How to Keep your Older Cat Healthy

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Whatever their age, cats need to keep active for their physical and mental wellbeing. Aileen Scoular explores ways to ensure your feline friend gets plenty of exercise.

Many cats live a sedentary life, particularly older pets, so it can be easy for them to become underactive and overweight. Excess weight can lead to health problems like arthritis and diabetes, so it’s always beneficial to introduce games and activities into your cat’s day to ensure she’s keeping as fit and healthy as possible. As your pet ages you can adjust how you keep her agile and active.

Treat joints gently

If your cat’s joints are a little stiff, you can help her to reach her favourite areas with a carpet-covered ramp or a small foot stool. A horizontal scratching post, or one designed at a gentle angle, is also easier to use; you can even make your own from an old piece of carpet or a sisal doormat.

Encourage climbing and jumping

Although cats have a very efficient metabolism that works even when they’re not active, indoor exercise really helps to keep them healthy. Encourage gentle play on the stairs, install a cat tree or a scratching post, or try a cat exercise wheel under supervision. Provide refuge areas above ground level to encourage climbing, with cushions or folded blankets as crash mats underneath if your cat is not as sure-footed or as strong as she used to be.

Keep play sessions interesting

Early morning and evening are when cats are naturally most active. It’s really important to make your pet’s games prey-oriented as far as you can, to kick-start the hunt and pounce instincts. The easiest way to do this is to make toys mimic the quick, fluttery actions of a bird or a mouse. Some pets will also adore chasing a toy sprayed with catnip, a natural herb that sends some cats wild! Removing your cat’s toys after each play session can make them seem more interesting, and rotating the games you play keeps them novel.

Turn feeding into a game

Reward your cat by occasionally letting her ‘win’ – hide a treat under a toy or inside a paper bag for her to hunt and enjoy during playtime. You can also turn her main meals into a game: put feeding bowls in different, easy-to-reach parts of the house, or place food on cat trees or on a low shelf to encourage gentle climbing.

Light up her life

A beam of light will fascinate even the most inactive cat! Try a laser pointer or a small hand torch and let the beam of light bounce and flick around the room. Keep the beam low to avoid accidents, and never shine it in your pet’s eyes.

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