Your cat rouses from a long nap, yawns, and stands on all fours with her feet apart. She exhales while arching her back. Holding this pose for a few timeless seconds, she then inhales as she slowly curves into a concave position. She raises her head and looks up in a luxuriously slow, flowing movement.
If you swear your balletic cat just performed a perfectly lovely yoga posture, you’re right. Human yoga postures, called asanas, have been drawn from natural sources for thousands of years. It has been said there are millions of creatures—and as many yoga postures. “The Cat” asana your cat performs strengthens the back and pelvic area, promotes spinal flexibility, and energizes the feline body. It’s no wonder that humans adapted this beautiful stretch from cats.
Of course, cats don’t need exercise videos to show them how to stay in shape. Keeping fit comes naturally to them, thanks to a never-forgotten need to survive in the wild. And they manage it without doing anything resembling strenuous exercises such as aerobics or long daily runs. What’s their secret? You’ve probably already guessed that stretching is the key. Cats have the wonderful ability to gracefully stretch every part of their body so powerfully that their muscles vibrate. For people and cats, stretching movements can help strengthen muscles, reduce excess weight, and release nervous stress.
A feline preference for warmth (due to its origins in warm climates) is one theory that may help explain why cats stretch frequently. Aging cats, however, may need a little help to stay sleek and supple, especially if they live in cold climates unkind to stiff joints. You can encourage your older cat to stretch in a warm area, or invite her to join in as you stretch or perform yoga. An enticing scratching post (try a sisal-covered one with a secure base and a small amount of catnip rubbed or scattered on the post) can spark a spine-tingling stretch, or you can simply encourage your cat to reach up to you. An older female cat may enjoy balancing on her front paws while you gently stretch her back paws.
THE ART OF PLAY:
Just like us, cats need exercise to lift their spirits and keep them fit. Regular, moderate exercise is the not-so-secret key to weight control and overall health. Increased blood circulation and improved muscle tone are precious gifts to older cats, who become less mobile as arthritis sets in and muscle atrophy. People jog, bike, or swim, but a cat’s best activity is playing with you.
The act of playing comes naturally to kittens instinctively developing survival skills, but older cats who mastered these techniques long ago (and haven’t found much use for them in the meantime) may need more encouragement to get moving. This isn’t usually a problem if you’ve played together since your longtime companion was a kitten. Give him toys that invite him to stalk, climb, leap, and pounce.
Plays well with others:
Cats who play well with others enjoy interactive play with people too. Choose toys that you and your cat can play with together or toys that work well for multiple-cat households. Try a feather and felt “chaser” toy packed with catnip, kitty-size catnip pillows to swat or pounce on, or soft fabric catnip mice with leather tails.
Prefers to play alone:
Even the most independent aging cat can have a healthy appetite for play. Interest your cat in a reshapeable “messy” toy mouse made of natural sheep’s wool with a leather tail, nose, and ears; or try a full-body wrestle (front paws, hind legs) “mollusk” made from fleecy material, topped with feathers and stuffed with catnip.
Insists on playing at night:
Nighttime toys for the cat who has a sudden burst of playful energy in the wee early hours include a blinking laser ball; a catnip-refillable, glow-in-the-dark ball; and a flashing toy ball that lights upon impact.
Your cat may be older and wiser, but she still needs supervision during playtime, especially when she plays with toys containing wire, string, or mechanical parts. Remember to put these types of toys safely away when the play ends. These playthings can run the gamut from the simple and cost-free brown-paper shopping bag, cardboard box, or wad of paper on a string to commercially made cat toys. Fortunately, cats are just as content with paper bags and cardboard boxes as they are with expensive or elaborate store-bought toys. If you have a limited budget, tour pet-supply stores for inspiration, and make your own.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE :
If you’ve adopted an older cat or never thought to play with your cat during his early years, it’s not too late to start. Begin slowly, perhaps with a strip of paper to encourage the smallest swipe of a paw. Gradually increase the length of time you play with your cat. Schedule regular play sessions at approximately the same time every day to give your routine-loving cat something to look forward to besides meals. Try playing before a meal to kindle her appetite, which simulates feline predatory behavior in the wild, or play in the evening to discourage nighttime activity.
Remember to challenge your cat’s brain as well as his body. (This may call for some brain-stretching on your part, too.) Positive reinforcement is the key. For instance, choose a simple trick or action you want your cat to perform when asked and consistently reward him every time he does it. The reward doesn’t have to be a food treat; reward him with a pat or a verbal “yes!” instead. Check with your veterinarian before you enlist your cat in a feline exercise program, especially if he is overweight and sedentary or becomes easily winded and tires quickly. Once you get the green light, choose games that are appropriate for your senior’s age and condition. Start with simple exercises and slowly build up to more challenging games when your cat appears fit and ready.
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