How To Get An Older Cat To Exercise And Have Fun

Older cats can be difficult to exercise. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do. When my older cat just wouldn’t exercise or move much I needed to know what to do to help her.

To get your older cat to exercise you need to encourage it little and often, take their mobility needs and age into consideration and give it time and patience. Your seniors also need a variety of activities to keep them occupied and active. These include toys, games, and daily movement, and also mental stimulation.

I love senior cats they are very special. As they get older they do need more attention and time put to them so that they are stimulated and move and exercise. Depending on the cat their mobility can be good or it can diminish. When exercising them you need to take this into account. Sometimes it’s little more than a few pats with the paw.

How To Get An Older Cat To Exercise

I have used all the techniques mentioned here with the senior cats mentioned in this article. So I know they work well with seniors of different personalities and ages. Each cat is different in personality and ability so it’s best to adapt your methods to what your cat enjoys. However, some things like a love of boxes and the desire to hunt are part of their nature.

Names & Ages Of The Cats In This Article

Here I use my own cats Holly and Boo, and sometimes my sister’s cats Katniss and Scarab, and mum’s cat willow as examples of how to exercise a senior cat.

  • Boo from til 11 -14 years old. Senior cat. Pure marshmallow.
  • I had Holly from 16 to almost 21. She was a super senior cat. Very willful and independent.
  • My sister’s cats are 7, which here is still considered senior here although I’ve noticed now in some places it’s now 11 as cats live longer senior is defined as older. Still young and boisterous.
  • My mum’s cat Willow is 12. She is a senior cat. Adorable, affectionate a real lady. Likes occasional play.

Your Cats General Health Level

Your cat’s general health will make a huge difference to how much they exercise. And this varies so much from cat to cat. At the same age, Willow, Boo, and Holly all have vastly different abilities.

One of the things I noticed in my cats as they got older was that they had more health issues and when these occurred you couldn’t really see them but my cat’s behavior changed.

Holly had arthritis she went from a very active outdoor cat to a very inactive indoor cat. I’d picked up on her arthritis early but the speed she went downhill was frightening, in a matter of about 3 months she went from a very active cat to one in constant pain. The vets had prescribed Metacam for her to help her with the pain.

Boo however had much higher activity levels even though he was very ill. He was much younger than Holly. Boo was a pure indoor cat for many years and was not in good condition when he came to me.

A Depressed Cat Will Not Want to Exercise

I wanted to mention that if your cat is depressed it can affect its desire to move and exercise. Much like us they mope about and look sad. If you think this is the case please take them to the vets to make sure there are no underlying health issues. Depression will stop your cat from wanting to move around and exercise.

Variety Is The Spice of Life

Variety is very important to stimulate the mind of your cat. If your cat has an active mind it will more likely want to play. Give them variety both while exercising and while they are doing other things to keep their mind busy. Let them look at birds or trees moving. Give them puzzles. Give them attention.

How Much Exercise Does A Senior Cat Need?

The amount of exercise your senior cat needs will reduce as they get older. This varies greatly depending on your cat and how healthy it is, and its age.

Older Cats Like Small Amounts Of Fun

Small bouts of exercise work well for older cats. Little and maybe a few times a day is the key.

Holly, as she got older, would move less and less sometimes a game of pouch for her was little more than a few paws stabs and that was enough. Well, she was nearly 21 bless her.

Variety Is (Sometimes) The Spice of Life For Cats

Yes, cats love routine. However, for exercise, they need both their body and mind to be stimulated so it’s good to vary the games you play with them and what you do in each session.

Have Patience With Getting Them To Engage

I find you need the patience to get your senior cat to exercise. Oh, and I so don’t have it. It’s a case of, ‘It’s been five minutes! Pounce already,’ lol. In that time if been waving things around dragging them back and forth twisting them, scratching them over things, and trying to be like prey as much as possible.

Sometimes it’s just not the right time and they are not in the mood.

What to Use to Exercise Your Senior Cat

Fun Cat Toys

Cat toys! How much money have you spent on them for your cat to simply sniff them and walk away, lol? Yes been there and got the t-shirt, actually a whole lot of them!

