These Exercises Will Help Your Cat Relax

If your normally laid-back cat starts scratching the sofa or peeing on the carpet, don't simply assume it is being naughty. This behavior might be its way of telling you that it's stressed and needs help.

Physical activity can help a tense cat to relax and will improve its overall health too. Here, experts recommend exercises to help your pet release its stress.

How Can You Tell When Your Cat Is Stressed?

Cats are driven by adrenaline, fear and anxiety, according to Dr. Christian Broadhurst, senior veterinarian at non-profit clinic Clay Humane in Orange Park, Florida, so they are often high energy as well as high stress.

"When your cat is experiencing more stress than normal, we typically see behavioral changes. You're going to see your cat hiding or fleeing or sometimes, if there's more than one cat, fighting among themselves," he told Newsweek.

Cat exercising
Stock image of a cat looking up at a target. Exercising with a feather wand or other toy will help to de-stress your cat. Getty Images

Broadhurst explained that cats peeing on the couch "can be a medical problem" but often it is a behavioral issue—"a way that they express their displeasure."

Cat behavior expert Pam Johnson-Bennett warned that stress can build gradually, so owners may not be aware of how much it's affecting their pet. "Signs of stress may include a loss of appetite, withdrawing from interaction with family members, excessive grooming, hiding, litter box avoidance and changes in relationships with companion cats," she told Newsweek.

Any change in a cat's usual behavior should be viewed as a potential red flag, she said, and you should speak to a veterinarian. Pam Johnson-Bennett also pointed out that cats can be stressed by events that owners might not realise are triggers, such as a change in food or an inconsistent schedule.

Dr. Carly Fox, senior veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, told Newsweek that owners should look out for "urinary symptoms, for example urinating outside of the litterbox, blood in their urine, straining to urine. This is more common in male cats and should prompt a veterinary visit."

She added that some stressed cats also develop upper respiratory infections, connected to a chronic viral infection harbored by most domestic cats.

What Are the Best Exercises to Help Cats Relax?

One of the best exercises for cats is going out for a walk, according to Broadhurst, but it's not for all of them. "Not all cats will readily walk on a harness. If they will, though, that is certainly one of the best sources of activity for them. If you cannot get your cat to walk outside, the next best thing you can do is getting things that they can do in house."

Johnson-Bennett said your first step should be to identify the cause of the stress so you can eliminate it or modify the circumstances. You should be creating an environment that inspires security, stimulation and confidence in your cats.

They feel more secure with predictability, she explained, so make sure you're consistent with mealtime, playtime, maintaining the litter box and interaction by family members.

She recommended "daily interactive play sessions to help your cat work off energy, build confidence and develop positive associations with you and the home environment."

What Kind of Toys Can Help Your Cat Exercise?

Playing with toys can help your stressed cat feel better, according to Fox. "Exercises include laser chasing, chasing a feather wand, playing with a housemate and even fetch. If you have the room for a scratching post, that is an excellent 'exercise' to relieve stress. They also make cat window hammocks so your pet can recline with a view, stress free."

Broadhurst suggests placing random laser generators in the middle of the floor, so the cats can play when the laser switches on and draws patterns on the floor.

You can also get your cats to chase a laser pointer, he said, adding that these toys work well even though some people worry that they frustrate cats because they never get to "catch" the red dot.

You can also try an exercise wheel, according to Broadhurst. These are like hamster wheels but much bigger, and can be wall-mounted. Cat trees are useful too, he said, even if your cat only climbs up so it can nap at the top.

Johnson-Bennett also highlights the importance of providing personal territory in the form of cat trees, window perches and hideaways. The ability to retreat to a high perch or hidden spot is a valuable coping mechanism for a cat.

Sad cat
Stock image of a cat looking out of a window. Cats need window perches and hiding spots at home, so they can escape stressful situations. Getty Images