How to Keep Your Cat Active and Happy
Are you a dog person or a cat person? I’m a cat person, but many dog lovers challenge that cats don’t have enough personality for them. I beg to differ! Cats DO have a strong personality! I’m not implying that dogs don’t, but I’d argue that cat personalities could definitely keep up with a playful pup – and sometimes a cat’s will can be stronger even than our own!
As the numbers show, today, there are over 500 million cats in the world, making them the most popular pet, and honestly, I’m not surprised by that number!
If you live in an apartment and do not have the time to take a dog for a walk every day, at least twice, but you still want a fluffy friend, then owning a cat could be the ideal solution.
However there aren’t nearly as many articles that talk about how to keep your new cat happy and healthy as there are for puppies. New cat parents who just adopted their feline furball need to know that their pets need more than water, food, and shelter to keep them happy and active. In addition to that, feline behavior experts say that cats also need environmental enrichment, and I cannot agree more! Having an enriched indoor environment full of positive stimuli will make your cat happier and healthier.
What is environmental enrichment, and why is it so important?
As Viktor and Annie Reinhardt define it, environmental enrichment is ”the provision of animate, inanimate and nutritional environmental modifications that promote the expression of species-appropriate behaviors (e.g., foraging) and species-appropriate mental activities (e.g., learning to cooperate during procedures) in relatively barren and boring living quarters”.
In other words, improving your cat’s surrounding with various stimuli like odors, sounds, tastes, and challenges will promote its health and happiness.
In order to diversify their environment, I always recommend owners to have more places for their cats to sleep, drink water, eat, play, or explore.
- Create a safe space for them . You can add various kinds of accessories in your cat’s environment, such as cat trees, beds, pillows, boxes, or shelves. By creating a safe space, your cat will feel less vulnerable, stressed, or exposed to whatever she/he feels threatened.
- Offer a variety of ways to modify their temperature. If in your house is colder than normal, providing heating accessories such as beds, electric pillows or blankets, boxes, etc., will allow them to thermoregulate and cope more easily with the environment. Generally, cats let us know when they are cold because they look puffier than usual and like to hide under the blanket.
- Consider the scents in your home. Odors like citrus, dog odor, alcohol, acetone, unknown odors, or cleaning chemicals can influence your cat’s living environment. In the long run, exposing your cat often to these kinds of stimuli can be a source for developing chronic stress.
- Consider the sounds in your home. When it comes to sounds, researchers believe that if the noise intensity is reduced to 60 decibels, it will be beneficial for cats.
- Make great use of your space. Space is another factor that plays an important role in your cat’s welfare. Unlike wild or feral cats, pet cats do not have an indefinite space available, where they can roam freely and go with the instinct. The minimum recommended space available for cats that are living in shelters in cages is 0.56 square meters of floor space or 6 square feet. Although the available space is important, researchers revealed that the quality of the environment is more important than size.
If you don’t have enough ground space for your cat, you can always expand its horizons by adding climbing frames, hammocks, platforms, high walkways, shelves or chairs for windows, cat trees, etc. This will be beneficial for your pet’s well-being because they always like to monitor from above everything that happens in their territory (your home).
6. Another very important aspect is to give your cat the opportunity to hunt (through play). As researchers show, wild cats hunt on average 12 times per day. Even domestic cats typically eat 9-10 meals a day on average, or even more frequently (invertebrates, small birds, reptiles, or mammals). [LL4] They hunt so often because they are lone hunters: cats have to rely only on themselves to procure food. This means that cats will often hunt even when they aren’t hungry, because there may not be food when the hunger kicks in. Another factor that influences this hunting habit is that they have a 50% chance of success to catch the prey.
In short, wild cats have learned to be opportunistic and procure food even if they are not hungry at the moment they attack.
Therefore, following the pattern of the wild cat, our furry friend should eat little and often daily – it’s in their genes! Pet cats should eat more than two times per day. If the cat doesn’t have a health condition like obesity or isn’t prone to fattening, food should be left at their discretion to “hunt” as they want throughout the day.
Playing with Your Cat
I’m sure many of us have busy days in which we don’t even have enough time to look at ourselves in the mirror, let alone have playtime with your pets. But interacting with our cats should really be part of our daily routine! And this time should be more than just changing their drinking water or food…
Interacting with our pets is super important for their behavioral development in their relation to us. Cat experts recommend us to play with our cats twice per day, 10-15 minutes per play.
