Cat Toys: Part Two

Keeping cats physically and mentally busy can be a challenge, especially since most people cannot afford to spend huge chunks of their day playing with their cats. It is advisable to regularly spend some time, such as 10 to 15 minutes, playing with your cat, whether it involves throwing toys around (some cats will fetch), being the Keeper of the Elusive Red Dot, or dangling a wand toy.

Changing things up and giving different types of enrichment, toys, and stimulation can put some pizzazz back into your cat’s step. Giving them something constructive to do can prevent your cat from getting into trouble or growing bored. Here are some ideas:

  1. Window watching. According to The Fur Person by May Sarton, the feline equivalent of reading the newspaper is watching the goings on outside through a window. (By the way, if you have a chance, do read The Fur Person. It is a truly delightful little book.) Every cat I have had enjoys looking out the window, often excitedly at the birds on the patio or the trees in the yard. It gets very animated in the house when the birds, squirrels, and cat(s) start sassing and chattering away at one another. Boudicca does not know what to do when she sees rabbits, especially when they come close to the patio door. There are ways to maximize your cat’s ability to know what’s going outside safely and easily.

  1. Catnip. There are different types of catnip out there, and if you want, you can even grow your own. Toys laced with catnip can make your cats frisky. Some cats prefer to play with catnip toys while others go “meh”. (On the other hand, there are cats that can react aggressively in response to catnip. Every cat responds differently.) Spreading a pinch of catnip on scratching poles or sprinkled over scratching pads may reinvigorate a cat’s interest in these areas and give an added incentive to scratch where you want them to, as opposed to your furniture.
  2. Boxes. Occasionally putting a box out for your cat to explore gives them something new to do. Boudicca prefers to have one of her beds placed inside a box and likes to hang out in another. Does your cat sprawl on top of your keyboard while you are trying to work? Try putting a shallow box on the edge of or near your desk. This way your cat can have a space near you without getting in your way. Bonus: cat will be conveniently located for spontaneous rubs.

  1. Mazes. You can take giving a cat a box one step further by creating a cat maze out of boxes like Cat Man Chris did for his beautiful cats, Cole and Marmalade. You can always scale it down if you are feeling less ambitious.
  2. Structures. Unleash your creativity and make castles, forts, condos, tunnels, and other fun things for your cat to explore. You can make kitty castles out of boxes and all finds of furniture projects including a TARDIS for the Whovian feline. NB: Your cat may want to “help” you as you build these.
  3. Towers or trees. Some cats, like Boudicca, fall definitively in the box camp. The boys, on the other hand, prefer going high. Because of that, they benefit considerably from their tall cat tree. (Photo below: Within 5 minutes of the cat tree being assembled, Charlie and Garrus inducted it by playing a game of hide-and-pounce.)

  1. Puzzle toys. These can either be purchased or created DIY fashion, so there are a number of options available!

My friend Christina, cat foster mom extraordinaire and guru of all things feline, was thoughtful and generous enough to send me a few puzzle toys: two eggs and a piñata. These were originally intended to pique Boudicca’s interest and offer my senior girl some enrichment after Nala’s passing in January 2017. Boudicca wasn’t sure what to do with them when I first showed them to her. She still is somewhat undecided but will at least investigate them because she likes treats. (In this way she is rather doglike.) After we adopted the boys and they started to settle in, we introduced them to eggs for starters. Both were fascinated by the idea of a strange rattling thing that rolls around, spins, and produces treats!

What toys do your cats like? Are their toys they absolutely dislike? Do your cat play with odd things? In her youth Boudicca stole hair bands on a regular basis. Nala was a known thief of Post-Its. How do you play with your cats? If you have fun and/or creative ideas or just cute stories, please feel free to share by adding them in the comments.

Cat Toys: Part One

Although cats frequently are stereotyped as aloof and self-contained (some cats indeed are), many cats enjoy play time! Whether I bring a new toy home or simply recover one from beneath the couch, Charlie in particular reacts as though it is his birthday, Christmas, and Halloween all rolled into one because he is SO THRILLED that I am giving him a toy. Even Garrus drops his usual reserve and makes some spectacular leaps while chasing after one of his favorite toys.

Boudicca has never been a very playful cat with a high prey drive. When she was younger, she would chase the red dot and half-heartedly bat at toys, but now that she is a senior who will be 18 in May, she has lost most interest in playing. She will occasionally demonstrate a willingness to investigate puzzle toys chiefly because she wants treats. Garrus and Charlie, on the other hand, love to play. This is especially true for Charlie, who can best be described as a busy, happy-go-lucky furry toddler. (He is, after all, two years old, which makes him the feline equivalent of a college student.)

