Cats are natural hunters and love to be on the move. Yes, even your sleepy furball curled up on your lap right now. But even with their natural instincts, they’re also creatures of routine. So if they’ve gotten a bit…comfy over the years, you might be wondering how to get your cat to exercise more.

Because while you might smile at the thought of a chubby feline, cat obesity is a serious problem around the world. So if you’ve been wondering how to exercise your cat, keep reading. In this post, we’re going to explore some fun and easy ways to get your cat on the move and unleash their inner hunter again. Let’s get started.

Why is exercise important for cats?

Regular exercise and activity brings a ton of physical and mental benefits for your cat. With a gentle, adaptable activity routine, you can help them:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent age- and weight-related diseases – like diabetes, joint pain, and heart disease
  • Relieve stress – which can show up as excessive meowing, crying, or furniture scratching
  • Stay mentally active, especially from the sensory stimulation
  • Deepen their bond with you by spending more quality time together
  • Keep their inner hunting instincts happy
A cat walking through a grassy patch outdoors

Think about it: when’s the last time you saw an overweight lion or leopard? Wild cats are constantly on the move. They know they’ve got to in order to stay strong, hunt, stalk, and bring down prey. Gaining a few extra pounds would make them slower and less successful hunters.

In many ways, your domestic cat thinks they’re still a big cat hunting in the wild. It’s why outdoor cats also tend to be on the trimmer side – because they’re constantly patrolling their territory. On the other hand, indoor cats might be a bit more likely to grow less active over time. But why does this tend to happen?

In a nutshell: cats tend to grow sedentary as a result of habit, not necessarily age. They also tend to adapt to your routine and habits – so you can always make it a team effort and get some more physical activity with your cat together. This can both improve your cat’s health and your relationship with them. (Especially if you stay consistent with it over time.)

What are the risks of skipping on exercise for cats?

Much like humans, sedentary cats are more likely to grow overweight over time. And with cat obesity on the rise around the world, your feline friend might be at risk for a number of health problems. Including:

With time, all these health problems can negatively affect your cat’s overall wellbeing. In some cases, overweight cats might even live shorter lives than their healthy-weight counterparts. In fact, one of the first behavioral changes that indicate whether your cat is sick is a decrease in their energy levels. A sick cat might come across as more lethargic and less limber and active than normal.

We cover some simple steps to get you started on a weight-reduction plan for your cat, including vet-approved diet options and mealtime schedules. So once you’ve planned that out, let’s start with how to get your cat to exercise more.

How to exercise a cat: Simple tips to get started

Kids playing with a white cat

Create a routine adapted to your cat’s personality

Every cat is unique and responds differently to a change in routine. So we’d always recommend starting slow and gradually picking up the pace. 

  • Some cats are natural athletes and love to pounce after lasers or other pets (or you!)
  • Others are a lot more laidback and are happy just batting a paw at a dangling toy.

So take some time and observe your cat’s natural level of activity. It’ll make it easier for you to adapt your exercise routine accordingly.

In some cases, your naturally athletic cat might’ve decreased their activity over time. So they might respond faster and more positively to a change in routine. For other, less active cats, a sudden change in routine can be stressful. So they might not respond to it as positively – and might even resist it. That’s why we recommend you make sure to start gradually and socialize them to it, step by step.

Use interactive toys & play 

Interactive toys help get your cat moving – especially toys that mimic prey, like feather wands (which resemble birds) or toy mice. These can awaken your cat’s inner hunter and bring out their natural instincts. And the best part? You could even DIY some of these yourself at home with a bit of arts and crafts material.

So start by experimenting with different toys to get an idea of what your cat responds to best. But remember – they do tend to get bored quite quickly. So rotate their toys frequently to keep your cat engaged.

Enrich your cat’s environment 

Cats are naturally curious creatures. So providing them with an enriched environment helps them be both physically and mentally active. Consider adding climbing structures and perches around your house. Setting up vertical spaces like this also helps your cat perch above and get a little space from you and your family – which they also need to decompress from time to time.