Playing with our cats has three major benefits:
1. It satisfies their instinctive need to hunt.
2. It lifts our spirits. (I always have a good laugh when I play with my cat!)
3. Play is good for certain health problems, such as obesity, stress, anxiety, or depression, and it also drives boredom away.
In other words, play is a form of exercise, which will keep our cats’ body and mind in shape. In fact, a survey performed in the USA (2017), showed that obesity in cats (60%) was the number one health problem. In addition to a proper diet, I, as a veterinarian, always recommend exercise that can be performed through play or outdoor walks.
When it comes to stress, cats do stress out easily sometimes because they love routine, and any major change in their life like moving, home remodeling, bringing a new pet or family member, etc., can stress them. Too much stress can lead to various medical conditions, including depression and diabetes. Therefore, play is a good remedy for combating stress in cats.
Cats get bored quickly, and if they are not mentally stimulated or entertained, they can suffer from behavioral changes or even depression.
Also, playing, petting, or talking with your cat will improve your relationship, creating a stronger bond.
The Best Toys to Keep Cats Active & Healthy
When it comes to toys, cats get bored quickly. I often find myself being more excited about the toy than my cat!
Some tips for keeping your kitty from being jaded by old toys include:
- Offering them a variety of toys from which they can choose,
- Changing the toy regularly,
- Using toys that have catnip inside.
Some of my favorite toys to simulate hunting and play with my cats include:
Food Puzzles such as the Catit Senses 2.0 Cat Digger Slow Feeder mimic a hunting scenario for cat. They can paw at their food and pull it out of the cups, using the same motions they would do to hunt fish or pull small prey from its hole.
Fishing Rods are great if you’re too tired to run around the house with your cat – you can sit comfortably on the couch and use the flexible rod to flick a toy around on the floor for your cat. Mine will spend up to an hour trying to catch their “prey,” which you can trade out on some rods.
Plush Toys are a hit with some cats who love to cuddle and groom their plushy pets. Others see the plush toys as prey and attack, batting the plush around on the floor like a recent kill. Just be careful your cat doesn’t shred the plush and ingest its innards!
Jingle Balls are fun for cats to roll around on their own. They’ll bat and play with this noisy ‘prey’ until it rolls under the furniture where kitty can’t reach anymore, so a bit of supervision might be required!
Foil balls have been a huge hit with all my cats. There’s something about the crinkly noise and texture that cats go bananas for, batting them around on the floor for hours.
Catnip Toys are toys that are specifically designed with pockets to stuff catnip in to give your cat an extra boost of enthusiasm for playtime. Pictured below is the Kong brand of refillable feathery mice toys – combining all of cats’ favorites in one!
Do All Cats Love Catnip?
Regarding catnip (Nepeta cataria) or other similar plants such as silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), or valerian (Valeriana officinalis), research reported from a study conducted on over 100 cats that 80% responded to silver vine, about 50% to Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root, and one of three cats did not respond to catnip.
So this means that MOST cats absolutely love these types of cat-friendly herbs, but not all of them. Cats are strongly attracted to these plants because they mimic a pheromone which stimulates their social and sexual behavior. So sprinkling some kitty herbs on toys or stuffing toys with catnip are great ways to spice up playtime.
We have to think about what makes a cat a cat! They stalk, hunt, catch, eat, drink, but they also run, climb, and rest during the day.
It is very important to offer them activities that are similar or mimic their wild nature. Your cat’s interior environment should be relevant from a behavioral point of view, allowing it to express naturally.
We can buy food puzzles or hide a treat inside a ball and play with them.
We can provide them with a high place so they could feel safer, comfortable, and have a place where they can monitor everything that happens around them. Also, a nice blanket near the window can make the perfect spot for them to observe what is happening outside.
Strange odors, too noisy environment, new pets or family members, the lack of play or interaction, and the quantity and quality of available space can contribute to your cat’s welfare and environmental enrichment.
The quantity and quality of the space your cat is living in must be related to its needs.
If your cat’s instinctual needs are not met in a home, which is her territory, it might become stressed, bored, restless, or anxious – conditions that could lead to depression, diabetes, obesity, and others.