Both of the boys have their unique preferences. Garrus prefers the wand ribbon toy (I think it’s actually called a Cat Dancer but that term has always made me giggle) and the laser pointer, especially if there are treats beneath the red dot. He will occasionally bat around toys that we have lying around. (During a particularly active play session, my living room looks like a daycare center. Charlie also has developed a habit of leaving his toys in odd places around the house.) Garrus also is intrigued by puzzle toys and is generally more willing (and brave enough) to explore new things, like a big paper bag.

Charlie, as I mentioned earlier, likes to be busy. While he is not really mischievous, he very well could be if he ever became bored. This is one of the many reasons why I am so grateful that we fostered and adopted both boys. Charlie is so much happier with a cat buddy and is generally appreciative of having a playmate. In between naps and being cute, ambushing, chasing, wrestling, and playing tag with Garrus fill his daily calendar. However, Garrus does not always want to play, so when that happens Charlie has to entertain himself. While both boys immediately claimed the cat tower for themselves (Boudicca prefers boxes), Charlie regularly runs up and down the tower, either chasing Garrus or inventing a game for himself. (The rules of these new games are not always clear to me. In fact several of them appear to have fluid parameters.) Having a tower gives Charlie a place to exercise, hide in a cubby if he feels insecure or just wants a cave-like environment, a convenient perch, and his preferred sleeping spot (a high platform).

Within days of erecting the tower, Charlie tore off all three of the toys that had been attached to it. (I cut off the remaining elastic string on both the tower and the toys so that he could not chew on it.) For some reason, these are his absolute favorite: two fuzzy brown mice and a ball.

Charlie had actually left one of the mice in the bed. I moved the other two toys there to take this photo. He was very curious about what I was doing and nearly bumped into my phone and photobombed the shot.

“Hi Mama…whatcha doin’?”

My friend Tracey proposed a theory that some cats are more “birdy” and others are “mousy”. “Birdy” cats like toys that they swat or chase in the air while “mousy” cats prefer to stalk toys on the ground. This makes sense to me, and I think a fair number of cats fall into one of these two categories or are a blend of them. Garrus may fall more into the “birdy” cat category while Charlie is “mousy”. Where does that leave Boudicca? She’s in the final category: lazy and/or googly.

How many toys does my little pounce have? After fishing them out from under and behind furniture (the boys looked on, rather bewildered and intrigued), I found most of them. Although I originally bought a pack of eight springs, I only found four. I do not know where the others went. I suspect gnomes kidnapped them.

Note that I do not have any feathery toys in my collection. I don’t have anything against feather toys; some cats like them very much. However, Mr. Charlie demonstrated that he will eat the feathers and that makes him sick. The vet told me no more feathery toys for him.

Garrus stared intently at his wand toys as I lay them out for the above photo. He was totally game to play. So we did. Charlie joined in as well.

Here Garrus pauses before he executes his trademark swat and pounce move. His face is a study in concentration.

Because we have all these toys, we collect them and put them on the platforms the cats generally don’t use. This habit started inadvertently; I believe I needed to vacuum the living room and the toys were everywhere, so I put them on one platform to get them out of the way and apparently forgot about them for a bit. Charlie, however, discovered them as soon as I put away the dreaded vacuum monster. I watched him fish out toys he wanted to play with and either swat them to the floor or carry them in his mouth. (Garrus has selected toys using his paws this way but does it less often.) Charlie does this very consistently with his fuzzy mice and ball, which I now put on the uppermost platform. I cannot tell if Charlie is slightly offended when I put them up there or just feels strangely compelled to throw all his toys onto the floor. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to catch Charlie doing this with my camera yet but I will keep trying. It’s pretty adorable and usually involves a squeaky commentary.

Toy shelf #1

Toy shelf #2

Charlie danced all over the platforms, trilling and sniffing all his toys intently, as though personally checking that I returned them to their proper spot.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Human, Your Attention Please

Today is National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day! Do you have inquisitive cats? Are your purry companions talkative and have lots of things to say? At times does your cat seem puzzled by something you are doing and ask a question about it? Today’s your opportunity to answer the questions burning in your cat’s mind.

  1. Be consciously aware of your cat. Notice when your fur person is attempting to ask you something.
  2. Try to figure out what your cat is asking. Then try to answer that question.
  3. It may sound silly but doing this helps foster positive interactions between cat and owner. It might behoove you to learn something about cat behavior, such as body language. Pay attention to your cat’s personality too. Your cat may surprise you.

Here are some of the questions I think my cats ask me on a regular basis:

Boudicca: “Mama, I’m hungry. Why aren’t you giving me some of your ice cream?
Me: “You have food in your bowl, Queen B. Ice cream isn’t for kitties.”

Boudicca: “But what you have is mine, right?AND I WANT SOME.”

Me: Sigh.

