Monday, January 7, 2013

Kitty Korner: Toys to Get your Cat Moving! by Erin Selby

Cats love to lay about, perch, lounge, and sleep the day away. In fact, many cats will sleep an average of 13 to 18 hours a day. If only we had it so easy! But a cat's sedentary habits tend to show up in their waist lines - especially for indoor only cats. So how do you help your cat exercise? It isn't as straightforward as it is with dogs. Most cats will not willingly go for a walk on a leash (although we know some special kitties that do!). Toys are a great way to encourage your cat to get moving and burn some extra calories. The best toys tap into a cat's hunter instinct; encouraging stalking, pouncing, and playful paw batting. 

Here are some suggestions:

Laser pointer - Has to be number one on the list. Cats tend to go crazy for this one - I've even known a few cats who "beg" for it. It is a great toy for stimulating the hunting instinct and gets them to dart back and forth and all over the place. Just be careful to keep the laser out of kitty's eyes (or anyone's eyes, for that matter). This toy has a high entertainment value for both the cat chasing the red dot as well as the human who gets to watch!

Wand - This encourages similar action as the laser. Any type of toy that has an object such as a feather attached to the end. Even a dangling ribbon hanging from the end of a flexible wand will do the trick. Drag slowly across the ground or dangle it in the air and watch your cat go wild!

Cardboard box with a ball - This may seem like a strange idea, but use a cardboard box big enough for your cat to sit inside and place a crinkle ball, handmade foil ball, fake mouse, etc. inside for your cat to bat around. The object will bounce around off the cardboard box walls, in essence "playing back" with your cat! 
Boxes are for playing -  not for sleeping!
Wrapping paper - Cats love to sit and play with wrapping paper, tissue paper, even newspaper. Anything that makes that crinkling noise. If it is shiny even better! This may not inspire too much activity but cats will bat with their paws at paper and it can also get them riled up and in a playful mood. It serves as a good base for for playing with other toys. Try sprinkling cat nip on it. 

Small (but safe) toys - Some of these are cheap toys you can purchase at the store and many of these are items you have at home. Small furry catnip mice, crinkle balls, and balls with bells in them are all great items that can often be found for under a dollar. Household items that cats love are foil balls, the plastic rings from milk containers (they love to bat them with their paws). and Velcro strips (the ones that hold cords together for example). My cat loves to play with the milk container rings as well as the Velcro - she like to keep "tearing" it apart each time the fuzzy sides reattach. I leave the milk rings on top of wrapping paper with some cat nip to get her going. While these are generally safe items for cats to play with it is best to put these toys away after play time to avoid any accidental injury.

Paper bags - Double them up for sturdiness and cut a hole in the bottom. Use cat nip or the laser pointer to entice your cat inside. Some cats love to run and slide into paper bags as well as just hang out inside, jump in top or roll around inside. Another good place for putting fun toys inside. Again, make sure this playtime is monitored and that the bag is not too small for kitty to get stuck in.
Lucy in her cave!
Stuffed cat nip toys - These are super and big time kitty favorites. Cats will lick these and roll with them and hold them in their paws while bunny kicking with their back feet! It is quite adorable to see. You can make your own or buy them from a pet store. Rosy's brand is particulary great quality. These are great for getting your cat riles up and encourage wild running about the house!
Lucy loves her cat nip toy sooo much!

So what do you use for your cats? Click here to take our survey and tell us what toys you and your cat love!  

Do have any questions? Would you like to offer a suggestion? Email us at, subject line: Kitty Corner!

Ask the Vet: Pet Obesity by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM

How do I know if my pet is overweight?
Since dogs range in size from 2lbs to 200lbs with all sorts of body shapes, we rely on their body condition to tell us if they are overweight.  Cats don’t vary in size as much as dogs but we still follow simple guidelines to determine their ideal weight.
For a dog or cat at an ideal weight:

  • The ribs should be easily felt without excess fat covering them, but not seen when standing still.

  • A waist should be seen behind the ribs looking down at your pet

  • A waist should tuck up at the abdomen when you look at your pet from the side

 Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet’s body condition.

Is pet obesity really a problem?
Recent studies by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention show 53% of adult dogs and 55% of adult cats are overweight and 25% of cats and 21% of dogs are obese.  These numbers have increased since 2010.  Many pet owners are unaware that their pet is overweight or obese.  We are so accustomed to seeing overweight dogs and cats that we don’t recognize it as a problem.

What’s the big deal about being overweight?
Nestle Purina performed a controlled study over the life of forty eight Labrador Retrievers and showed that by maintaining a lean body weight alone, dogs live 15% longer.  For the Labradors in the study this was equal to about 2 years.  In addition to shorter lives, obese dogs and cats are at an increased risk of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and skin disease.

How do I get my dog or cat to lose weight?
The general concept for weight loss is simple - eat fewer calories and exercise more. Incorporating those concepts into your daily life is more difficult.  Here are my tips:

Reducing your dog’s calories - Write down all the food that your dog consumes each day, including treats, table scraps and chews.  Seeing it on paper helps you realize all the food they eat.  Start by feeding less kibble or switching to a weight control diet.  If you were feeding 4 cups of food per day, decrease it to 3 ½ cups.  Substitute carrots or apples for commercial treats.  Use verbal praise, attention or play instead of always rewarding your dog with food.  Use toys or non-edible chews in place of rawhides and bully sticks.  If your dog seems starved you can divide their total food into 3 or 4 smaller meals so they eat a little bit throughout the day.

Reducing your cat’s calories - Write down all the food that your cat consumes each day, including treats and table scraps.  Switch to a high protein/low carbohydrate food with canned food preferable over dry food.  Feed less total food or use a weight control food. If your cat seems starved you can divide their total food into 3 or 4 smaller meals so they are eating a little bit throughout the day.  Play “hide the food bowl” where they have to seek out their food.  This gives them a chance to stalk around the house and gets them moving.

To increase exercise, take your dog for two brisk walks per day.  Get your dog to run by playing fetch or set up regular play date with another dog.  Put the food bowl upstairs so they have to go up and down the stairs more during the day.  For cats get out the laser pointer, fishing pole or whatever toy encourages your cat to scramble around.

I recommend weighing your dog or cat once a month to determine if your diet strategy is working.  Weight loss should be gradual.   I also recommend checking with your veterinarian before starting a diet plan as some pets have medical issues causing obesity (hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease) or are on medications that increase their appetite.  Your veterinarian can help calculate how many calories per day your pet should be eating and discuss whether a prescription diet food is indicated.

Keeping your pet lean is extremely beneficial to his or her health and in your control.  Good luck and happy dieting!

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email