Exercise for Couch Potato Cats

Many is the cat owner who comes home to find the resident feline sprawled out on the couch -- in exactly the same place it was several hours before. If this sounds familiar, then your cat is probably in need of a little feline physical fitness.

Exercise is beneficial to your cat in several ways. For one, it can alleviate the boredom that sometimes leads to bouts of bad behavior, says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist at The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. A little workout might ward off situations that involve chewing the legs of your dining room chairs, swinging on curtains, playing with your clothing, and so on.

Regular exercise can also keep your pet healthy and prevent disease. According to Peterson, heavier cats face a higher risk of developing heart problems and feline diabetes. And the more your cat exercises, the greater its muscle strength and flexibility, says James R. Richards, a veterinarian and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. "A lot of cats live indoors these days, which is beneficial for their health in terms of keeping them away from infectious agents outdoors. But we have a lot of bored, fat, couch potato cats out there. The high point of their day is when they jump off the couch and head to the feeding dish."

Consider it your job to keep your cat interested in some sort of exercise, says Jean Duddy, DVM, a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. "If your cat tends to be sedentary and you don't change that pattern, it will remain sedentary," she says. "Keep at it even when your cat walks away."

Experiment with different toys until you find some that capture your cat's interest and excitement. Some felines love interactive wand-like gadgets that prompt them to leap in the air, while other cats prefer to sit in hiding and pounce on objects, says Peterson. "Even older cats can be enticed to play with most wand toys," Peterson says. "But regardless of age, what's most important is to make exercise a routine part of the day. An adult cat will benefit from at least twice-a-day play sessions, preferably at set times." To keep things fun, rotate the toys on a weekly basis so that boredom doesn't set in. 

Finally, if your cat is already overweight, be sure to speak to your veterinarian before jump-starting a regular exercise routine. Your vet can rule out any underlying medical issues that should be treated, or considered, in advance.

How to best bond with your new cat

Becoming a new cat owner is an exciting experience. Your kitten can become a happy new addition to your family, as long as you start by making your new pet comfortable in her surroundings and take the time to bond with her.

Prepare Ahead of Time
Laurie Donovan, DVM, recommends a few preparations to help ease the transition prior to bringing your new cat home. “The items you really need are food and water bowls and litter boxes, and you should always buy one more litter box than the amount of cats you have,” she suggests. “It’s also advised to purchase a scratching post as well. Cats like to jump on counters and shelves, so make sure to safely put away any valuable, breakable objects and tuck away any exposed wires.” 

It’s a good idea to ask around for veterinarian recommendations early, too, so you have one ready to evaluate your new cat during the first week.

Start Small
After you bring your cat into your home, it’s smart to keep him confined to one area at first, to help get him acclimated. “Make sure to lead your new cat to where the litter box is located, and show him a few times,” says Donovan. “Try to keep loud noises and activities to a minimum as to not spook the new cat while he explores.”

Of course if you already have a cat at home, introductions can be a bit more intense. Here’s how to keep the harmony in a house full of cats.

Show Your Affection … the Right Way
Creating a level of trust between you and your cat takes patience and positive integration. “Pet him when it seems he wants to be touched -- forcing it may just make him run away and hide,” says Donovan. “You can use toys that have the human-cat interaction, such as a laser pointer, and a stick with a cat nip mouse or feather attached to the end.” Cats are very sociable, and with a little time they will learn to love your company and become a perfect addition to your home!

Children and New Cats

Whether through serendipity, regular visits to shelters or cat breeders, or simply the persistent child who attracts all stray cats within a 10-mile radius, parents may find themselves in a home with a new cat in one corner and an eager child in the other. If you find yourself in this situation, you may also wonder about the challenges that arise after the wonder of the new arrival has worn off. Here are some suggestions to help you maintain harmony between your child and the new feline member of the family.

First, get the whole family together and make a list of the cat's needs. Then use this list to assign responsibilities. Even allowing for individual interests and abilities, children should be at least eight to 10 years old before becoming primary caretakers for any pet. However, there are a number of responsibilities children can handle at a younger age, as long as they are overseen by parents.

Cats must be fed regularly, and their dishes washed. Water bowls should also be washed every day, and rinsed and refilled several times a day. The litter box (or, ideally, litter boxes)--no one's favorite chore--should be scooped daily and periodically washed and refilled. The floor surrounding the box will need sweeping or vacuuming every day. Cats also enjoy--and benefit from--regular grooming. This includes brushing and nail clipping. The coats of longhaired cats will require more attention than shorthaired cats. Any procedure that may potentially cause pain, such as combing through knotted hair or trimming nails, should be performed by an adult.

Next, consider your new pet's tolerance for physical contact. While some cats seem to enjoy being cuddled for long periods, others simply do not. A forcibly restrained cat will naturally push against the holder with her claws, scratching as she jumps away. Even young kittens may bite when stressed. Timid kittens or cats react to physical attention by hiding for long periods. To keep children safe and cats content, the family can discuss these issues--and their possible solutions--together. Nails can be trimmed and kept relatively dull. Most important, children may need to understand that cats have individual needs, and for some that includes not being picked up. Instead of carrying a kitten everywhere, children can be enlisted to play with her, perhaps even making new toys for the cat. Homemade toys can include stuffed animals or dangling fishing pole creations using feathers and bells. Give the cat a little box or bed in each room that's a "safe haven," and then make sure the children understand the cat must be left alone whenever she's in her safe haven.

Finally, no matter how much your kids promise and no matter how much they love the cat, it is ultimately your responsibility to care for any pet. Check every single day to make sure all the cat's needs have been met. You owe it to the cat. It's OK to leave the dirty dishes piled up in the sink for a week to make a point about responsibility. But it's unfair to the cat to leave her unfed, unbrushed, unloved, or her box unscooped, just to teach your kids a lesson. Caring for a pet helps children develop empathy for another living creature. With the help of parents, that relationship can lead to lifelong benefits for everyone.

What Purring Means

Purring is not a part of every cat's repertoire of social communication, but it is one of the most common. Not a great deal is known about the mechanics of purring, but purring is generally associated with contentment and happiness in cats.

Interestingly, though, purring is sometimes heard in cats that are severely ill or anxious, perhaps as a self-comforting vocalization.

Vocal cats use vowel sounds to indicate their desires. The subtle differences in sound communicate commands as well as requests and complaints.

In the wild, vowel sounds are restricted to kittens, but the process of domestication has extended this method of communication well into adulthood.

Adult cats also create high-intensity sounds by changing the shape of their mouth. Hisses and grumbling are the most common examples, used primarily between cats as a means of communicating aggressive or defensive intentions. Cats in heat and feral strays also use this form of communication.

How Cats Interact With Us

Cats were domesticated more than 5,000 years ago, when the ancient Egyptians realized cats were deserving of their homes and their devotion. The domesticated cat has come a long way since those days along the Nile, but the responsibility we have to care for and love our cats hasn't diminished.

There's no question that cats love and need us, but often this must be on their own terms. It's important to give your cat the space she needs to be herself. With a new cat, let her get used to your home on her own before you introduce her to the rest of your family. Respect the time it takes a cat to become familiar and feel safe with you. By earning her trust this way, your cat will form a closer bond with you.

With children, a bond develops faster than you could imagine, but you must to establish boundaries for both your children and the cat that limits their time together. Too much time with the kids could suffocate your cat's need to be alone, causing your cat to separate herself from your family as much as possible.

As irresistibly cute as cats are, one cannot help but want to hold them. If you aren't careful, though, you could hurt your cat and cause her to be afraid of you. Your cat will come to you when she wants to snuggle. Let her pick the time.