When your indoor cat is taking up more room on the couch than you are, it may be time to become your cat's personal trainer. In addition to putting your cat on a healthy diet, give your kitty a gauntlet of activities - from stalking catnip-laced "prey" to running through a paper-bag maze to chasing the cat dancer - and watch those pounds melt away.
Boredom, loneliness, and a lack of challenge can be extremely stressful to cats. The feline
by nature is inquisitive, social, and playful, and when their lives become so isolated, without
adventures to observe or participate in, and without any trouble to get into or new things in their
environment to explore, cats can get depressed, and perhaps even feel no sense of purpose to
their lives. Often, a cat may be so fat that he or she will not participate in the usual fun activities for cats. This lack of activity can lead to cats becoming lethargic and more susceptible to illness.
Also, if cats are too overweight, they are at risk for health problems such as diabetes.
There are many reasons an indoor cat may be overweight. You may be feeding your cat inappropriate foods that are not nutritious. Lack of stimulation and exercise are also leading factors in feline obesity. There are also medical conditions that may contribute to obesity, but these are rare and are usually not the problem.
If your cat is very overweight, go to your vet and have your cat checked out and make sure he or she doesn't have any serious blood problems or other issues related to or caused by obesity. If everything checks out, then your cat needs nutritious food, exercise and fun!
When attempting to lure your overweight kitty into activity, feline behaviorists recommend you focus on "variety" and "randomness." Remember that indoor only cats left alone all day do not hear their human’s voices, observe their humans interacting, witness visitors, or even those all-important pats on the head and cuddles. Solving the issue of loneliness and sound stimulation can be as easy as adopting another cat. Taking care of two felines is not much more work than taking care of one, and the pair can keep each other company when their humans are away. Indoor cats will wrestle, chase, groom, and communicate with one another - even sleeping side by side is beneficial.
Another solution is to the indoor stimulation quandary is...toys! A variety of toys, given sporadically, then hidden for a while so they do not lose their novelty, is a must for indoor cats. Toys do not have to be expensive. Most cats love to chase wadded up aluminum foil, and chomp on plastic drinking straws. You can try hiding your cat's favorite toys before you leave in the morning, and create a sort of "treasure hunt" for him, which will engage his love of the hunt (make sure he sees you hiding at least a
few of the toys so that he gets the idea). A special new toy with fresh catnip will often keep your cat entertained for hours - be aware that most catnip sold in pet stores is old and does not have the freshness needed or most cats to truly have a reaction to it. Fresh catnip is perfectly safe, and our adult cats love
having "catnip parties" all by themselves, where they happily tear away at the toy, releasing more and more of the catnip, which they then roll in ecstatically!!
Another fun and inexpensive thing to do is to build a "maze" out of paper grocery bags (remove any handles, of course, and use tape rather than staples for safety). My son used to do this when he was younger, sometimes attaching 20 or more paper bags, with holes cut out so that the paper bag maze would wind in and our all around our living room!! Of course, little treats and toys can be hidden along the way, and several ways "out" of the maze are provided, too.
Try setting your television (or video cassette recorder) to turn on at certain times of the day while you are away, to sports stations, or animal programs that your kitty might find interesting. Or, keep the radio turned on low a couple of days a week. Also try letting your cat into your bathroom while you are gone, being sure to keep all dangerous or sharp objects carefully put away. Ping pong balls and other small round balls in a dry bathtub can be quite fun, as can a few ice cubes, before they melt!! Many cats also enjoy climbing in and out of small cardboard boxes. If you have a small stuffed animal you are willing to sacrifice, especially one with legs and a tail, you just might find your cat adopting it and mothering it!! A good rule of thumb with toys is to always have a toy for "babying", a toy for "killing or stalking" and a toy for "carrying" at any one time, rotating these stuffed toys to keep the cat's interest.
There are also a number of excellent interactive wand toys available. Playing with your cat in this way, especially before bedtime, can be enjoyable for both of you and help your nocturnal hunter to actually settle down and sleep at night! A word of warning about toys - be sure to kitty-proof your home from items that a cat may find enticing, but which are actually harmful to him, such as paper clips, rubber bands, feathers, strings, or any other small items which could
be ingested by your kitty. And for the soft toys, be sure they are labeled as safe for children under three years old as that way you will know they don't contain harmful fillings. Remember the key's to your cat's interest lie in randomness and variety.
Cat furniture is also important to the indoor feline's health - your cat has the need to climb, explore different heights and surfaces, stretch, and sharpen their claws (better on the scratching post then your couch!). A good tall cat stand with a variety of scratching surfaces will also increase your cat's sense of "territory," and will greatly add to his quality of life. Also try setting up little perches or hammocks at your windows to allow your
cat to observe of the outdoors, adding to his sources of entertainment and providing for his contentment.
Remember that your domestic feline is genetically still very closely related to his or her wild ancestors. While it is our responsibility to keep our pet kittens and cats safe and indoors, we need to respect the need for this fantastic creature to use their natural instincts to stalk, hunt, meet challenges, explore their
territory - in short, to be a healthy, happy and active cat!