Have You Ever Asked, “How Much Exercise Does My Cat Need?”

It’s especially important to know this answer if you have an indoor cat. When a cat has regular access to the world outside your home, he gets much more exercise than a cat who stays inside all day. Ror that indoor cat you might need to ask, “How much exercise does my cat need?”

I needed an answer to this question, too, and when I did the research, the answer surprised me. According to my reference sources, an indoor cat should get an average of 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

chart of running cats

That doesn’t seem like a lot. Thirty minutes should be doable, even for someone who works all day. It’s recommended that you set up play sessions that are about 10 minutes long, and repeat for a total of three times a day. Just be sure the cat stays very active during that time period.

Older cats will prove more interested in sleeping, but still, they need exercise, too. Make sure they are active for at least 15 minutes every day, chasing feathers or balls or some other favorite toy. Play sessions don’t have to last long; in fact, the cat may signal when he’s had enough.

Why Is Exercise Important For Cats?

All cats need exercise to stay healthy and happy. Here are some reasons for its importance:

Fat white cat
  • Helps protect cat from health problems. Lack of kitty exercise can lead to such health problems as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. One way regular exercise helps stems from helping control weight. Overweight kitties become much more prone to health difficulties.
  • Helps Avoid Depression. Boredom can lead to depression, so it becomes quite important to find ways to get kitty to exercise. Because exercise improves production of serotonin, it keeps depression at bay. Serotonin helps stabilize mood and improve sleep, appetite, and digestion.
  • Exercise also ensures good muscle and bone health and abets coordination when kitty stalks, chases, or attacks prey.
  • Helps In Avoiding Obesity. Of course, we all know from our human experience that exercise helps burn calories which can develop into fat. One danger from obesity stems from its ability to affect kitty’s health negatively.
  • An obese cat can develop heart disease. Being a fat cat can also lead to behavioral problems such as scratching furniture or the floor.
  • Helps Improve Your Cat-Human Bond. Playtime provides pleasure for your cat while improving health at the same time. Because the exercise of play becomes so enjoyable, it follow that such togetherness can strengthen your cat-human bond.

Suggested Ways To Exercise An Indoor Cat

You can find many ways to help your cat get exercise. Besides being good for the cat, these allow you positive interaction time together. The following will give you helpful suggestions you may not have considered:

Leash Training: I’m working on this one with Mocha. He really enjoys going out on his leash, as he wants outside badly, and going out on the leash at least presents a compromise. He likes the smells out there, and the access to fresh grass to nibble.

White cat on leash

Just make sure you have a harness from which he can’t escape. If Mocha escaped, I fear he’d be gone. He’s so quick! While on the leash, he’s effortlessly jumped to the top of my 6-foot fence gate. Once, he tried climbing the mesh of the horsewire fence, but fell off at about the 3-foot mark.

Nonetheless, just make sure the harness is escape-proof. Start getting him used to the harness indoors, and once he becomes used to it, you can attach the leash and take him outside.

Clicker Training: Teaching your cat to respond to clickers can prove helpful. For example, you can teach him to sit or shake hands. Kitty might enjoy the stimulus of learning something new, and the interaction will increase your bond.

Laser Pointers: Many cats can’t resist that moving light. In fact, a friend told me about a fox who stole dog food from his porch. One day he got out the laser pointer, and the fox chased it just as enthusiastically as any cat.

Wand toy and laser toy

My Mocha loves to chase that little light, but he’s added a new twist. I start him running in the living room and lead him with the pointer through the house and to the far side of the office — in effect, the full length of the house.

He chases either direction with wild abandon, but ends up outrunning the light toward the end of the route. Funny! Oh, well, purpose served — I got him to run.

Cat Puzzle Toys: These may provide a little exercise, but I believe they find the experience of retrieving the kibble the best part. However, it’s a diversion, and helps stave off boredom.

I’ve also used a muffin tin with a couple of pieces of kibble in each compartment and a cat toy on top. He’ll remove the toy to get to the treat.

