13 Tips for Keeping Your Cat Exercised and Mentally Stimulated

Krista Seraydar, DVM
By Krista Seraydar, DVM. Reviewed by Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Mar. 12, 2024
man playing with a brown and white tabby

iStock/CasarsaGuru

Even though cats sleep much of the day, exercising is important to their wellbeing. When cats are exercising, they’re helping maintain a healthy weight and also getting mental stimulation to keep them emotionally and behaviorally healthy.

Here are some tips on how to exercise and mentally stimulate your cats so you can maximize your play sessions.

1. Schedule Exercise for Cats When They Are Most Active

Cats are not nocturnal—they’re crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Scheduling play around these times may help keep them more interested. You can also schedule playtime around their meals so you can incorporate food into their daily enrichment.

2. Keep Play Sessions Short

While dogs are endurance animals, cats are not. So, play sessions with your cat should only be about 10–15 minutes long. Make time for two to three daily play sessions for older cats to up to 10 sessions for kittens and younger cats.

3. Know Your Cat’s Signals for Not Wanting to Play

Your cat will let you know if they are (or aren’t!) interested in playing. A bored cat will walk away or show no interest in toys.

An interested kitty will be eager to participate, bat around cat toys, chase a laser pointer, and respond positively to interaction with you (no biting/scratching/hissing, forward-facing ears, etc.).

If your cat begins panting or breathing too heavily, let them rest before resuming play. Remember: Playtime is meant to be fun for cats!

4. Don’t Use Your Hands as Toys

It’s very important to avoid using your hands when playing with cats—and kittens especially. This can lead to play aggression and lots of scratches. Instead, engage your cat with toys that are appropriate for them to scratch and bite.

5. Take Your Cat Outside (Safely!)

Just like dogs, some indoor cats will enjoy stimulating walks outside. If you want to try walking your cat, it’s important to get a harness your cat can’t wriggle out of, and test it out in your home before heading outside. There are even harnesses made specifically for walking cats.

Make sure your cat is microchipped and that your contact info is up to date in the database. It also helps to have a tag with your contact info on their harness in case they happen to get away.

You can also create a catio, an enclosed and stimulating outdoor environment. This gives your cat an opportunity to explore the outdoors while remaining active and—most importantly—safe.

Before you take them outside, make sure your cat is current on flea and tick prevention.

6. Train Your Cat To Do Tricks

Training your cat to sit, high-five, or even meow using clicker training can be a great bonding experience and can provide enrichment for both your kitty and you.

7. Chase Laser Pointers

Using a laser pointer is a great way to get your cat moving. But be sure to end every laser pointer session by giving your cat a toy they can actually get their paws on! This will allow them to feel as though they have caught their prey and keep them from becoming frustrated.

8. Set Out Cat Interactive Toys

Puzzle toys keep your cat active and provide positive reinforcement at the same time. Using puzzle toys to dole out pieces of dry food can also help slow down your cat’s eating while keeping them engaged.

Electronic toys are also fun for cats, and they provide a high-energy playtime. They can be very helpful in keeping cats entertained, but they should be interspersed with other kinds of interactive play.

9. Hide Treats, Food, and Toys

Just like puzzle toys, hiding treats, food, and toys can help cats feel like they’re hunting for their food as they would in the wild. Be sure to constantly switch out old cat toys for new ones to keep them interested!

10. Play With Teaser and Wand Toys

Wand toys (also called teasers or fishing-pole toys) allow for interactive play. These toys let your cat feel like they’re chasing and pouncing on prey while keeping their claws a safe distance from your hands.

Keep your wand toy out of your cat’s reach whenever you’re not engaging in active play. Wands are toys that require supervision to prevent accidents, like string ingestion.

11. Blow Catnip Bubbles

Some cats enjoy chasing and popping bubbles. There are bubbles that are infused with catnip to keep kitties even more intrigued.

12. Offer Vertical Spaces

Cats love to watch the world from above; this gives them a safer vantage point for hunting in the wild. Providing vertical spaces such as window shelves and perches not only gives them an ideal spot to observe from, but it can encourage them to jump and climb.

Cat trees can also provide elevated rest or play areas for your kitty. Many cat trees also have scratching posts that encourage healthy scratching behaviors.

13. Try Cat Exercise Wheels

A cat wheel is basically a much larger version of a hamster wheel, offering an excellent way for your feline friend to get in some cardio.


Krista Seraydar, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Krista Seraydar, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Krista Seraydar was born and raised in South Florida. She is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine...


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?


Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health