As with any domestic animal, life can become boring if stimulation is not provided while kept indoors. When cats are outside, they are entertained by hunting. It is up to us to find ways to meet those hunting instincts inside. A bird feeder outside a window can provide visual stimulation, and hiding food around the room can help a cat feel like he is still hunting. Toys can also help mimic the natural wild hunting process of stalk, chase, pounce, catch, and eat.
Toys to play with your cat
Playing with cats can be very entertaining. Outdoor cats may not be well-versed in how to keep their claws to themselves, though, so it is best to use toys that keep your hands a safe distance from your cat. A feather tied to a string attached to a stick or a mouse attached to a wire allows you to get the cat interested in stalking, chasing, and pouncing as the cat would do when going after prey. It is important to end all games by bringing the excitement of a cat down to a normal level. If you play with a cat and get her all excited by chasing a feather, and even catching and playing with it, the cat may still want to follow through with the instinct to eat after the hunt. In the wild, this satiates the cat and then a nap usually follows. If the game stops at the wild chasing and pouncing part, the cat is still too energized and you could end up with a frustrated cat. This can lead to a cat that lashes out with scratching and biting people or destroying furniture or even marking areas where the play ended. End all games with a few pieces of kibble so the cat can stop and nibble, ending the game with satisfaction and often a nap.
Independent Interactive Toys
There are interactive toys that a cat can play with alone when you are busy or away from home. A track with light-up balls can be very entertaining as the cat bats the ball around the track making the ball flash lights which entices the cat to play more.
Catnip toys are good to attract a cat’s attention to a toy instead of other objects in your house. There are a variety of types and trying different ones is best until you find what your cat likes the most. Some cats prefer small toys to bat around, other like long stuffed ones they can grab and kick.
Interactive Food Toys
An interactive food toy is another good outlet for kitty to be able to play and eat. This can make mealtime much more exciting. Consider feeding your cat a few meals this way instead of putting food into a bowl, which can be boring and cause obesity.
A food ball allows a cat to bat the toy around and rewards the cat with food falling out. The more the cat plays, the more the cat eats, but that is all right; your cat is working off calories by running around and working for his food. Plus, you can manage how much food you put into the ball.
A food maze makes a cat think while she tries to get her food out of the maze. Some mazes lie flat on the ground while others are upright; the cat has to bat at the food at different levels to move the food down and make it fall out at the bottom.
Put all those interactive toys together and you get one great area that will keep your cat happy and busy for hours. Just watch this video and see how happy this cat is!
Playing and eating can be thirsty work, so make sure the cat has access to clean fresh water at all times. A variety of cat bowls is a good idea. Some cats don’t like the reflection of aluminum dishes. Other cats can be bothered if their whiskers touch the side of the bowl and do better with oval-shaped dishes. If you find your cat will not drink water from a bowl at all, you may want to try a cat fountain, which entices cats to drink fresh running water.
Outdoor Kitty Recess
An outdoor enclosed area is a great way to help a cat transition from being an outdoor cat to an indoor kitty. It provides fresh air and a place to climb, pounce, and play in the outdoors without the dangers involved in roaming free. There are plenty of ways to create catios for your indoor cat. If you have a screened-in porch, you already have a great starting area. Consider installing a cat door so your cat can access this area at will. You may need to change the screens to pet-proof screening so the cat cannot claw his way out. If you don’t have an area connected to your house, you can create one with access through a window or build a free-standing area where you can carry your cat in a cat carrier to play on nice days. Whether you use a free-standing caged area or an area connected to your house, be sure to add some branches or cat trees and shelves for scratching and climbing.
Q: Any time I play with my cat, she gets too excited and starts to attack my ankles or hands. If I ignore her and don’t play, she stalks us and jumps out and attacks. My elderly mother lives with us and is on blood thinners and scratches are a real danger to her. We are thinking about declawing the cat because we are at our wits ends. What can we do?
Q: My cat has been attacking my other cat. They have always gotten along but this spring they started fighting. I think the one cat is protecting the window from the other cat. Is that possible? Why would she protect a window? It doesn’t seem to happen any place else in the house. Any insight would be appreciated.
This advice is from Animal Behavior Consultant Cheryl Falkenburry. Read more about Cheryl and her work.