Indoor cats crave adventure. That’s because cats are not far from their wild ancestors who spent their days and nights hunting for food, defending their territories (typically up to 10 acres, much larger than our homes and apartments), and caring for young.
Boredom can lead to serious medical and behavioral issues in cats, including:
- Over-grooming and other compulsive behaviors
- Intercat aggression (if you have more than one cat)
- Inappropriate urination
- Eating things they shouldn’t
- Excessive scratching
- Attention-seeking, such as nipping or climbing your leg for attention
We mean well – we provide a nice home and all the food they need – but perhaps we forget their active brains and athletic bodies. Unlike their canine friends, who get to go on daily walks and visit dog parks, cats need indoor activities to keep them stimulated and happy.
Here are some activities that use your cat’s natural tendencies and help them avoid the consequences of life in a “country club prison.”
Provide Vertical Space
Being up high helps cats feel more secure. A carpeted cat tree or condo creates a safe zone from small children, dogs, or other cats. An elevated perch also satisfies your cat’s climbing and clawing needs.
You can purchase or build a DIY vertical space that includes a series of perches, shelves, runs, hiding spots, and scratching poles. If possible, position the kitty tree near a window so your cat can watch what’s happening in the world.
An outdoor cat yard or catio is an inviting outdoor space for a cat to explore, play, and lounge during warmer weather. You can put cat trees and toys inside the catio. For catio ideas, read our article, “How to Keep Your Cat Safe Outdoors.”
Toys & Games
Just like us, cats need both novelty and predictability. If you give them the same toy every day, that would be like us being forced to watch the same rerun television show daily – we’d quickly tire of it. Cats bore easily if you use the same play tactic over and over, so vary the games on a daily basis.
Cats also need predictability in the form of a scheduled routine when they can depend upon you to be ready for play. Choose a playtime that works for your schedule, such as every evening after supper (younger cats need 2-3 play periods a day).
Your cat is designed to hunt its own dinner. You can simulate this behavior and satisfy their inner hunter with toys. You can spend loads of money buying expensive cat toys, but some of the “toys” cats love best are free or low-cost items you may already have on hand:
- Paper bags (handles removed for safety)
- Crumpled-up pieces of paper
- Foil balls
- Cardboard boxes
- Cardboard rolls from toilet paper or paper towels. Use a sharp pencil to poke holes in the tube. Put a few treats inside to rattle around, and then fold the ends of the tube down to keep the treats inside for a little bit while your cat bats the tube around.
- Alphabet magnets
- Ping-pong balls
- Hair band tied to a string (pull it across the floor)
- Laser pointer (take care not to shine these in your cat’s eyes). Hide treats in a new location and use the pointer to gradually guide your kitty toward the hidden area, allowing her to “kill” the treat.
Put two or more ping-pong balls in a large cardboard box or an empty bathtub. Close the drain stopper and encourage your cat to jump in and bat the balls around.
Cut holes in a bunch of boxes and create a maze:
Place a few alphabet magnets on the lower half of your oven, dishwasher, or fridge (as long as you don’t mind the appliance getting scratched), or on a magnet board. Your cat will love batting the letters around. Who knows… kitty may even learn how to spell some words!
Cats love to chase and pounce, so buy some inexpensive catnip-filled toys, door-mounted toys, motion-activated balls and battery-operated toys to keep your cat entertained.
Like small children, cats get quickly bored with their toys, so rotate in one or two at a time. Twice a day, set a timer for 5 minutes and play with your cat. Test a variety of squeaky mice, funky feathers, twirly tops, and dangly doodads.
Take extra care to put away small toys when you’re not actively supervising your cat – you might be surprised at the number of toy mice and hair ties we’ve had to surgically remove from kitties’ digestive tracts.
Scent Enrichment and Foraging Games
You can also bring the outside in (provided your cat is current on vaccinations and deworming). Select some rocks, leaves, sticks, and tree branches to stimulate your cat’s senses.
Put leaves in a box and toss in a few treats for your cat to hunt for.
You can also hide food puzzles or food balls around your home (or under rocks and tree branches) so your cat can practice their foraging skills. Place treats in a new hiding spot each day.
Cats quickly get used to smells, so rotate new “scented” items in regularly.
Exercise Wheel or Treadmill
There are exercise wheels made specifically for cats (they look like giant hamster wheels). You can also train your cat to walk/jog/run on a human treadmill, as shown in this hilarious video.
Begin the personal training when your kitty is young, if possible. Start at a slow speed and gradually increase the pace.
Training & Tricks
Similar to their canine counterparts, cats can be trained to sit, lie down, roll over, shake hands, high-five, come when called, walk on a leash, and yes… jump through hoops.
You can even teach your cat to skateboard!
This video includes tips for teaching your cat a new trick.
Video & Audio
Some cats like watching TV, particularly when the “shows” are designed for cats. This 5-hour YouTube video pairs relaxing music with birds flying around.
Your kitty may also enjoy videos that feature aquariums, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and of course, mice.
Cats have specific preferences when it comes to music. Felines don’t usually like “human” music such as heavy metal and pop (and they’ll probably turn up their nose to the soundtrack from Cats).
Cats are attracted to soothing nature sounds, new age and classical music. If you want to create a playlist, cats enjoy the sound frequencies of the piano, harp, cello, and flute – instruments you’ll hear in compositions by Vivaldi, Puccini, and Tchaikovsky.
Discerning cats might love this soundtrack by The Piano Guys of “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. The song includes themes from Vivaldi’s Winter.
You and your furry friend will enjoy listening to it together!