The great outdoors provides the most natural environment for cats, offering them the opportunity to explore a wide range of smells, sights, sounds, tastes and textures. Roaming outside provides cats with a physical and mental workout that releases feel-good hormones and reduces stress. So if your pets are spending more time at home during the cold, wet days of winter, or if you haveindoor cats, they may sometimes become frustrated, and could benefit from extra play and stimulation inside.
Claire Stallard, Senior Cat Behaviourist at Petplan charity partner Blue Cross, notes that if cats are kept inside for prolonged lengths of time, they may scratch furniture , spray or not use their litter trays. ‘They’re not being naughty; these are just natural things they’d rather be doing outside,’ she says. ‘These behaviours could be a sign of stress at not being outdoors.’
Other signs of feline frustration include cats crying at the window or outside door, or starting to play inappropriately. ‘Young cats, particularly, might do this,’ says Claire. ‘Cats are natural hunters, so when they’re deprived of the outdoors, they might start stalking and “hunting” us when we walk past. This could become a problem with young children or older people who have more fragile skin. So you need to provide your cats with toys and activities to keep them occupied.’
Interacting with your cats
With so many of us working from home around our cats these days, we’re likely to have more opportunities to play with our pets. This will not only provide your cat with mental stimulation , but also enhance the bond between you both. And you don’t have to overdo it. While cats love our company, they generally like to come and go as they please, preferring little interactions that aren’t too intense. ‘Cats don’t necessarily rush to greet us, like a dog would,’ explains Claire. ‘They’re not ignoring you; it’s just normal cat behaviour.’
When it comes to play, it’s important to match your cat’s pace, as some pets are more active than others. Claire notes that during the pandemic lockdowns, some pets have suffered from over-handling, as they received too much attention from bored owners and children. ‘Cats like to be with people, but they need to be able to get away from them, too,’ she says. ‘Make sure they have their own space for resting.’
Indoor games to play with cats
Here, three pet owners share some of their favourite indoor cat activities.
Construct a cat hammock
Jane Massey says her Persian cat Jemma likes heights: ‘She feels safest when she’s high up. Her favourite outside perch is the garage roof. In the colder months, I try and recreate this indoors by clearing shelves and wardrobe tops, and positioning chairs or stools nearby to help her climb.
'Making a DIY hammock for your cat to relax or play in is really easy using a worn-out, stretchy T-shirt, some scissors and a sturdy dining room chair. Simply cut open the shoulder areas and down each side 15-20cm, tying the ends firmly around chair legs.’
Stage a feline magic show
Debbie McMahon plays guessing games with her cat Minnie: ‘Rather than chasing a toy mouse around, Minnie likes to watch and work things out. When it’s cold outside, I'll put a bell under one of three identical coloured cups before shuffling them round. When I stop, she’ll touch one of the cups with her paw. It’s amazing how many times she’s right!
‘Another game she enjoys is finding a treat I’ve hidden in a crumpled piece of paper. She also likes a pyramid I made from the cardboard insides of empty toilet rolls, which I taped together. Inside the tubes I hide her favourite cat treats. You can do the same with empty egg boxes.’
Entertain your cat with toys
Meg Wright says of her cat: ‘Leo is a prolific hunter. When he’s stuck indoors, having regular play sessions in short bursts of around two minutes keeps him engaged and feeds his hunter spirit.
‘I offer plenty of toys – the more they crinkle, dazzle and can be batted around, the better – but you can also make your own. I swap his toys over regularly, keeping his favourites hidden away until play begins, which gives an added thrill.’
We’d love to hear more of your top tips for entertaining our feline friends over the winter – share your post on social media using #PethoodStories