A cat walks on a climbing perch with a toy in their mouth

Create a scratch-friendly household

Got a scratcher in the house? Cats might actually scratch things in order to get a bit more exercise – it both gives them a nice stretch and also helps them keep their nails sharp. Unfortunately, they might just end up doing it on your couch, curtains, or bed. But with scratch-friendly items like cat trees and scratching posts, you’ll both keep them happy and your furniture safe from their claws.

Install a food puzzle or treat dispenser 

These interactive toys help your cat have to work for their food – so they can help keep their mind’s engaged and also get them moving. It’s a great way to make mealtimes more exciting and turn it into a rewarding exercise opportunity. So you could always switch up a meal or two with a food puzzle to keep your cat on their toes.

Add some safe, cat-friendly indoor plants

A green, leafy indoor space brings a ton of benefits. It helps you feel calmer, adds a gorgeous touch to your home, and also helps keep your cat engaged.

A cat explores the plants in their indoor garden

Your feline friend firstly benefits tremendously from the sensory stimulation. They’re also more likely to investigate and be on the move if you include indoor plants that are safe for cats. Plants like areca palms and bromeliads (and even catnip) are non-toxic and safe for your feline friend to sniff, swat at, and even swallow. Plus, an indoor garden can help your cat get a cool-off zone after exercise and help them decompress.

Add some activity to your cuddle time with your cat 

Your cat learns how to adapt to your habits – and we totally get it if you prefer to cuddle while comfy on a couch or a bed. But if you want to get them to exercise a bit, consider using a laser point or a toy on a string to encourage your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Dedicate a few minutes of play each day with your cat and watch them unleash the power of the pounce!

Encourage your cat to explore the great outdoors

A simple way to get your cat more exercise and also fulfill their hunting instincts is to let them outdoors more often. Besides getting physically active, your cat benefits from the natural sunlight, exposure to nature, and gets to interact with other animals and their surroundings. Spending too much time indoors can even make them feel bored, anxious, or stressed.

In fact, even indoor cats like to have a territory to patrol and defend – no matter if it’s just your backyard. So if you’re just introducing them to the outdoors, start with supervised outdoor activities like a walk in your garden and then eventually your neighborhood or local park. The new sights, smells, and sounds will stimulate your cat’s senses and give them a healthy dose of exercise in a controlled and safe environment.

Initially, as you introduce your cat to the outdoors, we’d recommend investing in a secure harness and leash to prevent them from bolting. Over time, as your cat grows more independent, you could try and let them head outside unsupervised too. We cover some tips on how to create a safe environment for your outdoor cat in greater detail.

Because exploring the outdoors can also come with its challenges: predators, pests, pesticides, people, and more. So if you’re looking for complete peace of mind as a cat parent, check out the Tractive cat GPS tracker. It includes LIVE tracking, which updates your cat’s location every 2-3 seconds – and also Wellness Monitoring features which track your cat’s activity levels and quality of sleep.

Tractive CAT Mini GPS tracker with a safety collar

Know everywhere your cat goes

See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.

Discover Cat GPS Trackers

Is catnip a safe option to get your cat to exercise?

Catnip is a herb that’s a member of the mint family – and it releases a scent that resembles feline sex hormones. When your cat sniffs it, they might get an instant energy boost and become more playful. Which might help them get a bit more exercise and be more on the move.

Around 75% of cats respond to the essential oil contained within catnip, called nepetalactone. You might’ve heard of catnip’s rather entertaining effect on cats – but whether yours will respond to it actively (or not) may depend on their temperament:1

  • If your cat has a bit more of a laid-back personality, they might actually relax, stretch, or even drool as a result of being exposed to catnip.
  • On the other hand, other cats might get an instant energy boost and might lick, rub, and roll around the plant instead. They might also vocalize and run around your house.

(See why it’s a smart idea to observe your cat’s personality before building an exercise plan for them?)

So depending on whether you think your cat might snooze or move to catnip, you could sprinkle a little on their toys, treats, or scratch posts. If your cat is a bit more on the outgoing side, a bit of catnip can be just the little push they need to get moving. Just be mindful not to overdo it, as some cats can get overstimulated from exposure.

