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TYPES OF PLAY AND EXERCISE FOR KITTENS

A daily frolic for your feline friend reaps healthy rewards.

Fetch, chase and catch all sound like games you would play with a puppy. But your kitten needs an exercise routine too. These games can help you begin a lifetime of healthy fun for you and your fuzzy feline.

Without your encouragement, your kitten can become bored and stop taking the initiative to play as she grows older. And, contrary to popular belief, cats don't necessarily get all the exercise they need playing by themselves.

Your cat may need a little push, depending on her age and breed. For example, a Siamese kitten may play nonstop, while a Persian may prefer a quiet nap in the windowsill.

Just as with humans, exercise for cats is an important step toward good health and a balanced life. After all, regular exercise helps prevent obesity, improves your kitten's physical condition, teaches social skills and helps prevent bad behavior.

Ready for a little fun with your cuddly furball? Here's what you should know.

Playing with Toys

Your kitten engages in two types of play, object play and social play. While the objects she attacks may look like string or stray feathers to you, to your kitten, each toy is something to be stalked and captured.

Cats love to stalk, chase and pounce. A two-week-old kitten already has the natural desire to play with toys. So fill up that toy box and help your little one make play part of her day from the very beginning.

When you start looking, you'll find a huge array of toys that will stimulate even the laziest lap cat. Many toys let you and your pet play together. Consider toy fishing poles for cats, catnip toys, stuffed animals, feathered strings and other toys for fetching, chasing and pouncing.

Romping Together

When your kitten is three to four weeks old, she starts wrestling, rolling and biting her littermates. Although it sometimes looks rough and uncomfortable, your kitten is learning from these interactions.

For example, if her brother bites her too hard, she'll remember not to bite so hard the next time she plays with him. Kittens who are taken away from their littermates too soon may not learn some of these important social lessons.

When she leaves her litter for your home, you become the new playmate. Stumped for fun ideas? Try these suggestions.

Chasing

You've probably already discovered that your pet likes this game. If not, start by showing her a small ball or toy mouse. When you're sure you have her attention, tease her with it until she bats or grabs at it. Then throw her toy and watch her chase it down. Once she learns this game, learning to catch is the next step.

Catching and Fetching

Your cat may look a little high in the instep, but she's not too proud to play a rousing game of catch, although it may take a little training.

As with chase, start by getting her attention. Then throw a small ball or toy mouse to your cat and encourage her to grab it. As she learns the game, you can make it more exciting by increasing the distance between you.

Eventually, your cat may even return the toy. But be patient. Some cats aren't eager to make the game easy for you.

Your cat can also become overstimulated and may decide it's time to settle down and destroy the toy, especially if it's catnip flavored.

Walking

Believe it or not, if you start when your cat's young, you can teach her to walk on a leash. First, get her used to wearing a collar. Then introduce the leash. Try walking her around the house on the leash for a few minutes each day until she thinks this crazy routine is normal.

Some cats prefer a harness to a collar. Harnesses are more comfortable and harder to slip out of. If your kitten decides a leash or harness is acceptable, you can gradually work your way up to a daily 10-minute walk around your yard or neighborhood. Stay inside if the weather isn't nice. If it's too hot, your kitten risks heat stroke and cold weather can cause hypothermia.

Don't be disappointed if your cat won't cooperate. Many cats express their opinions about leashed walks by collapsing in a heap that you will have to gently drag down the street. If you can't sell your pet on the joy of walks, you may need to give in and pick another sport.

Consider a Playmate

One of the best activities for your kitten is playing with her littermates. There's nothing she enjoys more than a frisky chase through the house, launching off furniture, hiding behind chairs and stalking her brothers and sisters.

If your family can handle it, consider adopting two kittens. If they're raised together, they'll be great companions and they'll be likelier to play together into adulthood. But don't expect your kittens to satisfy their exercise requirements without help from you. Two kittens may be double the fun, but they can also be double the work.

Always remember to have your pets spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancy, especially if the kittens are siblings. And if you already have a cat, don't expect him to take to a new kitten right away. Cats can be territorial and your old cat may express his displeasure by spraying down the house.

It's fine to enjoy restful moments with your cat in your lap, but don't forget that she needs exercise, too. So add a healthy dose of play to your cat's day, every day.