Every cat is different. However, if you study cats they all have similar instincts even our precious older cats. If you can tap into those instincts you can get your cat to exercise even if only for a short while. Sometimes that takes a lot of time and experimentation.

Some Cats Like One Toy

Willow playing with her new Xmas present. Later abandoned, lol.

Willow has tons of pounce sticks. those sticks with a string and something fluffy on the end. Yes, she really only ever likes and plays with one of them. I like to use these because you can adapt play to your cat’s abilities and energy levels. They can really run and pounce or do shorter distances if they are not as energetic. Also, when they are lying on their backs grabbing at it it’s still the movement of their whole body.

If you act like prey by keeping jumping and twitching the stick and moving backward your cat will usually chase it. Unless it’s really had enough. Sometimes you can encourage them by changing location or tactics but sometimes they won’t chase it. Let your cat decide. Maybe try again in a few minutes.

Boo liked those tiny soft mice. But only one specific sort. These are very versatile toys and great for cats of all ages. The main picture is Willow playing with her mouse.

Tents & Cubes Make Exciting Play

I’ve found tents & cubes to be very popular. So has my sister. Actually, it was her that started me on them.

Sometimes our cats will entertain themselves with it. Sometimes I use a dangly cat toy and shake it over the top of the cube. The cube makes noise as it’s touched which attracts the cat’s attention and they pounce and dive through the cube center. Or they lie in the cube bopping the enemy.

Or I hang the toy just behind the cube hole or inside the cube and make jumping movements with it like prey and my cat goes for it. Then I move it and it chases.

I’ve found cubes to work with any age and ability of a cat as it’s up to the cat what activity level it uses. There’s not so much jumping and running involved (except my sister’s cats they go mad with it but they are younger). All our cats like them except Willow.

Cat Scratching Posts & Climbers Make Great Cat Gyms For Cats Of All Ages

Katniss On My Climber

I use these in combination with string or the pounce sticks with the fluffy or feather ends and sometimes mice. I put the toy around the base and flip it in and out for them to chase. Sometimes I encourage them to jump up a rung.

Also, I place mice at different levels on the climber so that my cat stretches to get to it. This has varying degrees of success. But cats do like to knock things off so it may work for your cat.

Stairs For Cat Games

You can use stairs to exercise your cat if you have them. Providing your cat is capable of stairs. I don’t have a very good track record with stairs myself so I always prefer for the cat to be on the stairs but ideally not me! So do this with caution and safety. I have a carpet so it’s not too slippery for my cat some surfaces may not be suitable.

Holly got to the point where clearly stairs were an issue due to her arthritis so I would use a stick with a fluffy snake on and run it up and down the rails from below. she would pounce on it and put her paws through to catch the prey. This way she exercised but not too much.

With Boo it’s a case of standing at the bottom and throwing the ball to the top. He would run after it. I’d have several balls as he would come back down again without it. I told him he should bring the ball to me, but he didn’t listen, lol.

And I then have to go up the stairs to fetch them. I use ping pong balls for cats. They always work the best. They seem to be just the right size weight and movement to attract the cat and make it want to chase it and pounce. Whether that be on the stairs or a flat surface.

Ping pong balls are quite fast though and may not suit all cats as they get older.

Exercising, Technology & The Modern Cat

My cats don’t do technology. I remember Boo with the yellow cat plate with a tail underneath. He looked at it put his paw out then walked off, never to touch it again. Willow however loves technology. She has one of these and plays with it for ages as do my sister’s cats. I think these are a fantastic toy for an older cat because they are static so an arthritic cat can stay in one place or just run a short distance and they come at different speeds.

Willow also has one of the snake tubes with balls in the lights up.

My sister’s cats love lasers. She dims the lights sits on the couch and aims it at the floor shifting it around for them to chase. They love it. Even older cats love some laser activity. For best results always give them something solid at the end so they have their prey, It is unhealthy for cats just to chase lasers without something solid.

Improvising Cat Games

Anyone with a cat has likely seen the funny cartoons of cats where their owner has spent a fortune on a fancy cat climber or bed and the cat is blissfully playing with the box it came in. They are always really funny because they are true.

I’ve found improvising works as long as you are safe and careful.