Wands Or Fishing Pole Toys: These, to me, are the classic cat play toy. Try to make the object on the end of the toy move or act like prey. Entice your cat to chase. Movement becomes the watchword here. Getting kitty to follow that toy-on-a-string can prove very beneficial.

One of my favorite fishing pole toys is “Da Bird.” When I get that bird moving like it’s flying around the room, Mocha will do some incredible leaps to try to catch it. What fun for both of us!

Cat Exercise Wheels: If you can teach your cat to use such a wheel, you’ve given him an excellent way to get his exercise. Training suggestions often come with the wheel, so give it a try.

black cat on exercise wheel

Catio: My big plan for this spring involves getting a catio built right outside the office window. Mocha will find great delight in his own outside spot, I’m sure. Since I’m concerned both for the birds in the neighborhood and for Mocha’s desire to explore, I’ve decided the catio offers protection.

Shelves and Perches: Being up high, for a cat, offers a great view of the world from above, a good place to nap, and a protected spot away from any others…including his human. My cat sits in all my window sills, plus he can jump from counter to fridge to top of kitchen cabinets. Cool!

2 black cats on cat tree

Cat Trees Or Towers: If my house had more room, would have one of these. Kitty can climb, scratch, nap, or play with a favorite toy on his own bit of furniture. The extra scratching posts on the “tree” could save your furniture, and kitty will feel safe up there.

Wind-Up Toys: Any toy that is motorized or winds up might be great, as they could more closely resemble the movement of prey. Also, the cat can play with them without you, once you have them turned on. I’ve not tried such a toy on Mocha, but may go for that next.

Does Your Cat Play By Himself?

A younger cat often invents his own games, such as playing with a toy in and out of a box. Mocha loves his toy springs, and one day I watched him push a spring out in the middle of the floor, then pounce on it. He “practised” several times, perfecting that important pounce. Too cute!

If you keep him interested by changing out toys regularly or finding new ones, even home-made, he may do quite a bit of his exercising alone. If you are lucky enough to have such a cat, celebrate.

Can A Cat Get Too Much Exercise?

Yes, there’s a possibillity of overexercising the cat. If kitty is panting, it’s a sign of overheating and perhaps exhaustion. Let kitty rest. If the condition persists or other symptoms occur, call the vet.

Most cats will stop before reaching this point, but if he’s having too much fun, he might continue. Know when it’s time to close the session.


Kitty exercise is important, even vital, if you have an indoor cat. Play with your kitty for a few short sessions every day. You will help keep him healthy, guard against boredom and depression, and strengthen your bond with your cat. Enjoy him…the play will be good both of you!

References I used for this post:


4 thoughts on “Have You Ever Asked, “How Much Exercise Does My Cat Need?””

  1. Great post! I LOVE the anecdote about the fox. My horse-woman niece tells me that even horses will play with laser spots.

    I would heartily recommend this post to any new cat-adopter. Another thing I would recommend is adopting two littermates–they will entertain each other for hours, wrestling, teasing, chasing.

    • Thanks, Mary. Yes, I was quite astonished at the man’s telling us that the fox went nuts over that light. So cute and funny! AND, I think it’s a good idea to recommend that a new cat adopter get two cats. Then you will know they get plenty of exercise…and the companionship must mean a lot as well.

  2. BTW, regarding laser-pointer play: I’ve often read bits in historical works about cats playing with a sunbeam. I’m convinced that what the authors actually are referring to is the cat chasing a reflected sunbeam from a small mirror or other reflective surface. Before laser pointers, my husband used his watch crystal to cast a light-up dot. AND; I refuse to believe that laser-pointer play is frustrating or harmful to the cat. I knew a cat who would go to the drawer where the laser pointer was kept and claw at it to get her owner to get the pointer and play. And I sometimes would give my kitties some kibble at the end of a play session, so they wouldn’t be frustrated.

    • I think you are right. Mocha expects me to play with him with the laser light every day. He uses it as an “excuse” to run the full length of the house. As he always outruns the light at the end, I think it’s just an excuse to run.


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