Garrus: “Pardon me, madam, but why are you smooching my head?”

Me: “It’s one of the ways I show that I love you.”

Garrus: “I see. I assume this is some human ritual but it does not appear to hurt me. Carry on.” [He continues to give me side-eye as I pet him but he starts purring too.]

Note that Garrus sometimes has the snootiest expressions in photos. I think they’re hilarious.

Charlie: “Mama! Mama! Help! Where have all my toys gone?”

Me: “I’m sure they’re in the house somewhere…”

Charlie: “I haven’t seen them since this morning…I was batting them all over the living room. But the furniture kept eating them. Can you help me get them back?”

Me: “Sure. Let me get the broom so I can dig them out.”

Charlie: “Aaah! Not the broom!” [runs away]

Garrus: “I say, dear boy, do chill out. A broom is not a valid reason to lose one’s fur.”

Charlie: “Squeak! Squeak! Cheep! Chirp!” [Translation:” Where is everyone? Hello?”]

Me: “We’re in the living room, Charlie. You should come out here if you want any rubs.”

Boudicca: “Why do you encourage him? He’ll ruin a perfectly good snuggle session if he comes out here.”

Charlie: “Squeak! Chirp! Trill! Squeak, squeak, cheep!” [Translation: “Salutations! The Spotted One has arrived! Look how adorable I am!”]

Garrus: “You sir, may indeed be cute, but some would consider it rude to interrupt everyone’s quiet evening by squeaking up such a storm.”

Charlie: “Play?”

Garrus and Charlie: “What’s this? A new toy? We must explore!”

What questions does your cat ask you?

Time to Get Fabulous!

It’s National Dress Up Your Pet Day! It was created in 2009 by Colleen Paige, a celebrity pet lifestyle expert and animal behaviorist. I have a few friends who dress up their dogs but know only a very few people who can put clothes on their cats without major hissy fights breaking out. I know that here in the Austin area many dog owners dress up their canine companions in all kinds of outfits for the costume contest and parade at the annual Dogtoberfest. Granted, the proceeds of the event go to local animal rescue groups and it is all in fun as well.

As with a number of pet-themed holidays, you, as the pet owner, should take into account your pet’s safety, health, and comfort. Here are a few things to keep in mind for National Dress Up Your Pet Day:

  1. Perfect fit. Don’t put your pet into an outfit that is too small just because it’s cute. The costume should not impede your pet’s movement in anyway. This can injure your pet as well be dangerous. (Example: A Great Dane in an ill-fitting costume can easily trip trying to get out of it, and by doing so hurting itself and others in the process.) Also it’s mean.
  2. Breathe in, breathe out. No costume should impair your pet’s ability to breathe in any way. Ensure their nose and mouth is never covered. Note that brachycephalic pets (i.e. short-headed pets like bulldogs, pugs, Himalayans, Persians, to name a few) are more likely to have breathing difficulties such as brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.
  3. Hats…optional. Be discerning with accessories. Don’t impair your pet’s ability to see and hear with hats, for example. The same goes for booties. While many find it funny to watch dogs or cats walk funny in booties, the pet does not likely find it so amusing. (It feels extremely odd for them not to feel the ground directly beneath their paws.) If you want your pet to wear booties on a regular basis, you need to desensitize your pet to them first.
  4. Loose bits. All those frills, ruffles, buttons, sequins, and extra ornamentation to the costume may look snazzy but may look like something to chew on to your pet. These small parts can be easily swallowed. Anything loose or dangling that can be chewed or torn off can cause a choking hazard.
  5. Less is more. You don’t have to only buy whole costumes. I know several owners who keep an array of bandannas and sweaters on hand for their dogs. A dog can look just as smart and jaunty with a well-chosen bandanna as he can with a full costume. A friend of mine can put a tie on her cat and he looks absolutely dashing.
  6. Keep watch. Don’t leave your pet unattended in a costume. They could get hurt, stuck, or chew on something they should not.
  7. Special considerations. Trying to put a full costume on a senior pet that has arthritis, for example, may experience pain and will definitely not enjoy the experience. Young pets frequently lack motor coordination skills and could easily get tangled up in a costume. Both senior and young animals may have trouble regulating their body temperatures and thus could overheat.
  8. Quitting time. If your pet becomes unhappy and uneasy while wearing a costume, it’s time to stop. Playing dress up is not worth making your pet stress out.
  9. No coercion. If your pet does not like to wear clothing, as many do not (including cats), do not force your pet to wear costumes. That’s mean and not cool.
  10. Have fun. If your pet does like dressing up and is not at all stressed out by it, by all means, go all out. Have a photo shoot. Set up a fashion show with a catwalk, even if dogs are the only contestants. Take photos with your pet and your friends. Enjoy yourselves!