How Do I Get My Cat to Play?

Cat personalities differ considerably, but most felines enjoy a good play session on a regular basis. So what do you do if your cat won't play with you? Gloria A. writes:

Muffy is ten years old and my only cat. She hardly ever plays. I have tried all kinds of toys. She just stares at then 90% of the time. I do play with her some. But she likes to sleep most of day. I am a senior. She is in excellent health. She follows me around when she is awake. When l first got her she was the third cat. My vet said all she needs is me. I do not know what to get her to play by herself.

Gloria, at the age of ten, Muffy is now considered to be a senior kitty. As such, she'll have a little less energy to devote to playtime, so it's not uncommon to see a general slowdown.

As to how to play with her, most cats do not respond to toys, but to human interaction USING toys. Very few adult cats will play on their own. Yes, kittens will play with virtually anything on their own, but once they reach adulthood, their energy is devoted to hunting, not playing. Playtime for adults has to emulate the process they'd experience hunting prey in the wild.

In order to coax a cat to play, even a senior cat, you have to do a little trial and error to see what she responds to. Check out our toy recommendations here:

http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/cat-toy-recommendations . 

Most cats love wand toys like the one we show on our list, so that's where we usually start. You want to tease her with it, dragging it around corners so she has to get up and move to see where it went. Cats are very curious, so moving a toy in such a way almost always piques their interest.

The key really is your own attention and interaction. A toy is only fun when it's powered by a human to emulate how a cat's prey might move. We want to lure them into the hunt. Once you see playing as hunting, it can help you to understand how to play.

This still doesn't guarantee that Muffy will engage in play. You have to be patient and offer it before mealtimes. If she turns away, don't give up. Just offer it regularly and see if she'll come around. You may find that you actually have to teach her to play more. Of course, she should always have the choice to refuse. You don't want to force it on her or she'll associate negative feelings with her toys. Just patiently and kindly offer to play with her at about the same time each day.

Wishing both of you all the best!

Help, My Cat Has Chiggers!

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Cats are mammals, just like us, so parasites that attack us will often attack our feline friends as well. Patty N. writes:

I got into chiggers the other day and I think I might have brought them into the house with my two babies. There’s a lot of scratching going on. They are inside only cats and they don’t have fleas. What product will kill chiggers on them? They hate a bath.

Patty, chiggers are actually mites. Their real name is trombiculiasis. Any ear mite medication that can be applied topically will kill them, but with a topical, you risk missing some of the little buggers and starting the cycle all over again.

The best way to get rid of mites is to use a pyrethrin pet dip. Most pet supply stores carry it and it's often labeled as a flea and tick dip. As long as it's only active ingredient is pyrethrin, you're set. Just follow the instructions on the bottle. Most experts recommend dipping them ASAP after mites are found and then dipping them a second time two weeks later.

Always check with your vet prior to administering the dip if your cats have any allergies or health issues. Your vet can also take a skin scraping and verify the presence of these parasites if you don't actually see any with the naked eye. They can be quite small, so they can easily hide in the forest of fur on most cats. You may see red welts where they've injected their saliva into the skin of your pets, though. Contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow into the skin at all.

 

Crime & Punishment & Cats

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When a cat feels threatened, they often urinate outside the litter box and scratch things in order to feel better. Nicole F. writes:

My cat, Ghost, pees on my dog’s bed and in front of his litter box. We have three cats and three litter boxes. He does it sometimes out of spite. He was told “no” the other day and was pushed off something and then he went over to my dog’s bed and peed. He pushes the screens out on the patio and gets out all the time no matter how many times we fix it and I don’t want my cats outside. He shredded the carpet to the point it looked like spaghetti. Aside from Ghost’s disaster qualities, he is actually a pretty cool cat. How can I stop him from peeing everywhere?

It sounds like Ghost is feeling insecure. That can be difficult when a cat is as smart as Ghost is. He's going to find a way to make himself feel better, even if that means getting outside. He will also feel better if he spreads his scent around by urinating and scratching improper areas.

It's important to remember that cats don't act out of spite, ever. They simply don't have the capacity for that. It can be easy to interpret their behaviors that way because we're so used to looking at them as if they were small humans. They aren't, so the first step is to try and imagine the situation from Ghost's point of view.  He's clearly agitated, so what's upsetting him? 

Many times, there's a less visible aggressor in a multi-cat household and Ghost may be getting bullied. He may even feel bullied by you. You should never, ever shout at or push a cat off of anything. That's physical aggression in cat terms and most cats will respond negatively to it, just as Ghost has. When you get physical with him in any way, especially when you're upset, he will see you as a predator. All he will learn from those interactions is to fear you. He will not connect your aggressive responses to his own behavior. Cats do not have a pack mentality. They look upon us as equals, not as masters to be obeyed.

It will help if you offer more positive reinforcement. Instead of chastising him when he does something you don't like, treat him when he's behaving. When he uses the litter box appropriately, offer him a small treat. When he lounges in a spot you like him in, offer him a small treat. If he does something you don't like, overwhelm him with love and gently move him away. He may not enjoy being handled in this way, but he won't see it as aggressive, especially if you do it in a happy way. Be consistent in this behavior and you'll see change.

Think about altering your own behavior toward Ghost. You obviously care about him enough to reach out to us. Just take some time to consider how you might make him feel more secure. It will take time, but he will respond to your efforts.

