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.