Cats are the most popular pet in America. There are lots of reasons for this, and no doubt one is that they are considered low maintenance. But are they really? When compared to dogs, I suggest they are not low maintenance but just different maintenance. It’s true that few cats are taken for walks to do their potty business, and few cats really want to visit a park so people can toss a ball to retrieve. However, today we know that cats are social, they do bond to family members, and their intelligence requires that their brains are used. Cats require mental and physical stimulation. Living in a boring and mind-numbing environment can lead to stress, health issues and behavior problems — sometimes to the point of developing serious medical issues like Pandora Syndrome or feline lower urinary tract disease or feline cystitis (all are interrelated). These medical conditions may not only be painful but can lead to a cat having accidents outside the litter box.
Or, when cats don’t have appropriate activities, they can create their own “fun.” This kitty fun time could include pulling down the blinds, scratching where they shouldn’t, unraveling every roll of toilet paper in the house or pushing around other pets, which can create a relationship problem among pets in the house. All of this can also lead to relinquishment. Who would think that cycle all begins with chronic boredom? So what can you do? Use the power of play. Here are four ways to keep cats engaged:
Activate Prey Drives
What we feed cats isn’t as important as how we feed them. Cats are hard-wired to seek prey and then pounce and kill. While cats are safer indoors, they don’t get this opportunity as a house cat — unless a wayward mouse is unlucky enough to get into your house.
There are all sorts of food puzzles that can be hidden for cats to find. An example is the Indoor Hunting Feeder for moist or dry food, which is one way to trigger prey drive. Leave food in the hunting feeder — at first near the existing food dish — but gradually move it farther and farther away, ultimately hiding the feeders for cats to “hunt” for them. The texture of the dry food feeder is something cats enjoy digging claws into.
You can also leave food in plastic dishes in various places around the house for cats to discover, which similarly activates prey drives. You can even teach your cat to play hide-and-seek. Kids love this and so do lots of cats. When they find the kids, they receive a spoon of tuna or salmon or a piece of cheese — a really fantastic treat.
Activating the prey drive alleviates boredom, allowing for cats’ natural hunting instincts. It also supports better digestion, as cats do best when eating multiple small meals compared to one or two very large meals.
Turn on the Catflix
Some cats do watch TV, and there are all sorts of videos available for them to watch, such as:
✤ 8-Hour Bird Bonanza (with a guest appearance by a squirrel) on YouTube.
✤ If you have an iPad, iPhone or Android phone, download free games from the App store or Google Play store, like Friskies JitterBug, Mouse in Cheese: 3D game for cats and Mouse for Cats — Mice-Catching Cat
✤ Taller cat trees, like the Classic Cat Tree ($109; Armarkat.com) or Prevue Pet’s Party Tower are not only a playground for multiple cats but when placed near a window offer a great view of passing butterflies and birds.
✤ Placing bird feeders and plants attractive to butterflies outside where your cats can see them from a window isn’t just a nice thing for the environment, but it’s better than turning on Netflix if you hap-pen to be a cat.
✤ Cats can also watch the passing nature parade using a cat window perch, like the K&H Pet Products Kitty Sill Cat Window Perch ($45.99. chewy.com)
Go Interactive with Play
Interactive play is great exercise while enhancing the bond and trust between people and their kitties. We also know it can be a great stress buster for cats and probably for people, too. Classic examples are fishing pole type toys with feathers or fabric at the end. You can even affix a feather at the end of a bathrobe tie.
Using the power of play to keep kitty engaged and stave off chronic boredom sounds like a pretty good cat parent super-power. Less stress, health issues and behavior problems can be yours and kitty’s if you take our above advice and a little time and effort on your part — and some happy pouncing on the part of your cat. Examples include the Interactive Robotic Cat Toy and the Catit Design Senses Circuit Cat Toy.
Try Self-Play Cat Toys
Arguably, cats are more eager to engage in activities without people around compared to dogs. However, the toys have to be interesting in order for that to happen, which generally means movement and perhaps high-pitched squeaky sounds.
Ten years ago, there were only a pawful of these cat toys and today there are hundreds — too many to list in a single story. That’s the good news. What works for one cat may not be preferred by another, as individual cats have their own preferences. So, getting a handle on what your cat likes helps.
Examples of self-play cat toys include the SmartyKat Hot Pursuit Electronic Concealed Motion Cat Toy ($29.99; chewy.com), Petlinks Mystery Motion Concealed Mouse Cat Toy ($42.86; amazon.com), the SnugglyCat Ripple Rug Cat Activity Play Mat and the Vealind Pet Interactive Fun Roller Exerciser 3-Level Tower of Tracks Cat Teaser Ball Toy.
Self-play toys don’t always need to be purchased. Many cats have hours of fun running through tunnels your children connect using paper sacks from the grocery store or playing with a ping-pong ball, plastic top to a milk carton or a crumpled piece of paper in the bathtub or on the kitchen floor.
Toy Tips for Tiger
Now that you know what kinds of play relieve chronic boredom, clue into these simple feline fun facts.
Rotate toys. Leaving out the same old toy all the time can get dull. Hide a toy in a closet for a few weeks and the return debut will be triumphant, as if it is an all-new toy.
Use empty boxes. We all get cardboard boxes from Amazon and elsewhere. Of course, the boxes aren’t for packaging products — they’re for cats.
Make it smelly. Rub some tissue in a safe scent – such as lavender or valerian root — and leave it out as a “surprise scent sampler.” Don’t forget about catnip or silvervine.
Bring on the outdoors — safely. Some indoor cats take to the idea of being walked outdoors on a leash and harness — certainly getting out into the world is stimulating. Or create a catio, which allows cats to get fresh air in a safe environment.