How to Make Your Home into a Cat Amusement Park
Whether it’s climbing the curtains, scratching your dining room furniture, or urinating where they shouldn’t, bored cats get up to mischief. Indeed, bored cats even turn their frustration on themselves and over-groom, licking their fur down to the skin to cause sores and ulcers.
If you are out at work all day and wanted a low maintenance pet, then providing a cat cabaret to keep her amused probably isn’t top of your to do list. But you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the prospect of ‘enriching the environment’ (which is behavioral speak for making your home a more interesting for cats) because little things can make a big difference and for a small effort, you will benefit from your cat’s better behavior.
Cats Need Sensory Stimulation
If cats entered the Olympics their specialist sport would be sleeping, so why is it that they need to be kept amused?
Cats living in the wild do sleep a lot (16 – 20 hours a day, as it happens), but when awake their senses work overtime. They are hunters and lie in wait with their ears, eyes, and nose alert for that quiet rustle or twitching plant which could indicate a mouse’s presence.
It takes many times longer to catch their supper than it does to eat it, all the while challenging their senses and keeping the mind active. Contrast this with meal times at home. It takes seconds to stroll across the kitchen and chow down on a bowl of kitty kibble. So what’s a cat to do with all that spare energy?
Other activities that feral cats regularly indulge in are scratching fence posts and trees. This deposits their scent on boundary markers and advertises to other cats that they own this patch. An indoor cat has a territory worth defending, with wonderful food and a choice of comfy beds, so she’s likely to scratch the furniture as a warning just in case another cat happens by.
Then think about the other physical activities of feral cats from patrolling along walls, caterwauling on rooftops, and climbing trees. With climbing hardwired into most cats instinctively they want to clamber up the curtains unless provided with an alternative.
Cat Amusement Park
OK, maybe it is a little dull for your cat while you’re out, so here are some simple ways to make life more interesting.
1. Visual Stimulation
Give you cat something to watch. Providing a comfy blanket on a window sill overlooking trees and bushes is a great way to encourage the cat to watch the wildlife. Just take care to avoid views of stray cats or your cat may end up feeling more stressed not less.
If you’ve always had a fancy to keep tropical fish, then indulging that whim could keep the cat amused. For your feline friend watching fishes is better than TV…speaking of which. If all else fails leave the TV on with the volume low; wildlife documentaries usually get the most attention.
2. Tunnels and Hiding Places
Cats love exploring, so what better than a few inviting boxes or a tunnel or two. Try a cardboard box baited with treats, and let the cat explore this new hiding place. To stop her getting bored, switch boxes and locations so she’s never sure where to look next. For a very shy cat try cutting a small entrance in a box, so that she can climb in and feel secure.
Also, cats enjoy squeezing through small spaces. You can buy play tunnels for pets or make your own version by cutting the handles off paper grocery bags. Novelty is key, so change things around every day.
3. 3D Space
People walk on the ground and move around in a 2D space. Cats however like to exist in a 3D space and climb as well as walk. This is even more important in multi-cat households as vertical walkways can allow cats to avoid coming into conflict.
For the dedicated cat guardian consider building cat steps or walkways (OK, call it a shelf if you like) on the walls. The ideal 3D space allows the cat to cross from one side of the room to the other without touching the ground.
If this all sounds like too much, then invest in the tallest cat towers that will fit into your home. Better still, site the tower beside a window so that cat can climb up to watch the world outside for double benefit. Add some large potted plants (make sure they are cat safe) and your feline friend can be their very own King of the Jungle.
4. Green Space
Talking of plants, cats are meat eaters but they also like to chew on herbage. Providing a tray of fresh, growing grass allows the cat to indulge the need to feed on leaves. And if your green fingers are itching, why not culture a pot or two of catnip as well?
5. Playtime and Toys
Don’t forget to play with your cat. Toys that trigger that hunting reflex are best, such as wings-on-string or laser pointer to chase. For cats 90% of play is concentration prior to the pounce so don’t be disheartened if they spend more time wiggling their butt than pouncing: It’s all good.
And for those times when you are out all day, consider investing in some self-activated toys. These can be programmed to switch on at certain times of the day, to throw a laser light at random or wobble to attract the cat’s attention. But play doesn’t have to be hi-tech. Go back to those boxes, put a favorite toy inside, and that should do the trick.
6. Puzzle Feeders
Make mealtimes more of an adventure with a puzzle feeder. There are numerous commercial feeders available, which mostly share the principle that the cat gets access to food by scooping with a paw.
For wet food you can improvise such a feeder with a muffin tin, or for dry kibble assemble a honeycomb of cardboard tubes, lay them horizontally with a few biscuits in each tube. Another alternative is to hide small portions of food around the house to stimulate the cat to hunt for them.
7. Clicker Training
Find the right motivation (your cat’s to-die-for treat) and you can clicker train cats. This provides great mental stimulation as they strive to repeat the act that makes the magic clicker promise a treat. It’s also a great way to bond with your cat.
And finally, making your cat’s indoor world into an amusement park isn’t difficult, but if all else fails consider getting another cat to keep her company!
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