CAT TOYS: YOU NEED THEM
Play keeps a cat’s mind and body active and fit. Playtime is necessary to a cat’s well-being. Vigorous play stimulates the circulation, improves the heart function, and tones the muscles.
Play motivation in adult cats is linked to their hunting instincts. The length of time between play sessions is critical because cats play more intensively when short intervals exist between play sessions. The more a toy stimulates the senses of a cat, the more likely she will play.
Cats respond best to fast, erratic moving objects that move away from them, just as prey would in the wild. When play-interacting with your cat, occasionally stop the toy’s movement so your cat can have a ‘kill,’ because a continually moving toy can be frustrating to your cat; she needs to catch the toy from time to time. It is natural for cats to stalk their prey, wait for a stop in movement and then pounce. It is important for your cat that you provide her successes during play.
Play is also a good indication of a cat’s health. When cats are ill or emotionally stressed, play stops.
When cats want to play, they will often rub against you, back towards you, and then dash away. They may also stare, pat you, or cheek-rub you to get your attention. Look for any and all of these signals.
NOTE: Some cats simply don’t play, and seem to have no interest in play.
It is fun to see how your cat’s imagination can turn almost any object into a fascinating toy. Simple items such as corks, empty thread spools, pipe cleaners, or even wadded up balls of paper can provide her with hours of fun. Just be sure to monitor her when playing with any item she decides to use as a toy. Don’t allow your cat to eat any of them or to shred up plastic and chew on it. Ingestion of such things could not only make her ill but create veterinarian bills if an item she swallows becomes lodged somewhere inside.
Play with your cat daily and give her plenty of attention. You don’t have time? Make the time. Think of your cat as your child. Like a child, she too depends totally upon you for her well-being.
Toys are a necessary part of your cat’s life. They help fight boredom and give cats an outlet for their instinctive prey-chasing behaviors. And when you are the one moving the toy around while your cat fishes for it, chases it, and/or jumps in pursuit of it, playtime becomes a bonding experience for both of you.
Be creative in choosing toys. Cats vary in preferences. What toy one cat would enjoy, another cat might ignore. Put out several types of toys for a few days, then put them away and put out several different toys. Alternate them around. This will keep your cat’s interest. Again, like children, cats will become bored with the same toy. Take it away and offer something else. Introduce the first toy again at a later date, and interest will be re-kindled.
The things that are usually the most attractive to cats are often the very things that are the most dangerous. Cat-proof your home by removing string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, plastic milk-jug rings, paper clips, pins, needles, dental floss, and anything else that could be ingested. All of these items are dangerous, no matter how cute your cat may appear when she is playing with them. (See Protect Your Cat From Common Household Dangers for more details)
Avoid or alter any toys that aren’t cat-proof by removing ribbons, feathers, strings, eyes, or other small parts that could be chewed, pulled off and/or swallowed, which could get lodged in your cat’s intestines and require expensive surgery.
Soft toys should be machine washable. Look for stuffed toys that are labeled as safe for children under three years old and that don’t contain any dangerous fillings. Problem fillings include things like nutshells and polystyrene beads. Also, rigid toys are not attractive to cats.
NOTE: No rubber bands, painted toys small enough to swallow, or aluminum foil. These items can create LARGE vet bills if swallowed!
Round plastic shower curtain rings, which are fun either as a single ring to bat around, hide, or carry, or can be linked together and hung in an enticing spot.
Light balls they can bat around, particularly those small balls with bells or rattles inside; or ping pong balls, paper balls, etc. (NOT aluminum foil balls! Your cat might tear off and ingest bits, which is not good for your cat at all!) Also, plastic practice golf balls with holes to help cats carry them are great. Try putting one in a dry bathtub as the captive ball is much more fun than one that escapes under the sofa. You’ll probably want to remove the balls from the bathtub before bedtime, or you may lose some sleep, since 2 a.m. seems to be a prime time for this game!
Paper bags (with any handles removed). They last longer if you fold the edges of the opening back a couple of inches, to form a cuff. Cat’s love to hide in them, pounce on them, and for interactive play with you or another cat. NOTE: plastic bags are not a good idea since many cats like to chew and swallow the plastic. Large medical bills could result.
Small, fuzzy play mice filled with catnip or not are attractive to cats–or even a fesh green bean can provide hours of fun.
Fray an end of a piece of yarn and suspend it an inch or so off the floor. Don’t just leave it lying on the floor; attach one end to something too large for your cat to swallow.
Fill an old sock with pillow stuffing and a bit of catnip, then tie or sew the end closed tightly.
