Kitty Play Saves the Day
Imiges ource: Sueda
By Karen Sueda, DVM, Dipl. ACVB
Providing your cat with daily enrichment may prevent behavior problems .
Cats are highly intelligent and active animals. Although cats should be kept indoors for health and safety reasons, an indoor-only existence can be both physically and mentally restricting. If acceptable outlets for natural activities such as hunting and playing are not provided, behavior problems occur. Luckily, there are many ways to keep your cat mentally and physically stimulated indoors.
Daily physical activity is important for your cat’s physical and behavioral health. Obesity is extremely prevalent among indoor cats and increases the risk of developing diabetes, arthritis and other diseases. Behavior problems can also be prevented through play. A tired cat is less likely to pounce on your legs, attack other cats, or engage in other potentially harmful behavior.
The amount of play your cat requires depends on his or her age, breed and individual activity level. In general, try to play with your cat for two to three ten-minute periods per day. Play sessions should occur when your cat’s energy level is high and BEFORE he or she exhibits unwanted behavior.
There are as many cat toys on the market as there are cats! The type of toys your cat may enjoy depends on his or her individual preference; be prepared to try a few. Remember to vary the types of toys you offer your cat and rotate them occasionally. Hiding old toys and bringing them out again a couple of weeks later makes them “new again” to your cat. You may also revitalize old toys by rubbing catnip on them, hiding them in new locations or changing them in some respect (e.g. tie two toys together or attach a wand).
Interactive Toys. Interactive toys are objects you manipulate to entice your cat to play. Wand- or fishing pole-type toys and laser pointers allow you to play with your cat from a distance and may be best if your cat is likely to bite or scratch. Balls, crumpled paper, corks, and fuzzy mice make great throw toys for your cat to chase. Make certain your cat is not in danger of ingesting these objects.
Independent Play Toys. These are toys your cat can play with by him- or herself. They include toys that dangle from doors or balls that roll along a track. Create a “puzzle box” by cutting several holes in a cardboard box and placing smaller toys or treats inside for your cat to fish out. Paper bags and cardboard boxes are also fun for your cat to hide or rest in.
Electronic Toys. Motorized toys that move on their own can entertain your cat in your absence or while you are on the computer or watching TV. Examples include the Undercover Mouse® (a toy that moves under a sheet), Panic MouseÒ (a moving wand toy) and Frolicat BoltÒ (a laser pointer), among many others.
Cats are very smart and are natural problem solvers. If we don’t channel their intelligence into performing acceptable and appropriate behaviors, they will find ways to get into trouble.
Food-dispensing Toys. Provide puzzle toys to keep food-motivated cats mentally and physically occupied. The cat must learn to manipulate the toy in order to receive treats. Examples include Play ‘n’ TreatÒ balls or the FunKitty Egg-cerciserÒ. Create your own food-dispensing toy by cutting holes in the side of an empty plastic water bottle and filling it with dry food or treats. Hide toys or treats in various locations in your home so your cat has to “hunt” for them.
Visual Stimulation. Hunters by nature, cats are visually stimulated by rapidly moving objects. Cat videos and computer screen savers are available for cats’ viewing pleasure. Many cats enjoy window perches so they can see outside. Placing a bird feeder outside may keep your cat entertained for hours as long as it does not attract stray cats into your yard (this can lead to intercat aggression or urine spraying).
Training. Amaze your friends by teaching your cats tricks such as sit, lie down, high-five, jump up, etc. Cats learn commands through positive reinforcement training similar to dogs, though they may prefer different rewards. If your cat is not especially food-motivated, consider using play, catnip, brushing, access to a heating pad or attention to reinforce behaviors you like. Clicker training is also a fun way to teach a variety of behaviors. Never underestimate the intelligence of your cat!
Published by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists