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Home > Cats > How Much Exercise Does a Cat Need? Vet Recommendations

How Much Exercise Does a Cat Need? Vet Recommendations

cat running on exercise wheel

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Dr. Matt Kopke

Veterinarian, BVSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you ever wondered if your cat is too lazy? Well, you wouldn’t be the first.

Many people have asked this question either directly to their furry companion or, more often, to their local veterinarian. Perhaps such questioning has prompted research into the question of “How much exercise does a cat need?” or maybe it’s spawned from scientists with a raging curiosity akin to that seen in our feline friends.

While it’s generally agreed upon that cats should have a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, split into shorter increments, there are many factors that would determine how much play or exercise time a feline should have. Below, we’ll investigate the topic further and try to figure out how much or how little is enough for felines.


Why Is Exercise Important for Cats, & What Happens if You Don’t Play With Your Cat?

Obesity is a serious problem in pets worldwide, with reports of 11.5–63% of cats in developed countries being classified as overweight or obese. As in humans, obesity can increase the risk and progression of many serious diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, and even certain types of cancer, along with decreasing expected lifespan.

Housing conditions, including access to the outdoors and resultant activity levels and play behavior, are key factors influencing a cat’s risk of developing obesity.

Adequate daily exercise or play also helps establish good behavioral traits/habits. Behavioral changes or problem behaviors (e.g., scratching furniture, aggression, excessive vocalization, and being overly active at night) are often reported when play is absent from (or very limited in) a cat’s daily routine.

cat scratching furniture
Image By: RJ22, shutterstock


What Factors Influence How Active My Cat Should Be?

Firstly, age plays a massive role in the activity levels of domestic cats. Younger cats tend to be more active when compared with adults, especially geriatric cats.

Secondly, the sex of the cat can also influence how active they are, with many studies showing that female cats tend to be more active than age-matched males (although this may not always be the case).

A third factor would be the housing conditions that cats find themselves in. Cats living in smaller spaces with limited or no outdoor access are less active than cats with more readily accessible outdoor spaces and larger living areas.

Personality can be considered a fourth factor contributing to a cat’s activity levels. A fifth factor to consider is the overall state of health of a cat or the presence of comorbidities (i.e., various diseases) that can affect general well-being and, in turn, how active a cat is observed to be.

Finally, the specific dynamics of your relationship with your cat contribute significantly to your cat’s play behavior. For example, a cat owner’s schedule and, thus, hours at work versus home can have a marked effect on when and how much play behavior takes place.


How Much Exercise Does My Cat Need?

In short, no exact number can be universally applied to any cat. When it comes to the play needs of cats, little is currently known, although most veterinarians agree that a minimum of 30 minutes per day is ideal.

Previous (survey) studies have looked into how much activity is considered normal by cat owners from various countries around the world. A study in 1997 described cat owners that reported playing with their cats three times daily, with play times for each of these three sessions ranging between 20–40 minutes.

A more recent study in 2014 documented that more than half of responding cat owners played with their cats more than twice a day, but such sessions typically only lasted 5–10 minutes. While people who interacted with their cats more often during the day commonly reported fewer behavioral problems, an exact cut-off for how much play or exercise remains to be determined given the number of factors involved.

It’s also crucial to understand that the play needs of cats involve more than just human-cat play. Interactions with other cats in the household, other animals, and even play by themselves are valuable contributors to a cat’s play needs, which vary between cats.

Play behavior can also be divided into three broad categories, namely, locomotor play (e.g., running and leaping), object play (e.g., batting around a scrunched-up piece of paper or carrying around a toy mouse), and social play (e.g., wrestling with another cat, or playing with a dog or human). Ideally, cats should have access to or be able to engage in all three forms of play to meet their play needs.

cat playing with toys
Image By: winni-design, Shutterstock


What Can I Do to Increase Daily Activity Levels?

Various methods have been explored to increase voluntary physical activity in cats to help prevent or even manage obesity. One study looked at the use of a running wheel, allowing for cats enrolled in the study to become habituated to it over 3 weeks and assessing if there was any change in their activity levels.

After the habituation period, female cats showed increased voluntary physical activity levels, particularly during the dark period. In contrast, the male cats showed no change compared to their activity levels pre-habituation. Female cats were also found to be more active in general when compared with the male cats in this study. So, particularly for young female cats, introducing a running wheel may be a valuable tool to help increase activity levels.

Daytime feeding frequency has also been shown to affect physical activity in cats. One study reported that cats fed four times per day showed greater voluntary physical activity levels (i.e., greater total activity counts and average daily activity) than those provided one large meal daily.

Interestingly, cats fed four times daily also demonstrated greater activity during the daylight hours. In contrast, cats fed once daily tended to be more active during the dark hours. It has been hypothesized that this difference in activity levels is because of a difference in satiation. In other words, cats eating once a day are believed to be more satiated, while cats fed four times per day could be more active because of hunger, prompting them to engage with their environment in the hopes of being fed.

There are, of course, other means by which you can enrich your cat’s environment and hopefully help encourage increased play behavior. These include using toys or enrichment mediums such as rods or wands, catnip toys, homemade feeding devices, cat towers or trees, laser pointers, and even the good old cardboard box.



Every cat is different, and you will need to find out which forms of exercise and other potential options your cat loves and fully engages with to provide your cat with the best quality of life possible. And suppose your cat is resistant to play behavior. In that case, it may be worth talking to your local veterinarian about your cat’s environment and even assessing your cat for any comorbidities that might impact how likely they are to demonstrate play behavior.

Featured Image Credit: Dmitri Ma, Shutterstock

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