4 min read

How Much Exercise Do Cats Need?


By Adam Lee-Smith

Published: 04/09/2021, edited: 11/01/2022

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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While they may seem content lazing around the house all day, cats need exercise to stay healthy and happy. Your little lion should exercise regularly — otherwise, they could become overweight, leading to health problems like diabetesheart disease, and arthritis later in life.

Another reason your cat needs plenty of exercise is they'll get bored without it, which could lead to depression and overeating. A bored cat may lash out at their family and develop destructive habits. Obesity in cats is a serious problem, too. A study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) in 2018 estimated as many as 60% of cats in the US are overweight.

So how much exercise do cats need? And how can you keep your tiny tiger stimulated both physically and mentally? Read on to find out!

How much playtime does a cat need per day?

Answer: At least 30 minutes per day, split up into increments of 10–15 minutes.

The amount of exercise your cat needs depends on their age and health. Most experts agree that cats should get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. However, older cats and those with health problems may need less exercise.

Unlike dogs, cats aren't built for long bouts of vigorous exercise. Split up play sessions into increments of 10 to 15 minutes long. Keep things fresh with a variety of toys and games. Wands and teasers are great for encouraging your cat to chase and get moving, while puzzles toys are a "furrific" way to stimulate your kitty's mind.

Gray and white cat playing with toy on string on outside on grass

How to get your lazy cat to exercise

Many cats won't exercise without motivation, so you'll need to encourage Smudge to stay active by playing with them. 

Pet parents with a house cat should try to play with their feline fur-baby for short periods. If your cat gets bored and walks away, don't fret — cats get tired of games quickly and don't need extended periods of activity. If your cat is wary of a new toy, try rubbing a bit of catnip on it.

To keep your cat interested, mix things up with different activities. Games that let your cat chase, pounce, and jump are sure to keep their attention. These activities simulate hunting and are easy ways to get your cat to exercise. 

It's also worth considering what time of day you play with your feline friend. Cats are crepuscular, meaning they're most active during the twilight hours. Pet parents looking for the best time to play with their kitty should try during sunrise and sunset.

Do outdoor cats need exercise?

Many outdoor cats get adequate exercise while hunting and skulking around your neighborhood. That said, you might want to play with your outdoor cat regardless to ensure they're staying active. 

You can't guarantee your cat is exercising when they're outside — they might just be lazing around in the sun. Plus, playing with your cat is also a great way to bond with your feline. 

Can you overexercise a cat?

It's possible to overexercise a cat. Panting is one sign of overheating and exhaustion. If it's a hot day or your cat is overweight, panting can signal that your cat isn't getting enough oxygen.

You should take your cat to the vet if they don't stop panting soon after play or begin to exhibit other symptoms of exhaustion, like staggering, vomiting, and coughing. Panting can also signify an underlying medical issue, such as an infection or heart disease. 

Gray tabby cat sitting in a basket playing with colorful string toy above head

The best toys for keeping your cat active

Keeping a cat interested in play is more complicated than it sounds, and some felines can be pretty picky over their toys. Cats love climbing, scratching, jumping, and batting, so pick a toy that fits their interests. Here are a few of the best toys for encouraging a cat to play and exercise.

A cat tower

A large cat tower is a must for any house cat, as this gives them somewhere to climb, scratch, and play with their favorite toys. Cat towers also help keep Simba healthy, as they provide scratching posts where your cat can shed their claws. They also give cats somewhere high up to sit so they can feel safe.

Wands and laser pointers

On your next trip to the pet store, pick up a toy with a feather, as this is sure to trigger your cat's hunting instinct. Pet stores now stock laser pointers specifically for cats, and many felines can't resist chasing a glowing red dot around the living room. Remember, when the game is finished, point the laser on a cuddly toy or cushion, so your cat can pounce and 'win' the game!

Wind-up toys

Motorized and wind-up toys are also a good choice, as they simulate the movement of prey in the wild. Motorized toys are ideal for busy pet parents as they help cats exercise without any human interference. Puzzle toys that dispense treats are also great as they keep your cat active while providing mental stimulation. 

That being said, some cats prefer the simple things, and an old cardboard box can provide them with hours of entertainment!

Related: Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Think your cat isn't getting enough exercise? Use Wag! Vet Chat to get expert advice and help your cat feel like their old self again.

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