: We both get exercise!
2. We do yoga
Of course we do yoga -- I'm a yoga teacher and yoga lover. But yoga can be done in a very small space (the size of a yoga mat), and cats seem to LOVE it. It's more of the stretching kind of exercise (I haven't been able to teach my cats to do Power Yoga yet), but the cats join in, and any movement counts, in my opinion.
3. We take advantage of toys that don't take a lot of space
The circular toy with a rolling ball takes up very little space and the cats love it. Playing with the Feline Fisher doesn't need to take up a lot of space, either. I can stand in one spot, wave it around, and engage several cats. Of course, I don't get any exercise in this scenario.
4. I shut the kitten in another room, temporarily, if needed
This is sad, and I hate to do it, because the "kitten" (really a young adult now) cries pathetically from the other side of the door. But sometimes I need to separate him for a few moments. The other cats really want to play and the kitten hogs the toys and the limelight. So if I need to give the other cats some hard playtime, and the kitten is making that impossible, I'll put him in another room for a few moments. Ideally, I might have had two kittens of the same age, so that they can play with each other ... but it's not possible here at the moment.
I have found, though, that cats LOVE to play together across or through a barrier. So if I can get the cats playing through a chair-back, for example, or on either side of a scratching post, that's a way to involve a few cats (and the kitten). And it's fun.
5. We use vertical space
Your cat will have to have strong hind legs for this scenario, and hips in good working order, but many of my cats adore jumping vertically, on their own or with temptation from me. I've seen them go after flies in this way. The kitten repeatedly jumps at a small nub on the refrigerator, apparently thinking it's something that needs to be attacked. Chasing the red laser light is another good game in a small space, and terrific exercise. Two of my cats love chasing it up the wall.
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6. I take advantage of the times that they're really worked up, so they exercise harder
If you know your cats well, you've probably observed that there are times when they seem more keen to exercise, and there are times when an earthquake probably couldn't rouse them. In this house, it seems that the cats have the most energy in the early morning, and late at night. Those are good times to harness their energy and throw play into the mix. In my opinion, a happy cat gets played with daily, maybe even several times daily. I'm trying to be better about this.
How do you exercise your cats? And if you have a really small living space, how do you exercise your cats in that space? Share your tips in the comments!