You wake up late, once again, and rush around the house to get ready for work. As you dress in a hurry, your cat brings a mangled catnip mouse and drops it at your feet as if to say, “It’s time for my favorite game! Let’s go!” Already late, you halfheartedly toss the mouse once — mostly to distract your cat for a moment — before you dash out the door a few minutes later.
Later that night, after a very long day at work, the routine is repeated. But this time, you’re exhausted and simply want to go to bed early. For many of us, our lifestyle choices and busy schedules are sometimes more than we can comfortably handle — but what about the happiness and needs of our cats?
It’s fun for everyone!
Let’s face it: We all enjoy watching our cats play, and they certainly enjoy playing. In addition to just having a good time, cats play as a way to learn and maintain important life skills. You may see your cat chase a moving object, then stop and pounce on it. And in a multi-cat household, you probably watch your cats chase each other and engage in various ways.
Play helps keep your cat physically and emotionally fit. When cats become bored, behavioral problems can develop as a result of that lack of mental stimulation. Compulsive behaviors such as self-mutilation and licking, aggression and even litter box problems can occur when a cat has too little to do in an indoor environment. “We’ve taken away our indoor cats’ ability to engage in a natural (but dangerous) life outside, and their ability to engage in species-typical behaviors,” explains Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Therefore, we need to offer effective substitutes. Part of our job as caring owners is to provide opportunities for indoor cats to behave like cats — rather than just sitting around, waiting for their next meal.”
Cats enjoy playing throughout their lives, and even a physical disability may not deter them. Kittens play naturally, but an adult cat may need extra stimulation to keep his attention focused on playing — so scheduling regular play time is important. Even ten minutes a day can make a big difference, believe it or not.
Time tips that work
Busy lifestyles are the norm these days, and finding time to do all that we need to do — let alone play with our cats — can be difficult. The simplest solution is to reset the alarm. You can get up 15 minutes early, or go to sleep 15 minutes later. Try to decide the best time to conduct daily play sessions.
“Cats are crepuscular,” explains Dr. Dodman. “That is, they are most active at dawn and dusk. So it makes sense to capitalize on these times of naturally heightened activity, if possible.”
Other good times are just before mealtimes, so that your cat can feel like he has caught is own supper. Whatever schedule you choose, try to be as consistent as possible. That way, your will come to anticipate and look forward to the play sessions.
You are more likely to adhere to a play schedule in the long run if you select a time that is convenient for you, such as in the morning before work or in the evening before you feed your cat. Choose a favorite toy that involves a physical activity like running or jumping (and one that is cat-safe, of course) to make the most of the valuable time.
Often, finding the time to play with your cats simply involves focusing on it. As you get ready for work in the morning, roll a ping pong ball in the bathtub for your cat to chase, or hang a feather toy from the shower rod. If you have a hook in the bathroom or bedroom, or a door device on which to hang clothes, dangle a toy from a piece of elastic for your cat to swat.
If not, you can tie the toy to the doorknob. (Just make sure that elastic and other string-like materials are safely secured. If pulled free and ingested, these materials can obstruct the intestines, posing a very serious health risk to your cat.)
You can also keep a wand toy on the shelf of your closet, and as you dress for work, you can get the toy out and play with your cat for a few minutes. Keep some rubber balls in your bowl of keys and pocket change so you can roll them for your cat to chase as you get ready to leave the house. Or you can attach a laser pen light to your key ring. Before you leave the house, spend time letting your cat chase the light. (Just be sure not to shine the laser directly into your cat’s eyes, which can cause damage.)
Entertainment while you’re gone
You can also enrich your cat’s life by providing some self-activated toys so that she can play even when you’re not at home. Mini-tracks with balls, catnip toys, crumpled paper balls, a paper bag and cardboard boxes can help your cat have a good time during time during the day. You can also provide a multi-level climbing tree on which she can sharpen her claws, climb and have a “room with a view.”
Using a food puzzle
And providing a food puzzle can make her earn part of her meals and treats — just be sure that you incorporate this fun into her overall calorie count each day, so that she doesn’t put on weight in the process.
Some puzzle feeders are ball- or tube-shaped, and release bits of kibble when rolled just the right way. Others have sliders to reveal hidden compartments where you add the food. Still others have silos of different heights to add complexity to the hunt. While these feeders come in different shapes and sizes, their premise is the same — each helps to challenge your cat to work for her food, an instinctual need that can keep her exercised and stimulated.
You can also make your own food puzzle with this good (and green) suggestion by Dr. Dodman. Using a cardboard paper towel roll, “Put treats inside it, close the sides with sticky tape, poke a few holes and toss it to your cat. You just used what was going to be waste.” — Catnip staff