I use string. Cats love string. I found my cats loved string sometimes more than the toys.

Precautions I take: You have to be careful the string doesn’t drop bits and is safe. I only allow string that is thicker if I am there playing and play in a way my cat won’t get tangled.

The crumpled paper also works well. Do with supervision.

Boxes of course, How could I forget boxes. You can just let your cat jump in or out or combine it with a cat teaser pounce stick. Or put a hole in it and turn it upside down.

Flies Real And Imagined

Sometimes flies get into the house. Cats love flies and it will keep them occupied for ages watching planing the pounce and chasing them. This still applies to older cats. For those of you with outdoor time, the same also applies.

Integrate Exercise Into Your Cats Daily Routine

If you have an older cat they may not want to play as much or as long. So you can add movement to their day.

I used Holly’s cat bed as exercise. She had a kennel-shaped bed because she felt secure and I was worried about her staying warm and cozy. When she was younger (16) she would jump the full height of the 4 tiered unit onto her bed.

As she got older the distance lessened. I moved things for her so that she could jump up more easily. In my view, she shouldn’t have been jumping at all due to bad arthritis but she was exceptionally willful and determined and would always jump something if only a short distance.

Boo on the other hand was nearly always able to jump it. His favorite spot was onto of some suitcases on top of the same height units Holly’s bed had been on. As he got older he stopped being able to jump it so I set up the room so he could still have his independence and some exercise. He would jump onto the bed, then the cat climber, walk across a unit onto the suitcases/luggage which had warm blankets on for him to use.

He had the same downstairs where I work. She had to jump up to his bed but I positioned things so that they were staggered for him to climb.

Cats tend to decide their level it’s up to us to interpret and adapt to it.

You have to be careful and gauge your cat’s abilities. Some senior cats cannot jump or jump far. As they got older I made the units easier and easier for them to get to. There is a cat climber for seniors on Amazon it’s designed so they can climb without the dangers of jumping and overstretching themselves. This is adorable it’s lovely that senior cats have been thought of.

Sometimes just getting them to jump up or climb to the window helps with movement.

Use Food & Treats To Encourage Movement

I have heard people suggest treats as an incentive. Whether this works depends on the cat. Boo would run if I shouted dinner and he was downstairs but if I placed food around the house or treats he would ignore it.

Too many treats may also outweigh the benefits of the exercises!

You can put treats into puzzles to keep their minds stimulated and encourage movement.

Catching Them Right & Knowing When It’s over

Sometimes your cat just doesn’t want to exercise. It’s had enough. It’s no good trying to get them to exercise then. Try to read their mood and their schedules.

When it’s over it’s over. Sometimes you can get them to do a bit more but often they’ve had enough it’s time to let them rest.

Little and often is best and not too strenuous. As your cat gets older it may not want to do as much.

Holly was particularly difficult to exercise. When I got her she’d clearly been an active outdoor cat. Yes, age and pain and stiff old legs reduced her mobility over time. And she was not one for playing. It was hard work to get her to play.

I was lucky with Boo, once he discovered the outdoors, he loved to go out for walks on his harness. Not all cats take to the harness. This made exercising him easier.

I’d signed a contract with the charity to say he had to be an indoor cat so he wasn’t to be allowed outside alone like a normal cat. He was allowed a garden where he couldn’t get out. As my house is so tiny I wanted him to have new experiences so got him a harness. Every morning we went for a walkabout 5 am and sometimes during the day.

Anyone that’s walked a cat knows it’s completely different than a dog. We never went far, we went where he wanted to go and there was a lot of stopping. Sometimes it was less exercise and more staring at the hedge. Sometimes we ran.

I found this not only helped to exercise him but also stimulate his mind. As an indoor cat, he didn’t really get enough stimulation for my liking. Stimulation of the mind is also very important as it stops depression which will prevent your cat from exercising as they just don’t want to.

Sudden Changes In Your Cats Behavior For Exercise

If your cat suddenly changes behavior and stops wanting to exercise take them to the vet straight away there may be an underlying health issue.

Do Older Cats Need Exercise?

Older cats do need to exercise. However how much and how often depends on your cast abilities and health. As they get older they may not be able to do as much.