Cats, just like humans, need to keep to a healthy weight. Excess weight can lead to a variety of illnesses; the ASPCA cites an increased risk of diabetes, liver problems, and joint pain. Cats’ livers seem to be especially sensitive: hepatic lipidosis is not a pretty thing.
What is a healthy weight? It depends. A 20 pound Maine Coon is in the upper middle of the normal weight range, while a 20 pound Siamese is almost certainly overweight, but might or might not be dangerously obese. Even within a given breed, vets may disagree about the acceptable weight range — again, just like humans. And, of course, just like humans, there’s a lot of individual variation: one cat might be perfectly fine at a weight well above the norm for his breed. Always seek competent veterinary advice specific to your cat.
Regardless of what a dangerous weight might be for your particular cat, you do want to make sure he or she stays under that limit. Diet is important and could be a whole discussion by itself (in fact, it probably will be at some point). Beyond that, though, one of the best things you can do is to make sure that your cats get enough exercise.
Chances are your cat isn’t going to be dedicated enough to manage his or her own aerobics routine, so you’re going to need to provide some assistance. If you can’t get your cat to stick to the Work It Kitty program, consider some alternatives.
The Animalia veterinary clinic in Franklin, Tennessee has a cat-sized underwater treadmill that the formerly 31 pound Buddha uses three days a week. Clearly, this isn’t a solution for many cats: aside from the fact that Buddha’s toleration of the water is unusual, the treadmill takes up a lot of space, and not too many people will want one sitting next to their own treadmill. Making them dual-species compatible seems impractical.
We’ve talked about exercise feeders before. They combine some form of toy with a food dispenser. Kaja uses a multi-level puzzle feeder similar to this Treat Maze. It doesn’t force her to do a whole lot of work to get a piece of food, but it’s enough to keep her active. As an added bonus, puzzle feeders also give cats some mental stimulation, something that indoor cats may otherwise be missing.
Many people seem to prefer treat balls like this one. We haven’t tried them, but I suspect that they would have an annoying tendency to wind up behind the furniture. And that’s not to mention the possibility of hearing it go bouncing down the stairs at 3 am.
A simple trick if you have a tall kitty condo or scratching post: put the cats’ food on top so they have to climb up to get it.
Of course, nothing says you have to force your cats to go it alone in their exercise programs. Join them! A session of catflexing once a day will strengthen the human/feline bond and give you both a workout.
As Rhubarb notes, “Pettings is also nutritions”. Play with your cat to keep them mentally and physically fit; “Mes sana in corpore sano” is not just for bipeds.
There are many ways to play with them that will get them exercise. The famous “little red dot”, also known as the laser pointer, can provide an excellent workout for the cat and some laughs for the human. For best results in both categories, try to get the cat spinning in circles. Note: A carpeted surface will minimize slipping and maximize rotational velocity. Make sure to do it in an area whose carpet contrasts well with the cat’s fur color. This will greatly improve the quality of the videos you post to YouTube. Unfortunately, not all cats seem to be into the little red dot; in my experience about one in three either can’t see it, or don’t care about it.
A lower-tech game is “fishing for cats”. A pole with a feathered toy attached at the end of a string is cheap and easy to find — you can even make one yourself (feathers not required, but they do help). An additional benefit is that multiple cats can play with it at once; with the little red dot they tend to get tangled up with each other. Drag the toy in front of them to get them to chase it. Dangle it just above their heads to encourage them to stand on their hind legs. Twitch it in midair and watch them jump for it. It only takes a little practice to keep two or three cats actively engaged. With a lot of practice you might just get two or three of them doing synchronized dance moves. Now that would be a scene worthy of a YouTube video — or Carnegie Hall!