Feline fitness (yes!) — keep Tabby trim and healthy

For most cats, play and exercise are intertwined. Tekla loves playing with her catnip heat.

There’s the classic image we all see of a cat curled up, asleep in the sunlight. However, more and more these days, that kitty is a bit on the chubby side.

Cats are so popular because they’re “easy” to care for; they don’t have to be walked or trained like dog and that makes it easy to forget that they do have the bodies of athletes.

Experts at the Cornell Feline Health Center and VCA Hospitals agree that 50 percent of cats are overweight.

Keeping your cat playful and stimulated shouldn’t be limited to kittenhood. Many people assume that cats naturally slow down once they mature and are spayed or neutered. That doesn’t have to happen and you as their caregiver are responsible for keeping the wiggle in their butt. Some cats may be self-amusing, but more often than not, you will have to initiate the routine. Think of it as spending quality time bonding together!

Short of enrolling your cat in a gym membership, what can you do to keep your cat fit and healthy?

Nutrition, of course, is the foundation. We often equate food with love and grab the treat jar or fill the bowl at the first sign of a pleading meow. A species-appropriate diet is essential to maintaining optimum health, and, hence, good muscle tone and body condition.

Make your cat work for his treats by using puzzle toys – it’ll bring out his prey drive and keep him moving, which is much more preferable to camping out at the food bowl.

Cats are designed to hunt, and play is the best way – and the most fun – to hone that skill.

Fishing pole toys are the easiest place to start; they’re a dime a dozen and the permutations are endless. Learn how to make the toy act like prey and watch your cat leap and soar. Our 6-month-old kitten, Celica, chose an innocuous fuzzy square on a leather thong attached to a stick. It turns up everywhere, even in bed, and she loves nothing more than to play endless games of fetch with it. Her athletic prowess is remarkable.

It’s no secret that cats need vertical space as well as horizontal surfaces. Nice tall cat trees and kitty condos allow them to stretch and jump.

Laser toys can give your cat a workout, but they can also be a source of frustration if they’re not used properly. Every hunt should end with a capture, so be sure there’s a reward for the workout – some catnip or a treat. Keep in mind the mantra of cat guru Jackson Galaxy: “Hunt, catch, kill, eat.”

Boxes and bags are universally adored. Add a ping pong ball and let the fun begin.

The Turbo scratcher has been around for ages. It combines a ball in a track with a cardboard scratching pad, which can be replaced. They last forever and kitty gets a great workout by batting the ball around and scratching the scratcher.

Although it’s essential to have a good, tall sturdy scratcher, a few inexpensive cardboard scratchers, placed all around the house, are great for working out (and saving your furniture). Look at your cat when she stretches: the back is elongated and butt elevated, the muscles in the front legs are exercised, while the rear legs are extended to support the back and butt.

Try a treadmill. The Internet has no shortage of videos of cats using treadmills. Practical thinking leads one to believe there are safer ways of exercising your cat and it’s probably something that some cats just may be drawn to. On the other hand, cat exercise wheels are becoming more readily available; again there’s the need for supervision – but they don’t come cheap.

If you’re starting from square one or thinking of adding to your feline family adopt a pair kittens. Kittens have boundless energy and a pair is sure to be active and self-amusing. However, when added to a family with a couple of older kitties, a kitten can add new life.

People often say that their cat doesn’t like to play, that all she wants to do is lie around. As with humans, it’s a matter of persistence and finding the right toys and the right method of play. Many cats love the fishing pole toys, but others may prefer to wrestle with a catnip-filled banana or chase a crinkle ball. Take the time to figure out what your cat enjoys, especially if you’re just embarking on a fitness program.

It goes without saying that kittens are natural athletes. They have limitless energy and their action is non-stop. The key is to sustain that energy through adulthood by maintaining a routine of play and proper nutrition.

Connecticut Media Group