Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Keeping Your Adult Cat Mentally and Physically Active


Pet Column for the week of June 28, 2010

Related information:


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Linda P. Case, MS
Part of keeping your feline companion happy is providing environmental enrichment--activities for them to do each day other than sleeping or eating. Surprisingly, many adult cats still enjoy playing with toys in addition to a few other activities owners may not think of that can significantly enrich a cat's daily life.

"One of the biggest discoveries in the past five years is the realization that cats really enjoy novelty," explains Linda Case, an expert in the field of animal behavior who teaches companion animal behavior and training at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. She also has authored numerous books on the topic.

Along these lines, one of the easiest steps an owner can take is to rotate toys in and out of the "lineup." For example, leave out two or three toys for your cat to play with and hide the rest. Then, once a week, bring out a new toy. You'll be surprised how excited your cat will be to see a toy it has not seen in a few weeks.

As for selecting toys, walk into any pet store and it is easy to see that there are hundreds of choices. Many pets enjoy the kind where an object is tied to the end of a stick and the owner can move it across the floor or make it bounce. Other cats prefer carrying stuffed toys around the house and lay on their backs to play with them.

No matter what toys you do choose, remember to watch your cat with them in the beginning. Although it is rare, "Cats may become so focused on playing with a toy that they may consume it," notes Case. Laser lights are also another toy that owners should be warned about before using. Some cats may be so interested in following the light that they become obsessive compulsive about light chasing, a problem which could easily spiral into a serious disorder.

In addition to rotating toys on a weekly basis, Case also recommends moving the location of the item. For example, if it is an object tied to a doorknob, move it to a different door from time to time.

Playing with toys will provide some much needed exercise to most cats, but another way to keep them mentally stimulated is window watching. Providing an area near a window for your pet to watch the birds or other dogs walk by can really enrich their day. Something as simple as arranging your furniture or installing a platform window bed can be beneficial.

If you think your cat is up for a real adventure, cat halters and leashes are available for walks. It's an activity that allows your cat to go outdoors, yet still remain safe from harm.

On a final note, many owners who feel their adult cat may benefit from having another feline around may be asking for trouble. "You can pick your cats and you can pick your friends, but you cannot pick your cat's friends," notes Case, alluding to the fact that selecting a cat that has a personality compatible with your current pet is often challenging. In the end, it may cause more stress for both cats, rather than providing them companionship. Though it does not mean it never works out.

For more information on ways to keep you cat active, contact your local veterinarian.