Cats are highly curious and intelligent animals. Unfortunately, indoor life can be lacking in excitement resulting in boredom. Playtime and trick training are great, but some cats need more enrichment. They need novel stimulation, different activities, and challenges. Try these ideas to add some excitement to your cat's day.
1. Jump for the Toy
This is particularly great for young agile cats. The idea is to take those inanimate toys lying on the ground and put them in more attractive spots high off the ground. I like to adhere toys to the wall using painter's tape. Painter's tape is my favorite since it does not damage your wall or furniture. One day during the lockdown, I found painter's tape in my closet and feeling a bit bored myself, I took a handful of cat toys, and taped them around the apartment in various spots. I have young, active, high jumping cats so I knew they were capable of knocking them down. To make it challenging, I taped a few about 5 feet off the ground knowing they can jump that high.
The cats LOVED this game. They spent some time staring at the taped toy, and then strategizing how to best position themselves to get the toy off the wall or window.
If your cat is a senior, or has mobility issues, you can still do this fun activity, but consider what they are capable of doing. The idea is create a fun game, but within their capabilities so they don't get frustrated or hurt.
Other ideas include sticking a toy inside a door frame and close the door just enough that the toy holds its position. Other attractive spots are windowsills, tops of scratching posts and cat trees or even sticking out from under the couch or coffee table. The cats find that much more interesting than when the toys are just lying around as if they were dead prey. Encouraging self-play by setting up the toys in an exciting way helps alleviate boredom and takes minimal effort on your part.
2. Change up the Environment
My cats love when I move things around. Just yesterday, I was rearranging the cat furniture in the living room and the cats thought this was the greatest activity ever. Each cat took turns walking along the newly placed furniture like they had never seen them before. Some cats are more sensitive to this so be careful. Cat beds and carriers are perfect examples of easy to move items if your cat has lost interest in using them. I recommend elevated spots since most cats don't like to be on the ground. Even a few inches off the ground can make all the difference. We have lots of cat tunnels and beds on shelves that I'll rotate once in a while just to change things up. For indoor cats who never go outside our apartment, this helps with keeping the environment stimulating and engaging.
Things to move around: cat trees, tunnels, beds, carriers, scratchers, boxes. Again, know your cat first. If your cat is using something regularly in a particular spot, then I would leave that alone. If your cat never uses the cat tree, then try a sunny spot in front of the window to see if that helps increase interest.
3. Hide Food
This has been my cat's new favorite game. We've been ditching the food puzzles lately since they have mastered the ones we have, and instead, I hide food for them to find. My cats eat a mostly wet food diet, but I do feed them Greenie's dental treats and freeze dried raw food. I started out easy by putting food in places I know they'd find: the cat trees, tunnels, window sills. Once they got into it, I started incorporating more challenging spots such as under my dresser, behind doors, and under the scale (only Lily is able to get it out from under the scale). I'm always looking for new spots to hide food. Food puzzles are great and we still use them on occasion, but hiding food has been a really exciting daily adventure for my cats.
How do they find the food? Cats have a very strong sense of smell, far superior than ours. They can easily find food using their nose, and they always find it, if you're offering something they really like. If you need inspiration, check out this really cool video about Macqui, the expert food forager.
4. Herbs as Odor Enrichment
Because cats have such a strong sense of smell, using different types of odor enrichment is a great way to address boredom. Everyone knows about catnip, but silvervine is a much more potent form of odor enrichment and more cats respond to it than catnip. And, there's lots more fun herbs to try. One of my favorite odor enrichment packages is through Meowy Janes, catnip alternative experts. They offer a pack of 13 different herbs, many of them known to have calming effects. This pack is so great, because you can offer one or two at a time, and keep them on rotation.
I like to put a few at a time on a folded blanket, on different corners and let my cats choose to interact with them. Often, one cat will fall asleep with his face toward one particular herb. Keep in mind that catnip and silvervine can elicit a strong reaction in your cat. These herbs have a more subtle effect and that's ok. It's a way for your cat to experience a new and different smell which can be very enriching. You can also try it with herbs you have in your kitchen, just make sure they are safe for cats by checking the ASPCA's extensive list. Some of those safe ones include herbs you might already have: parsley, basil and rosemary.
5. Packaging Materials are the Best Cat toys
I saved the best idea for last. Boxes, packing paper, tissue paper can all be amazing cat toys. Lots of us get deliveries. Turn the box and packaging into cat toys. A box itself might be exciting for your cat. Turn it on it's side, keep it upright, cut holes in it, put a bed inside or an electronic toy - there's so much you can do with a cardboard box.
One idea with a cardboard box is to cut holes on one side and put it between you and your cat. You can take a teaser toy to stick through the holes, pull it back and have a tug of war with your cat. I had ordered a case of yogurt and Chobani provided the coolest box with holes cut out at the bottom (see below). Luke sat in the box, and I would move the wand across the bottom so he could see it and grab it through the holes. This box is a perfect example of packaging that seems to be better designed for cats, rather than holding yogurt.
My cats like packing paper even better than the boxes they come in. I use a few sheets of packing paper piled on top of one another on the floor or in a box. This is enough for the cats to play endlessly by themselves. You can even throw a few treats or toys in the box or in the packing paper to search for.
Tissue paper is a good substitute when the packing paper has been used up (first few days are amazing with new paper, but then the excitement fades).
If we're lucky enough to get a lot of packing paper, I'll cut some into squares and place each square in a cat bed. The cats love this! All of a sudden, that boring bed has new appeal with a fresh piece of packing paper on it.
Wand toy attachments are something you can also create with packaging materials. Cut off a thin strip of cardboard, some tissue paper or packing paper and attach it to your wand for an exciting play session. My new favorite thing is to cut off handles of paper shopping bags for wand toys. And of course, the bag itself makes a great toy once the handles are removed.
Small cardboard boxes, such as the ones you get with a case of food, are great for a spot on your desk to attract your cat to instead of being in front of your laptop. You can train your cat to use the box by lavishing them with attention while they're in the box, and simply turning away from them when they are in front of your computer.
I hope these tips have motivated you to try something new with your cat. Please feel free to let me know if your cat enjoyed these ideas.
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About the author: Jennifer Van de Kieft is a Certified Advanced Feline Training & Behavior Professional located in Brooklyn, NY. She owns Cat Advocate, a feline behavior consulting company. She provides cat guardians with the strategies, tools and knowledge needed to address their cat's behavior issues. Jennifer provides virtual consultations throughout the United States.