There are even more good ideas in this previous post about helping a shy cat feel more secure: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/helping-your-cat-feel-secure

Best wishes to you and Ghost!

Help, My Cat is Driving Me Crazy!

 This is Buddy. 

This is Buddy. 

While many cats are just happy to have a warm lap, a good meal, and a little playtime, there are those who demand extra attention. Pam C. writes:

I am having a problem with my two year old male ginger, Buddy. It use to be cute when he would try to get me up to feed him but lately he has become destructive. Now, if I don’t get up, he will knock pictures off my wall and knock over my lamp. I’ve never had a cat like Buddy. He’s been a challenge from day one. He’s killed all my plants and he’s killed three water fountains by tipping them over. By the time I got home from work the pumps had burned out. I’m just at my wits end. I don’t what to do with him. Getting a playmate is not an option and when I do play with him he has to stalk the feathers or red dot for ten minutes so I get tired of waiting. One day he stalked for so long that he fell asleep in his tunnel. What can I do?

Pam, it would appear that Buddy is bored and he's asking for help. Right now, he's training you, not the other way around. Buddy clearly needs more stimulation in his life. While another cat friend would certainly help, there are things you can do to help Buddy. We should warn you, though - some of these things are concessions on your part. With cats, we often have to give up certain things in our lives that don't quite jive with the life of a cat.

Our first suggestion is for you to stop reacting to the things Buddy does to get your attention. When you react, you show him that his method is working. Smart cats like Buddy know what buttons to push in order to get what they want. If you allow him to continue to succeed, you're just reinforcing the behaviors you dislike. If you ignore his antics, they will eventually stop. Yes, he'll probably try something else, but you have to be strong and not react.

Second, you need to start Buddy on a daily schedule. It will help him to be able to anticipate what's coming next in his day. Feedings should only ever be at particular times of day. Play times should be once in the morning and once in the evening for at least 30 minutes. His bedtime should be consistent and should happen right after he has his evening play time and feeding time. The natural rhythm of a cat's life is hunt, eat, sleep. You can take advantage of this by playing (hunting), then feeding him, then crashing with him. Use consistent words or phrases like "time for play" "time for food" and "time for sleep" every time so he learns to anticipate the order of things. He'll probably continue to ask to eat or play early, but if you're firm with him and only do so when it's time, he'll soon learn and be comforted by the routine. We like to use the phrase "not time yet" when food time is anticipated and requested by a cat. 

Play time is an important part of this for an intelligent cat like Buddy. He needs activity and stimulation in his day. If his current toys don't stimulate him to chase as much as you'd like, try something else. I've had tremendous success with "Da Bird", but there's a bit of trial and error in finding out what kind of play each cat reacts to. The laser toy is okay, but only if he's given a food reward when he "catches" the dot. Otherwise it can be highly frustrating because there's nothing to catch and satisfy his hunting instincts.

Once you get his play routine down, a smart cat like Buddy will usually respond well to clicker training and may even adapt to wearing a harness for outdoor adventures, but let's get him settled down a bit first.

It will also help Buddy if he has some vertical space, especially near a window. A tall cat tree beside a window that faces animal or human activity, even if it's traffic, will give Buddy something to focus on when you're away.

Environmental enrichment and novelty may help as well. That's just a fancy way of saying put some boxes around for him to explore. Add some holes and use the boxes during your play times with Buddy. Rearrange or replace the boxes fairly frequently. Every time you receive a delivery, think of the box as an added bonus - a toy for Buddy. Cats need new areas to be curious about and investigate. Outside, this is easy because the world is always changing. Indoors, you need to help provide him with that stimulus.

We'd also suggest involving Buddy in the things you do day in and day out. When you come home, offer to let him smell your hands so he can see where you've been. Scents are like stories to cats and they can be very entertaining. When you pick up something at the store, offer to let Buddy investigate it before you put it away. These little moments will add up to seriously enrich Buddy's world.

We hope that these suggestions help and give you even more to think about. Try to see the world from Buddy's point of view and it's very likely that you can get along quite well with your feline roomie! 

Why Does My Cat Only Eat the Gravy?

Some cats clearly prefer the juiciest wet foods that include "gravy". And some of those cats only want to lap up the juice! Shelton D. writes:

Why does my cat love that cat food with gravy then only slurps up the gravy part?!

Shelton, this behavior is more common than you might think. Many cats show a preference for the juicy part of foods with gravy.

Since most pet cats are descended from desert-dwelling wildcats, they have very low thirst drives, so it isn't thirst. It's more likely to be a concentration of the over-the-top flavor enhancers that are added to many cat foods.

Most commercial cat foods, even wet foods, have added flavors to entice cats since their core ingredients are often substandard and would not appeal to cats if offered without enhancement. Cats can become "addicted" to these extra-salient flavors and have their sense of taste dulled by them.

This is why many cats will only eat fish products with extremely fishy flavors. Cats in the wild rarely prey on fish, and pet cats often become allergic to fish proteins, but commercial cat food manufacturers continue to add fish flavors because they're so strong that they overpower the bad or bland tastes of the other ingredients. This can be especially problematic when trying to switch a cat from junk food to more healthy fare.

If you're interested in exploring more healthy foods for your feline friend, there's a great resource over at the Natural Cat Care Blog that lists all of the commercial cat foods they've tested in order of nutritional preference.

Best wishes to you and your gravy-lover!