Buy one of those hollow ring toys with a ball inside and provide many hours of fun for your cat.
Scraps or strips of paper–the side-strips from continuous computer paper are great, or crumpled paper, crinkled tissue paper or wrapping paper delights most cats.
Make a toy–cut some holes in a small box (such as a shoebox) that are large enough for the cat to put paws in. Place a ball or some rattling toy inside (be sure it is larger than the holes, to prevent the cat from getting it out). This will provide many hours of entertainment! Or you can buy toys like this. It’s just more fun (and cheaper) to make it.
Sisal-rope toys are attractive to cats who tend to ignore soft toys.
Empty cardboard boxes of various sizes are a delight to most cats. The cardboard trays canned cat food comes in are loved by most cats. If you are creative–duct tape a few different sized boxes together and add some door and window openings to make a kitty-condo. Cats love to sleep in them as well as play with them. A box that litter comes in is another favorite to many cats. Try taking an empty tissue box and put a small ball inside for an inexpensive toy.
NOTE: Leave your cat carrier open and accessible to your cat. Put a soft bed in it. Your cat will use it to sleep in and play in. The sight of the carrier will be welcome when it comes time to transport your cat to the vet.
Cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towels are made even more fun for your cat if you “unwind” a little cardboard to get them started.
Cats love to chase narrow light beams. Laser lights can be dangerous to their eyes if accidentally shone into them, though. A good alternative is to use an ordinary flashlight. Cut a hole in a piece of cardboard, then duct-tape it over the light end of your flashlight. Now your cat can safely chase a small beam of light about with no worry about laser injury to its eyes.
Many cats like to ‘steal’ your pens and pencils to play with. Purchase some small dog chew sticks (the small, narrow ones that are about the size of a pencil). Your cat can play and chew these safely.
A great new toy has come out recently–The Cat’s Meow. It’s battery operated; the round unit has a slender plastic arm with a flexible end that whips back and forth all around the base of it, stopping and starting randomly, all under cover of a bib-like plastic yellow sheet. Cats go wild over it, it imitates a mouse’s movements. It does as the ad says, giving your cat hours of fun. We bought one from Wal-Mart for about $20.
Another great new toy is an electronic motion toy, the Feather Whirl, by SmartyKat. It’s a battery operated ball with a stem with a feather on the end sticking out the top that jerks and twirls sporadically. You can get them at www.SmartyKat.com, or wherever they sell the As Seen On TV products like at Wal-Mart and Walgreens. We bought one for about $15.
A simple “toy” you can pick up at a lumber yard such as Menards, is a cardboard tube concrete pillar form. They come in four and twelve foot long sections, of up to twenty-four inch diameter–perfect for cats to run through. The four-foot sections can be as little as just under $9 for the 12” diameter. It just has to be large enough for your cat to go through it, even if they have to hunch down a bit. You can leave a four-foot section loose on the floor for your cat to play with, she’ll run both through and roll it around. You can also fasten a section to hold firm either on the floor or higher up, either level or slightly inclined, and glue a scrap of something like indoor-outdoor carpet along the top so they can run on as well as through the tube. Cutting six inch tall, one or two inch wide “window” slots in the sides lets you see when there is a cat in the tube, and if you have two or more cats, these let them stick an arm through to play with each other. The tubes can be painted if you want, or left bare.
ENTERTAINING ACTIVITIES TO RELIEVE BOREDOM
Cats tend to become destructive when bored, especially when you pay attention to the destruction; for example, replacing items for your cat to knock over again. It’s fun for cats and relieves the boredom. Therefore, provide them with toys, interaction with you in the form of scheduled play time each day, and items to entertain them with. Here are yet more ways to entertain your cat and relieve boredom.
Leave a radio or TV on when you are gone. Some cats actually watch T.V. This will help your cat to pass the time while you are gone.
You can even purchase videos created just for cats! Most libraries have videos you can check out for free. Any about birds or butterflies will be a big success!
How about a securely covered, small aquarium? Cats love watching fish.
Take your cat for a ride in your car if you’re going to, say a drive-in like McDonald’s. Just don’t leave your cat alone in the car–too many things can happen. In summer, cars get too hot. In winter cars get too cold. You wouldn’t leave a small child unattended in a car; the same holds for your cat. Do this at least once a week if possible. Taking your cat for an occasional ride will make the trip to the vet a “piece of cake”.
NOTE: Occasionally a cat will not take to riding in a car. Some get motion sickness (same as some people do!). Your vet can provide you with medication for those times you must transport your cat. If your cat is terrified of riding in a car, consult with a cat behaviorist on how to get her over this fear. We have dealt with this problem with many new cats who enter our colony. It takes time and patience to overcome this fear. See our section Training Your Cat to Ride In Your Car.)
Train your cat to a harness and take her for a walk. Your cat can then safely enjoy the outdoors this way. A harness designed for cats is best, because a cat can slip a collar off or even cause an injury to her trachea and neck if she jumps violently and/or pulls away from you and the leash.
NOTE: Walking a cat is a bit different than walking a dog. Cats love to stop and explore things. Go along with your cat in this. She will enjoy going out on a leash more. (To train your cat to a harness and leash, refer to Leash Training Your Cat.)
A sturdy cat tree with several levels, the top level being high enough and large enough for your cat to lie on and get a good view out of a window. Don’t keep the cat tree in some dark, out-of-the-way corner. Cat trees are expensive, but a well-made one is well worth the cost.
Place a bird feeder on a high pole outside your home, near a window. Make sure a comfortable bed is placed in the window–on top of a piece of furniture like a chest or table that is as tall as the window ledge, or attach a shelf to the window ledge. This is great entertainment for your cat and will keep her occupied for hours. You also can help the birds by giving them food. Keep the feeder a bit of a distance from the window so as not to frighten the birds away when the cat appears suddenly.
NOTE: A bird bath outside a window is great in the warm months.
Hide some of your cat’s favorite treats about your home for her to find–vary the hiding places to make more of a challenge. Don’t make it too easy. As your cat wanders about during the day, she will find a little tasty surprise here and there. It’ll perk your cat’s day up.
COMFORT INTERACTION WITH YOUR CAT
Take a few minutes to tell your cat “good-bye” before you leave; be sure to tell your cat that you’ll be back! Occasionally bring a treat or toy back. Cats too can feel insecure about your leaving. Make leaving and coming home pleasant.
When you come home, spend the first ten minutes with your cat. Your cat will be excited and all charged up to have someone around. Cats, like people, need to feel loved and wanted. Your cat will feel loved, and will therefore be better behaved. She won’t develop negative behaviors in a desperate attempt to get your attention.
Allow your cat to sleep with (or at least in the same room) with you.
Interactive play is very special play for your cat. It helps to gratify her predatory instincts. Besides, it is great fun for both of you and will strengthen the bond between you and your cat.
Many of your cat’s toys should be interactive. Interactive play is very important to your cat because she needs active “people time”–and such play enhances the bond between you and your cat. Cats generally engage in three types of play–”fishing, flying and chasing”–and all types are much more engaging for cats when you are part of them.
Fishing-pole type toys with dangling “prey” will drive a cat wild!
“Flying” toys with feathery bird lures will delight your cat to no end.
Small balls or catnip mice can roll along the floor for a fun chase game.
Why not occasionally drag a of rope, an old belt, some colorful yarn with a pom-pom on the end, etc. Your cat will chase you all over the place and have a grand time catching your “tail”.
Another great interactive toy is to blow bubbles with a bubble wand. Pet stores even have catnip scented cat-safe bubble liquid! Just remember if you try this one, do it on a washable floor since it is a bit messy.
Soft stuffed animals are good comfort toys for several reasons. For some cats, the stuffed toy should be small enough to carry around. For cats who want to wrestle with a toy, the stuffed animal should be about the same size as the cat. Toys with legs and a tail seem to be most enticing to cats.
CATNIP (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip is a member of the mint family and contains a chemical that exerts a powerful attraction to cats. Although the cats will eat the leaves, it is the crushed leaves and broken stems that release the compelling odor. Cats who inhale catnip will roll around the floor, purr, run and tear about the house, and oftentimes, just act crazy.
Catnip-filled soft toys are fun to bat around, carry and rub. Catnip is not addictive and is perfectly safe for cats to roll in, rub in, or eat.
Plain catnip can be crushed and then sprinkled on the carpet, or for easier cleanup, on a large towel placed on the floor. Catnip oils will tend to stay in the carpet, and although they’re not visible to us, your cat will be able to smell them.
Catnip sprays rarely have enough power to be attractive to cats.
NOTE: Not all cats are affected by catnip. While some cats may become over-stimulated to the point of aggressive play, others will become relaxed. Kittens under six months are usually immune to catnip.
Be sure the toys you provide your cat with offer a variety of uses–at least one to carry, one to wrestle with, one to roll, and one to “baby”. This will help to prevent boredom. (Boredom creates behavioral problems.)
“Hide and Seek” is a fun game for cats to play. “Found” toys are often much more attractive than a toy which is obviously introduced.