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Obesity and weight problems are a growing issue (pardon the pun) for humans and animals alike. It’s thought that about 40% of cats across Europe are overweight or obese. We also know that fat kittens tend to become fat adults and find it harder to lose weight, so keeping your kitten slim, active and healthy has benefits throughout its entire life.
One of the best and simplest methods of staving off weight-related ailments for your cat is exercise. By introducing different ways of keeping them active you’re not only giving them a longer life, but also a happier one.
Kittens who go outdoors
A couple of weeks after their last set of vaccinations, you may decide to start letting your kitten go outdoors. If you do, you won’t have to worry about them getting enough exercise. They'll instinctively start to roam, hunt, climb and explore at their own pace, giving themselves a natural workout in the process.
The world outside is a daunting place for a tiny kitten so always supervise them to start with. The smaller they are when they get outdoor access, the more tentatively they’ll start to explore and stay within bolting distance of home. To start with, you can just sit in the doorway and wait to see what they do. Don’t force it; let them use their natural curiosity to start with, and you’ll find that their confidence will soon grow.
Before you let your kitten out, have a good look around your garden for potential hazards. Kittens can get into some very small spaces. Having a cat flap in the long run gives them the freedom that cats love. You can use one that reads their microchip to stop unwanted imposters from coming in, too!
Kittens who live indoors
Cats love the freedom to roam and explore. Many cats that live solely indoors, especially with other cats, can become frustrated and stressed and are more likely to have behavioural problems. Think long and hard about an indoor life for your kitten and speak to your vet about any potential issues.
If you do choose an indoor life for your kitten, you'll have to work a lot harder to make sure they have an outlet for their natural predatory instincts like hunting, climbing and scratching, and make sure they get enough stimulation. Your kitten also needs exercise to keep fit and healthy. Luckily, both these needs can be met through play. All cats love to play, but for the ones who live indoors, it's absolutely vital.
The best games and toys will encourage your cat to stalk, pounce, chase and bat objects with their paws in a safe way. They'll love toys that move, so anything on a string is likely to be a big hit. You can also buy mechanical toys for them to chase around.
Your kitten will love to climb and hide, and you can encourage this behaviour by buying a cat activity centre or providing other safe places to climb. Don't forget a scratching post, too. Scratching is an essential behaviour for cats, helping them to condition their claws and mark their territory. Using a scratching post will tone the muscles in your kitten's shoulders and back, potentially saving your furniture, too!
Bear in mind that cats are clever and therefore easily bored. A good tip is to swap around the toys that you make available to your kitten so they can have some variation in their play activities.
In addition to providing stimulating toys, aim for at least 20 minutes of interactive play with your kitten each day. This is sure to keep your kitten’s muscles toned and joints flexible. It's also a great way to bond. Cats and kittens usually only want to play for about five minutes at a time, so don’t be surprised or worried if they seem easily bored. Shorter, more frequent play sessions are better than one long one.
Another key factor in keeping your kitten fit and healthy is making sure they don't become overweight. Europe's animals are getting fatter and fatter and some experts believe that domestic feline populations are carrying more weight than they should be. Neutered cats in particular are more prone to weight gain. To stop your kitten adding to this depressing statistic, just follow a few simple guidelines.
- First of all, feed your kitten a complete and balanced diet. It’s absolutely vital that they get the right balance of nutrients to ensure healthy growth. It’s also important that you feed a food that is formulated for kittens, not adult cats. Kittens’ bodies go through huge changes as they grow and mature over their first 12 months of development. They require a specially tailored diet to support this growth so that they can become a perfectly healthy cat. Ask your vet if you have any questions or doubts.
- Do not give your kitten tidbits of human food. If you want to give your kitten treats, use proper pet ones, and factor this into their daily food intake.
- Make sure your kitten gets plenty of exercise. You want to support the growth of healthy muscles, joints and bones, but also have them explore and learn about their environment and the humans and animals with which they share their home.
- Regularly check your kitten’s weight. Your vet may give you a chart to plot this on to make sure your kitten is growing at a healthy rate and isn’t getting too fat. Young animals that get fat are more likely to stay fat as adults, so keeping them slim from the start is essential.
- Getting your kitten used to being weighed monthly at the clinic or at home is useful. Weight changes are often easy to miss and can be early markers of problems, so regular weight checks are a great habit to get into (for us humans too!).
Your kitten's effect on your health
On the subject of health and fitness, did you know that owning a kitten is actually good for your health and wellbeing? For example, research shows that stroking a pet can actually make your blood pressure drop. Of course, this may not come as a huge surprise to you. After all, you don’t need scientists to tell you how happy your kitten makes you feel!
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS