No matter if you live in Portland, OR or anywhere else in the USA, there are perils outdoors for your beloved kitties. In our urban setting, it’s obvious; cars, neighborhood cats, and feral cats. Out in the countryside, it’s coyotes, other wild animals including mountain lions, and often people with weapons. The problem with living indoors is often there’s nothing to do when you are a natural born hunter. Boredom is boredom no matter what species you are. Having nothing to do is a form of stress that we cat owners must be sure to prevent.
Andy, my crazy youngster, loves to play with moving objects that mimic birds or mice. Because playing is a way of acting out hunting, he doesn’t play for a very long time. Cats in the wild hunt briefly with big bursts of energy whether they are successful or not. Cats are drawn by rapid motion so flying or rapidly moving toys work best. I learned recently though that there is another characteristic to look for in toys.
People often complain to me that their cat becomes bored very quickly. Believe it or not, in 1992 a research project was created to look into this apparent loss of motivation. They found that cats presented with toys at first played intensely, appearing to treat the toy as if it was indeed a mouse. However, many cats stop playing within a matter of a couple of minutes. After taking the toy away and presenting it again, the cats would play again but less intensely. By the third presentation, they wouldn’t play at all
Adult cats treat toys as if they were prey: they chase, bite, claw, and pounce on toys just as if the toys were mice or rats. Cats don’t usually get” bored” with hunting, so it’s puzzling that cats stop playing with most toys so quickly. The few toys in the research project that sustained the cats’ interest were toys that shared one quality: they fell apart as the cat was playing with them. If all that biting and clawing doesn’t seem to have any affect on its target, then either the target wasn’t a meal or if it is prey then it’s proving difficult to subdue. A toy that starts to disintegrate, or is taken away but looks different when it comes back, mimics the early stages of the kill, thus encouraging the cat to persist.
Andy’s bird toy falls apart a bit and changes texture when he beats it up. That seems to be an encouragement to continue to treat it like prey. To keep your cat’s life interesting look for toys that will change in appearance as they are preyed upon, alternate toys with different ones of different color and texture, and choose toys that move rapidly like mice.
If you’d like more information about playing with your cat or otherwise making sure that they have a rich and satisfying indoor life, we, at Cat Hospital of Portland would be happy to talk more about it.