Get Kitty Exercising to Trim Down

Get Kitty Exercising to Trim Down

Do cats need to exercise? My cat is overweight and I wondered if exercising would really help him lose weight, like it would for a person? If it would, what should I get him to do and for how long? I never think of cats doing anything for an extended period of time, just short bursts of activity, like chasing or climbing. Is it known, for example, how many calories a cat burns chasing a toy for ten minutes?
The short answer to the question is yes, cats do need exercise. We can conclude this because, while their digestive physiology may be unique, the cardiovascular physiology of cats appears to be similar to other mammals, such as humans. Since there are no published studies specific to cats regarding physical activity, we must extrapolate from other species.
Physical activity is well known to be of benefit to humans.¹ Regular exercise benefits the cardiovascular system, decreases overeating, decreases stress, helps to keep muscle and helps to lose fat.² Physical activity will definitely help your cat lose weight.
It is recommended for humans to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times per week. For cats, since they are much smaller, it may be more appropriate to encourage 15-20 minutes three to five days per week split into shorter sessions. Playing any of the following games can help your cat to exercise: chasing feathers on a stick or a string, chasing a remote control mouse, tossing a crinkle toy, a ball, or a toy mouse or chasing a laser toy. Don't overdo it, though. If your cat starts panting, it's time to stop.
Unfortunately, there are no studies telling us how many calories cats burn during exertion. The one thing we can calculate though is the Basal Metabolic Rate, also called the Resting Energy Requirement.³ This is the number of calories a cat would need to consume just to stay alive with no physical activity.
BW (kg)0.75 x 70 = BMR in kilocalories per day
BW is the cat's body weight in kilograms, which is pounds divided by 2.2. This is multiplied to the 0.75 power and then multiplied by 70. Here is a handy calculator for multiplying exponents, the little number in superscript. For example, using this formula, a 10 pound or 4.54 kilogram cat would have a BMR of 217.
To determine your cat's daily calorie requirement, you start with his BMR. For a less active, sedentary cat, multiply the BMR by 1.2. In the example above this would come to 261 calories a day. For a moderately active cat, you would multiply by 1.4 for a daily requirement of 304 calories. There is a 43 calorie a day, or about a 15%, difference between the calories that a sedentary cat and an active cat would expend. This shows how important keeping your cat active is in a weight loss program. Please keep in mind that these figures are approximate and many things affect what your cat may actually require.
If you feed your cat the appropriate amount of calories and add in exercise, he should be able to successfully lose weight. If, however, after about eight weeks your cat is still not losing weight, you may need to decrease the calories by about 20 to 25%. You should always consult with your veterinarian before adjusting your cat's calories.
Note: Feline Nutrition provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. Feline Nutrition disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.
Dr. Elisa Katz, DVM, is a graduate of Ohio State University and is the owner of Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais, Illinois. She practices holistic and integrative medicine focusing on proper diet and nutrition. Dr. Katz shares her home with four kitties and one dog.
  1. "Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity," Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, July 23, 2011.
  2. S.N. Blair, D.R. Jacobs Jr. and K.E. Powell, "Relationships Between Exercise or Physical Activity and Other Health Behaviors," Public Health Reports 100, no. 2, March-April 1985, 172-180.
  3. Jacques Debraekeleer, "Appendix D, Allometric and Zoometric Tables," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 1009.
  4. Claudia A. Kirk, Jacques Debraekeleer, and P. Jane Armstrong, "Normal Cats," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 309.
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