image: Ryan Mcguire
Play And Enrichment For Your Cat
Indoor cats spend much of their time grooming and sleeping. Compared to their outdoor counterparts, their hours are not taken up with running after or chasing prey (be they real or imaginary).
As a result, obesity levels in indoor cats are far more prevalent than outdoor cats. The risk of obesity in indoor cats makes it very important to keep your cat active, moving, and playing when you can.
By doing so you will:
- Help prevent obesity and the diseases that go along with it (including diabetes, urinary disease and arthritis)
- Help keep joints mobile and limber
- Help provide mental stimulation
- Improve the bond between you and your cat
- Help to prevent unwanted behaviors that occur due to boredom or frustration
Keeping your cat active is more straightforward than you might think. Yes, some owners will actually take their cats for a walk outside with a harness and leash, but for most cats exercise simply takes the form of indoor play sessions.
Thankfully, there are plenty of cat toys on the market that make this activity easy, from catnip mice, to laser pointers, to more technological and interactive toys that get your cat moving when you aren’t home.
By working food or treats into play sessions, you can engage even the most lazy and lethargic of cats!
Taking advantage of your cat’s natural instinct to want to chase, hunt and catch prey means that your cat will want to play with you when these instincts are triggered. Keeping these innate behaviors in mind when you play with your cat will also help you to make it that much more interesting for both of you.
Hopefully you and the members of your family can find at least 30 minutes per day to spend playing with each cat. This playtime would be best split into two 10 – 15 minutes sessions, rather than 30 minutes in one go.
You can also invest in an interactive cat toy for when you are not at home, allowing your cats to exercise even when you are out.
Allocating 30 minutes per day for each cat in your home will ensure they receive enough enrichment and exercise to keep him or her healthy both physically and mentally.
How To Play With Your Cat (It’s Fun for Everyone!)
There are many options when it comes to playing and interacting with your cat. While there are many different, increasingly complex, cat toys on the market, often the simple toys will get all of the attention.
It is quite important to decide where to play with each cat. Typically a neutral area of your home away from each cat’s ‘safe place’ is ideal. This could be the lounge, dining room, or even outside if your cat is allowed our or has a dedicated area outside.
Engage with each cat in your home separately if possible, unless they get on well. In that case, if you have the right toys, then you can often get several cats involved in a play session at the same time without any issues or fighting.
To give cats a reward after a play session, it is often a good idea to let them ‘catch’ the ‘prey’ if they have been playing a chase game. For this reason, end the play session with your cat interacting with and nibbling on the toy it has been chasing and interacting with.
It is also best to have play sessions directly before your cats are fed, so that the end result of this fun is food! This can help to minimize certain unwanted feline behaviors, including inter-cat aggression.
So which toy should you use? There are many toys currently available on the market. Some are fantastic, some are good, and some are actually quite dangerous. So – how do you know which toys to choose and which toys to avoid?
- Toys that mimic prey, or toys that you can get to move like prey
- Treat balls and toys that involve small, measurable amounts of food
- Dangling toys that you can leave for your cat to interact with
- Innovative, interactive and ‘puzzle’ toys
- Toys with added catnip on or within them
Toys to avoid:
- Toys with tinsel
- Toys with string or ribbon attached
- Small toys, or toys with small pieces your cat could potentially swallow
- Toys that dispense a large amount or unlimited amount of treats
The main issue with toys that include string, ribbon or smaller pieces your cat could potentially chew and swallow is that they can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as an intestinal blockage, or even a telescoping of the intestine.
Problems with these ribbon/string toys occur a lot more frequently than you might think!
We advise staying away from string types of toys as the safest option for your cat. Many chase and hunt toys will comprise elasticized string with the prey at the end of the elastic. These toys are typically fine if you will be supervising and/or interacting with your cat when they are being used. Just ensure your cat doesn’t try to chew and bite the string too much.
