Older cats are sometimes overlooked at playtime because they seem disinterested or too frail to enjoy physical activity. But play has benefits at any age. It strengthens bones and muscles, burns calories and reinforces both social and cognitive skills. “Many people think their older cat doesn’t want to play, but it’s more a matter of finding what that cat likes and the way it wants to play,” says Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “Does he like noise, feathers, toys he can [carry around] in his mouth? Cats are all different.”
In play, “cats are maintaining their bodies by stretching and moving in ways that are good for their flexibility and joint mobility,” adds Colleran, owner of the Cat Hospital of Portland in Oregon, and Chico Hospital for Cats in California. She says most cats over age 9 have some arthritis, so play that involves stretching “is hugely beneficial. It’s like cat yoga.”
Running and jumping activities improve the cardiovascular system and help reduce weight. Senior cats also need cognitive exercise and the mental challenges of play. “Just giving a variety of activities, changing it up a lot, is good for their brains,” Colleran says.
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