Cat Toys

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! 

Help, My Cat is Bored!

Cats like routine, but even they can get bored with the same old thing every day, just like us. Suzie E. writes:

Sally is 14 years old and I think she is regularly bored. Not all the time, but once every couple of days she meows for attention and I try to get her to be a bit active. She is not interested in chasing things or batting at things. We live in a tiny NYC apartment, of which she knows every inch. We sleep in a loft 8 feet off the ground, so she gets that bit of exercise of climbing up and down the ladder at least once a day. She has many nests/places of her own.

She is not overweight although she is a bit heavier than she was most of her life. My vet is more concerned that she not lose weight rather than gain it.

I’ve quit buying her toys. I did get her a thingee into which I put treats she then has to fish out of it, and I toss treats for her to chase, only she lately just saunters after them. I put them around on the furniture for her to climb, but that’s about all she pays attention to.

I had another cat, Spike, till two years ago and he was much more active and pounced on her & all, but with him gone she’s on her own. Of course I have thought of getting another cat to keep Sally company.

I really feel I’ve tried everything, so don’t feel bad if there’s nothing more to suggest! At least I’ll know I did everything I could. Thanks so much for your time and consideration!

Suzie, it really can be a challenge to try and keep an older cat active and entertained. The key is enrichment. It helps if you can find creative ways to mix up Sally's environment and give her new areas to explore. This can be easier, and cheaper, than it sounds. A new box with holes cut in the side or a paper bag from the market can help. It's not only the new "place" - it's also the new smells that come along with it. Even making a play fort from a blanket over a couple of chairs can change things up enough to make them interesting for Sally.

When you come home, be sure to let Sally smell your hands if she's at all interested. The scents left on your hands from your day tell a story and most cats very much enjoy the new scents from the outside world. Think about ways that you can share the smells you bring into the apartment with Sally.

 
 

We also leave soft music on all day for our cats. We had one who was over-grooming and that stopped when we started playing music. Our cats are very fond of the music of Bradley Joseph. His works include soft instrumental music along with some voices and even bird sounds. We play them on our Amazon Echo because the tracks are free with our Prime membership. We put them on loop when we leave and turn them off when we return.

 
 

We've also had great luck adding plants and bird feeders outside a prominent window where our cats like to sun themselves. Potted plants that attract bees and bird feeders that attract birds and squirrels can be very stimulating for cats.

 
 

None of this addresses activity, of course, at least not directly. When cats are more stimulated by their environment, we've found that they become more interested in playing. The way you play can affect their interest as well. The toy should behave like prey and usually it's better if the toy is moving away from the cat, not toward them. Many cats respond well to the "Da Bird" wand toy but some don't. Each cat has a bit of pre-programmed preference for a particular kind of prey. If Sally doesn't have the "I eat birds" gene, she won't be interested in feathers, but she might like stuffed toys. It takes some trial and error to determine.

 
 

If Sally will accept a harness, you could also take her outside of the apartment for brief exploratory sessions. cats enjoy exploring and, even though she will probably go about it very slowly, she would probably enjoy it.

Of course, many cats simply slow down as they get older. At 14, Sally certainly has that prerogative, but her boredom can surely be an issue. 

As to bringing a new cat friend in for Sally, it usually doesn't work well for cats above the age of four. We won't say it can't work because it can, but it's risky. Older cats rarely take to young, energetic upstarts.

We hope these suggestions help. It certainly can be a challenge. I'd love to hear back from you if you find something that works for Sally.

Cats vs. Strings

Martha S. likes to use pieces of twine to play with her cat, Blackie, but her daughter told her that it was a bad idea.  Martha writes:

My daughter told me to throw the twine out because it can hurt my cat. He likes it so much and he’s 12 years old. Not much excites him. Do I really have to get rid of Blackie’s twine?

Martha, let's start with the bad news.  Cats and string are a deadly combination.  Due to the barbs on a cat's tongue, stringy things can easily be swallowed.  There have even been instances where cats were surgically opened up and lots of hair bands were found inside.  Once inside the intestinal tract, stringy objects can wreak havoc with your cat's digestive system and can even block his ability to absorb nutrients from his food.  Sometimes the string will come out the other end, but that also creates dangers.  