As we noted, the simple things often bring your cat the most pleasure. This may mean a cat could have hours of fun with an empty box, the cardboard from the inside of a toilet roll, or even just a cheap catnip mouse from your local pet store. While there are some amazing feline playthings available for purchase, do try and keep things simple.
The best toys are colorful, have multiple textures, make some sort of noise and mimic prey when they move.
Some very popular toys cats love include:
- Da bird – a clump of feathers on the end of plastic handle with string that allows you to move and flutter it around the room like a bird. Cats absolutely love this!
- Ground chase toys – these include everything from balls with a bell in them, to catnip mice you can drag around, to motorized mice
- Catnip toys – the addition of catnip to cat toys is a surefire way to ensure they play and love a toy
- Large ‘huggable’ toys – these larger soft objects allow your cat to ‘hug’ and kick the toy as though it was prey. A good example is the ‘Kong Kickaroo’
- Motorized cat toys that move via a wind up or even battery operated mechanism.
Robots (Interactive toys and enrichment for your cat when you aren’t home)
For most of us in a modern world, it isn’t possible to spend the day at home with our cats. For the lucky few of you that do get to do this – hopefully you are interacting with your cats more than 1 – 2 times per day!
If, like many of us, you are away at work for the majority of the day, then it is very important to arrange some exciting and engaging interactive toys for your cats to play with during this time.
You can also utilize other fantastic tools such as movies and videos for cats, as well as making the most of any window that your cats can sit in front of to view birds and life passing by!
There has been a huge influx into the market of interactive cat toys for this very purpose within the last few years.
Good examples of interactive cat toys include:
- Treat balls – these can be filled with a set amount of your cat’s daily kibble requirements to help keep them entertained for hours
- Cat puzzles and mazes – these work primarily using treat rewards again, but keep cats mentally stimulated and engaged for long periods at a time
- Hanging toys – there are a range of cat toys you can set up to hang off a doorway. These make for added fun during the day
- Electronic laser pointers – these exciting new devices safely move a laser pointer around your lounge in a random pattern. A fantastic way to keep your cats moving during the day
- Ball and track toys – These usually include a ball with a flashing light that moves around a customizable track to keep your cat entertained
- Electronic catch toys – there are a wide variety of these toys available, typically with a little object moving around underneath some fabric in a random pattern to keep your cat moving and encourage chasing behaviors
- Up-and-coming electronic interactive toys – the newest cat toys on the market include treat dispensers with video cameras and a speaker so you can interact with your cat from anywhere in the world.
No doubt time will bring even more amazing toys!
Stimulating Your Cat During The Day, Without A Hefty Price Tag
There are a number of tips and tricks you can use to keep your cat entertained during your daily absence, without requiring you to spend any additional money on interactive or complex cat toys:
- Try hiding your cat’s planned allowance of food around the house for him or her to find. This is only recommended for households with one cat!
- Why not feed your cat his or her kibble in an egg tray or ice cube tray? This will force them eat more slowly, as well as keep them entertained at no extra expense
- Movies and videos for cats – there are plenty of stimulating videos for cats online, available for free. Why not set up your computer or smart TV to play some of these videos on repeat? Just search for ‘video for cats’ on YouTube and you will be amazed at the offerings available to keep cats entertained while you are out during the day
- Set up a comfy spot next to a window that overlooks your garden. This is a great idea to keep your cats entertained by the birds and wildlife outside your home. Do not use this method if your cat seems to be stressed or anxious because of a neighbor’s cat or dog, however
Usually a combination of 1 or 2 interactive cat toys along with a ‘do-it-yourself’ tip from above is more than enough to keep a cat entertained during the day. It is a good idea to rotate these toys now and again. Remember to keep your cat toys bright and colorful with a range of textures and noises associated with them.
This is chapter 6 of the 12 chapter series.
About the Author
Dr. Mark Edwards is a small animal veterinarian and veterinary consultant in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Dr. Edwards created the Happy Cats Guide for Hepper.