CAT'S CORNER

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Cats Need Exercise Too

Play behavior in cats has been the subject of much scientific study and speculation. Young animals play to improve their coordination and to prepare themselves for adult life. Young lions, for example, will chase their tails to develop their predatory skills. Many aspects of play behavior are retained into adult life. Playing can provide a great source of enjoyment for both the cat and you the owner.

Cat play is an important activity for cats. All kittens play, and may keep themselves occupied by chasing balls or small toys around the room. Some older cats do not play spontaneously, and need stimulation from you. If you have an indoor cat, playing can be an enjoyable way for your cat to keep fit and healthy. In this way, you can prevent them from becoming a "couch potato puss." Cats and kittens respond to movement, and are stimulated to play by small moving objects. All pet stores and many grocery stores and pharmacies carry safe, fun toys that will get your cat moving and help you bond with your pet. Even simple household objects like scraps of crumpled up paper make good toys. It's also a good idea to keep some toys available and other out of sight, then switch them so your cat doesn't get bored with what she has. Just make sure any toys you use won't cause injury from sharp edges or swallowing. For instance, kittens are often shown playing with yarn, but this is actually dangerous, as your cat may try to swallow the yarn, which can cause very serious intestinal problems.

Your Cat And The Outside World
Generally, it's not a good idea to let your cat run free outside, as much as she might love to. There are potential predators out there and other hazards, such as cars, that could take her life. If your cat must have outside exercise time, consider building an outside protective pen. Use strong wood posts and wire netting, and make sure there are protected areas so your cat can shelter from bad weather. Ideally, the pen would have different levels for perches, and trees and posts for scratching. This would be something like play heaven for your cat.

If you must let your cat run free, and she has a collar, make sure the collar has an elastic section so she can slip out of it in case it gets caught on a fence. A nametag also is a good idea. So is a bell, although your cat won't thank you for it. A bell will help you keep track of your pet, but it will also warn potential prey -- birds and mice and the neighbor's dog -- that they're being stalked.

Of course, even letting your cat run free inside poses potential dangers. You can cat-proof your house by making sure there are no open windows your cat can slip out of. Also, make sure the washing machine and clothes dryer door is closed and there are no sharp knives out on the counter. Put away plastic bags and household detergents, and your sewing kit, and make sure no electrical cords are exposed. Secure any breakables, such as porcelain and ceramics.

Walking Your Cat
With patient training and coaching, you can get your cat to walk on a leash, though some breeds, such as Siamese, Burmese, Russian Blues, Colorpoint Shorthairs and Oriental Shorthairs, take to the leash more willingly than others. If you want to train your cat to walk on a leash, start when she's a kitten. You'll need a collar, a harness, and a leash. You'll need a harness because most cats can squeeze themselves out of collars -- and all try to.

  • Start by putting the collar on your cat for short periods over a couple of days, until she gets used to it.
  • Then try the harness for a couple days, without going for a walk.
  • Then do the same with the leash. Just put it on and let your cat get used to it.
  • After that, still inside, encourage your cat to take small walks with an enticing toy or treat.
  • Then, start with short walks outside, and work your way up to longer walks. Walk in quiet areas, and make sure your cat gets used to the idea and sound of traffic before you walk for an extended period of time next to a busy road.

Left to their own devices in the safe environment you provide them, most cats will get enough activity on their own to keep themselves fit. But by taking the time to interact and play with your cat, you'll not only get a healthier friend, but a happier one too.

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