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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

The Importance of Scheduling Playtime With Cats

I suspect my cats are not alone in sometimes getting the short end of the stick within our family. Life gets hectic, and with work, husband, child, dog, horse and home all vying for my attention, I sometimes gloss over the needs of the two relatively undemanding kitties in my life. It’s simply a case of the squeaky wheel(s) getting the grease, I guess.


Let’s face it: healthy adult cats are pretty low maintenance. In fact, I suspect that is a big reason why cats have surpassed dogs as the most popular pets in America. Food, water, shelter, a clean litter box, veterinary care… that’s all they need, right? Wrong! Without adequate outlets for their energy and curiosity, indoor cats almost always run into trouble.


Obesity and behavioral problems are much more common in indoor-only versus indoor-outdoor cats, probably in large part because of inactivity and boredom. Having two or more cats in the home doesn’t solve the problem, either. The couch has room for more than one "potato" after all.


One of the most effective ways to provide the mental and physical stimulation that indoor cats need is to schedule daily, individual play sessions with them.


Cats have an innate desire to hunt. Toys that stimulate the prey drive will get cats chasing, stalking, pouncing, and generally burning off energy and steam. Lots of toys are on the market that look or move like mice, birds, etc., but simply buying a few and placing them in front of your cat will at best provide a few minutes of entertainment. Tying a toy to the end of a string and walking around the house with it tied to your belt loop while you tidy up is a much more interesting scenario for your cat. Kitty fishing poles and laser pointers perform similar functions, although the latter may end up frustrating cats since they never actually catch anything.


Cat toys do not need to be expensive. Try putting a cheap fuzzy "mouse" inside a paper bag or tissue box and see what happens. Some cats even enjoy chasing bubbles or learning how to fetch. I once knew a cat that would chase and bring back cotton swabs for as long as you cared to throw them.


Keeping cats awake and engaged while you are out of the house is also important, particularly if you are regularly woken up by nighttime bouts of the kitty crazies. As long as weight gain is not a concern, you can hide treats inside a small hollow rubber toy or food puzzle and let your cat "hunt" while you are away.


How do your cats most like to play? If you have any ideas that I can try out on my own critters, I’d love to hear them.


Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: yoppy / Flickr

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