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Exercise for your cat

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Eliminating obesity in cats goes beyond diet. It also involves getting cats to exercise and stop being cat potatoes. In addition to getting your cat to exercise, it's also important to enrich your cat's environment -- that means shifting the focus from feeding time to play time.

Colleen Currigan, DVM, of the Cat Hospital of Chicago, suggests employing "environmental enrichment'' techniques. Environmental enrichment provides cats with interesting, stimulating surroundings and activities, and is a win-win situation for cats - it gets them moving, plus it adds new stimulation to their lives, which can help take some of the focus away from the food bowl.

Currigan said owners should:

  • Play with their cats. "All animals love to play,'' she said. "Playtime is fun for cats, and it's excellent bonding time with owners for them. It's attention without food, and it's fun and stimulating for them.''
  • Offer a variety of toys and switch them around. "To keep your cat from getting bored with them, don't leave the toys out all the time, and regularly alternate the ones your kitty is allowed to play with,'' Currigan said.
  • Use food as a toy. Currigan said owners also could feed their cats by putting dry food in a treat ball. The cat has to move the ball to get to the food. Some veterinarians also suggest moving the food bowl around to different locations -- or splitting the food among several bowls in different locations.

Playing with your food

Currigan said she personally gets her cats exercising by taking a portion of each cat's dry food meal and "playing'' with it, and her cats love it. For example, she'll toss pieces of dry food in different directions or down a long hallway for her cats to chase.

"They love to run after and pounce on those pieces of dry food, and one of them routinely jumps in the air and goes after them,'' she said. "They actually treat those little pieces of food like prey.''

Currigan initially started this to get her cats moving a bit more -- but it turns out that not only do they move more, but they also look forward to the game. She has started doing the same thing at night with one of the hospital cats, Bella, who is chubby.

Award "beggars'' with attention, not food

For cats that beg for food, Currigan suggests that owners reward them with attention -- either in the form of play, or brushing and combing, rather than with food.

"I truly think that for many of our cats, the highlight of their day is when they are fed -- that's when they get the most attention,'' she said. "If we can shift that focus and make an effort to play with our cats, the cats will have a more enriched, stimulating environment, they will be less likely to suffer from the stress of boredom, and they will be less likely to become overweight. They will have stimulating highlights to their day as well as having their basic needs met.''

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Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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