Watching a cat play is one of the most adorable things to witness. Their eyes dilate, their butt wiggles, then they pounce! But, some cats don’t engage as easily, or maybe they want to play for a minute or two and then lose interest. Certain cats are more playful than others so it is our job to provide the right toys, entertainment and activities at the right time!
If you’re trying to engage your cat and bring in fresh ideas, there are lots of options! Indoors is the safest place for our cats. It can, however, get a bit boring if we aren’t providing the right enrichment. A cat’s instincts are to hunt, eat, groom and sleep. Life becomes monotonous if we aren’t providing new smells, textures and intentional interaction. We can easily achieve a high level of enrichment, but we have to get a little creative and have some fun!
Have you ever opened the fridge, stared at a bunch of food and then closed the door and said, “Why don’t we have anything to eat?!” Or, you’re scrolling through the sea of Netflix options but nothing stands out? Sometimes, it’s easier to just close the fridge, turn off the tv and take a nap, or mindlessly scroll through your phone. We’re not necessarily lazy. We’re overwhelmed, uninspired and bored. Just like humans, cats like new shiny toys and activities too. If you think your cat would rather be lazy, think again. Cats can get used to lack of activity and become depressed. Getting them up and playing encourages their natural abilities and exercises their brain too!
Rotating your toy selection is a great way to keep a cat engaged. We often let toys accumulate on the floor and don’t realize they’ve become part of the landscape. Making a habit of picking up toys every couple days and replacing with a few different selections will allow for new smells and exploration. Change up the type of toys too! Bring out the catnip toys and silvervine sticks for short periods of time. When catnip is left out for too long your cat will become desensitized to it.
Remove the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
Leaving a bowl of kibble out (even an empty bowl with residue), goes against a cat’s natural hunting instincts. Cats are not grazers, yet most of us leave out food because we think they like to nibble throughout the day. This can create thoughtless eating, often times overeating and disinterest in new foods. Establishing mealtimes builds anticipation and excitement! If you are at work for 10 hours a day, your cat does not need a snack bar. You can, however, hide a few treats or buy a treat dispensing toy if you want to give your cat a small snack while you’re away. Raw chicken hearts, gizzards and other muscle meat are healthy snacks to give when you are home. They are nutrient dense and really exciting for a carnivore! Providing mealtimes with a moisture rich, high meat content food will give them more energy, nourish their body and eliminate eating out of boredom.
Create an Obstacle Course
Whether you have a large house or a studio apartment, you can set up a series of tunnels and activities for your cat. Building living room forts as a kid was one of my favorite memories. We’d use couch cushions, sheets and blankets to create secret tunnels and spaces. Cats are like kids! They need to be entertained and love climbing through things. Watch your cat closely to see what they gravitate towards. Do they like to climb up to the top of the cabinets or do they prefer sitting on your dresser? Do they like hiding in small spaces or perching out in the open? Or, all of the above? Buy a few cat furniture pieces to match their interests. Vertical space is a must! Cat trees come in all shapes and sizes. Collapsible tunnels are perfect to incorporate into playtime because they fold up for easy storage. Toss some blankets over a chair, connect a couple tunnels and you have a cat fort!
Teach them Tricks
Yes, cats can learn tricks! Teaching them simple commands like “sit” and “paw” is great for brain exercise. Rather than tossing down some treats just because they’re cute, take a few minutes each day to have “treat time” where you teach them something new. If you want to learn more about training a cat, check out “This Cat Knows How to Fist Bump and Yours Can Learn Too.”
Bring the Outdoors in
We know it’s safest for our cats to be inside, but that also means their happiness and activities depend entirely on us. For the most part, cats are happy to be on our lap, watching birds out the window and taking naps. That said, their natural senses still need to be exercised daily. Bring some of their toys outside and roll them around in the grass (non-fertilized of course). Cats love new smells. Toys will seem like new when you bring them back in! Consider growing some cat grass or fresh catnip and place near one of their favorite windows.
Create Cat-Friendly Spaces
Cats often chose the most inviting places to sleep, scratch and lounge. But, we might not agree with their choice to scratch our couch. It’s our job to setup areas our cats will love and use. At the end of the day, a cat will do what they want, but we can encourage them to make good choices. Make sure to have several scratching posts in areas they like to hang out, place several beds or napping areas around, add a window seat, a cat tree or cat shelves in areas they like to be. Encourage them to use their furniture by incorporating treats and toys. Make it fun, inviting and special. With consistent efforts, many cats will claim their spots!
Adopt Another Cat
You betcha! After having one cat for four years, our vet asked us if we’d consider adopting another cat. We had talked about it but never very seriously. She recommended fostering or finding a cat who matched Mikita’s personality and energy level. About 5 months later we adopted Dahlia. She was the same age as Mikita (5 years old) and had a totally different, but compatible, personality. Neither cat is an alpha and it’s been fun watching them learn how to play together. We were concerned that Mikita might not like having another cat around but with a proper introduction and lots of treats, they now are each other’s best company. I couldn’t recommend adopting a second (or third) cat more.
Make the Time
It’s easy to get home from work, give your cat a pet, a kiss, make dinner and plop down on the couch, hoping your cat will join you. But, your cat has been home all day and they need some playtime! Every cat plays differently, enjoys different toys and activities but they all have hunting instincts. Engaging some cats is a challenge but finding what gets your cat going is part of the fun! Carve out some time each day to get down on the floor with your cat to play. The laser pointer is great to engage some cats, but it’s also a very unfulfilling toy, as they will never catch the red dot. If needed, use it to get the party started, then switch to other toys they can catch. It’s fun to watch and satisfying for them!
Having an enriched life as a cat is one of the biggest keys to health and happiness. As cats age, they often gain weight, lose interest and need us to encourage their wild kitty side. Setting mealtimes, rotating toys and creating cat-friendly spaces will help keep your cat happy and engaged.
Go through your toy selection, make a list and fill those gaps with some fun new activities! Your cat will be rolling around, bunny kicking and blasting through tunnels like they are playing for the first time!
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