WARNING: Never, ever pull on a string that's sticking out of a cat's throat or anus.  You can actually cause terrible damage by doing so.  Instead, get the cat to your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

So, Martha, if that's the bad news, you're probably wondering what the good news could possibly be.  The good news is that there are some stringy toys that Blackie may like just as much as the twine.  It may take a little trial and error, but we're certain that you'll find something Blackie will like.  One of our favorites is this rainbow cat charmer.

How does it differ from the twine?  Well, the main difference is its thickness.  Blackie would be hard pressed to get any of the toy into his esophagus.

There is one other bit of good news.  If you'd like to continue to play with Blackie using the twine, you can do so, but you'll need to be diligent.  The twine must never leave your hand.  You can achieve this by tying a slip knot at one end and using it to secure the twine to your wrist.  And when you're done playing, be certain that you put it away where Blackie can't get to it.  

Thank you for loving Blackie enough to try and keep him happy, Martha.  Any senior cat would be lucky to have a caregiver like you!

Cat Toy Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners.  See the entire new cat shopping list here.

Most cats not only like to play, they need to play.  Cats have to hunt daily in order to feel happy.  Hunting is not only an enjoyable activity for them--it's one of the main reasons for their existence in nature.  They're predators, so they'll feel happiest if they have the opportunity to hunt at dawn and dusk just like they would in nature.  The best cat toys emulate the process of stalking and hunting prey.

What's interesting is how some cats seem to be predisposed to want to hunt a particular kind of prey.  Some are more interested in birds while others find rodents most appealing.  There will be a bit of trial and error on your way to finding the toys that trip your particular kitty's triggers.

Among the best toys are those that cost nothing.  Believe it or not, many cats find a small wad of paper much more compelling that just about any store-bought toy.  Using a fresh piece of note paper each time insures that it's good and crinkly and smells new.  Paper has the advantage of being lightweight and of flying away when batted.

Boxes fall into this category too.  Cats just LOVE boxes.  All boxes.  Even the ones they can't fit inside.  Sometimes those are the most compelling to little felines!  If you order something that comes in a box, you get the free bonus of a new cat toy!  Before you give it to your cat, make sure there are no stringy tape bits or loose labels that could be eaten.  Then just put it down and watch the magic begin!

High on the store-bought list is Da Bird.  Yes, the name is silly, but for most cats, the appeal is incredible.  We worry a bit about where the manufacturer might be sourcing their feathers, but there's no denying the attraction of these feather propellers.

 
 

You'll also want to get a good wand toy and learn how to use it.  Just about any toy can become interesting to your cat if it acts like prey.  Any toy can become boring if it just sits there or repeats the same motion over and over.  It has to move unpredictably!  Wand toys like this Cat Dancer product make that easy because of the way they flick about.  Try it!

 
 

Last, but not least, you may find that your particular feline has the fetch gene.  Yes, some cats are adept at playing fetch.  We've known cats who would play fetch for hours on end if their humans didn't tire of the game.  In order to satisfy a fetchy feline, we recommend a toy that's lightweight and easy to pick up.  Our current favorites are these Looney Loops.  We've yet to find a fetching cat who could resist them.

 
 

An honorable mention should definitely go to all those catnip toys out there, but be careful.  Not all catnip toys are created equal.  We found that some items manufactured by the company PETSTAGES contained the smallest sprinkling of catnip in a filling made mostly of fiberfill.  The brand we recommend is Yeoww!  Everything they make is of a high quality but our cats particularly like the Stinkies.  They're filled with nothing but catnip and we've yet to see a kitty pierce the tough fabric exterior of these toys. 

 
 

There are also some common "toys" that should never be made available to cats.  This list includes, yarn, rubber bands, yarn, hair bands, string, yarn, shoelaces, and any number of other small, swallowable items.  Did we mention YARN?  People probably link cats with yarn because cats will play with any stringy item.  The trouble is that they shouldn't.  The barbs on a cat's tongue make it very easy for these items to get hooked and swallowed, and once swallowed they can kill your kitty by blocking their intestinal tract.  At the very least, you're in for some pricey vet visits.