How to get your cat to exercise – and not hate it

A cat carries a string toy in their mouth to play

Whether you want to exercise your cat for shedding some pounds or just getting more active, it helps to stay realistic. Here are a couple of factors to keep in mind:

Keep your weight loss expectations realistic

Rapid weight loss can increase your cat’s risk for developing conditions like fatty liver syndrome. Rather, aim for gradual weight loss – just 1-2% of their body weight per week.

Don’t try to do too much all at once 

Like we’ve covered, cats are creatures of habit. So a change in routine can be highly stressful for them. If you’re, say, forcing your cat to socialize or interact with you to get them to exercise more, they might respond defensively. Which might look like hissing or even scratching to protect their boundaries.

So start slow and go one step at a time. Your cat might be suspicious of a new toy or scratching post and might not want to interact with them. Spend some time familiarizing them with this change in routine so they can warm up to it more. With time, they’ll start to associate it with a positive experience – aka, spending more time with you.

Reinforce your cat’s behaviors when they cooperate

Change can be stressful for all of us – and especially your cat. But with a few tweaks, you can make exercise an enjoyable experience for them. So when they respond to playtime and get on the move, make sure to reinforce this behavior. Offer your cat a ton of pats and praise – and consider rewards outside of simple treats.

If you’re looking for a fun way to positively reinforce your cat’s behaviors, cat clicker training is a great option. It helps you communicate your expectations to your cat in a clear, consistent way. And because it’s based on positive reinforcement, it can help you spend more quality time with your cat and deepen your bond.

Make exercise with your cat a team effort

It can be tempting to nudge your cat to exercise more from the comfort of your couch. After all, with Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features, you can easily check their sleep and activity levels via the app. But your cat might be more encouraged to stay on the move if you accompany them every step of the way.

A cat walking outdoors with their parent, wearing a leash and harness

So make exercise a team effort – take your cat out on walks with a safe harness and location tracker in case they get lost. Play with them in your backyard to get them used to the outdoor space. Get your loved ones in on the fun – and make caring for your feline friend a family-wide effort.

How monitoring your cat’s exercise can help you stay motivated

One of the biggest problems with exercise for humans and cats alike? Staying motivated to stick to a new routine. Your cat might cooperate some days – and hiss and bat at you on others. Over time, you want to gradually release responsibility and let them decide how they want to get their exercise. And with a pet activity tracker, you can stay on top of their exercise and motivate them even better.

Tractive Activity Monitoring feature on mobile app, with an outdoor cat in the background

With Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features, you get a picture of how active your cat has been, set daily goals for them, and compare how they’re doing to other pets.

You can even check what times of day (or night) your cat has been most active and adjust their exercise routine accordingly. And if you’re consulting with your local vet on their dietary options, your Tractive Calories metric helps you estimate how many your cat has burned (including during naps).

But the best part? The little circle around your cat’s picture fills up gradually the closer they get to their goals. So you can stay motivated to encourage them to exercise for the long run.

Regular activity monitoring can even save your cat’s life

Activity tracking can also help you catch on to changes in your cat’s exercise levels. Like, for example, if they’re sick or injured, you might see a sudden drop in their activity levels. So you can catch on to these problems quickly and drop by your local vet immediately.

In fact, one of Tractive’s Netherlands-based pet parents shared how her cat’s Wellness profile helped her catch an illness early on because of a change in her regular activity.

With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day. On the second night, she didn’t leave the garden at all. Which struck me as odd, since she’s an outdoor cat and on the move quite often.

So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!

Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all – I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day. At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.

We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time. A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.

Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. All I have to do is check where she is and call her over to give her the antibiotics.

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Create the purr-fect routine – and get your cat to exercise in no time

Getting your cat to get moving shouldn’t be a challenge. By adapting any new exercise routine to their personality, getting a bit more interactive during playtime, introducing them to the outdoors, and monitoring their activity levels, you can help them stay fit and happy. Just remember to be patient and persistent – every little step towards a healthier, more active cat definitely counts.

Looking for a bit of inspiration when it comes to playing with your cat? Here are 5 easy games you can play together with your cat at home: