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Behaviourist's corner

Games to enrich your cat’s life

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It’s logical to think that as cats get older, we should minimise their playtime. However, pet experts recommend you do exactly the opposite, as games give your cat a sense of purpose and can help to keep her brain young. Read on for our top advice on the enrichment activities that can help your furry friend enjoy life to the fullest.

The importance of play

Petplan vet Brian Faulkner stresses that regular playtime is important for cats of all ages, not only younger cats. ‘Games and exercise can definitely help keep old-age problems, such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome or dementia, at bay. Anything that makes an animal think and react is more likely to work the brain and keep it healthy,’ he says. By engaging an elderly cat in playtime, you’ll ensure she has something to look forward to and entice her to interact more with the world around her.

Energy levels and playfulness

It’s common to mistake lower energy levels in older cats as a lack of interest in games. While your moggie may not be quite as playful as she was as a kitten, she still needs plenty of interaction – but remember that it’s normal for older cats to engage in play for only short periods then wander off to find something else to do (or have a nap!).

If your cat shows any interest – even by just investigating a toy you’ve introduced or simply watching you – it’s a positive sign that she’ll enjoy stimulation. As you increase your interactions and she learns what to expect from these sessions, you’ll also see her attention span lengthen.

Bring back the hunt

Time spent bonding with your cat is never wasted, and any activity is far better than none, but it does help to choose the right kind of activities. And the best way to engage your cat is to fill a gap in her life you might not even be aware she has – the need to hunt. Your cat’s predatory instincts don’t dwindle with age, but her decreased agility and energy might mean that she doesn’t have as much opportunity to put her skills into practice.

To prevent her from becoming frustrated and bored (which could potentially result in anxiety or destructive behaviour) introduce activities that tap into her natural hunting instincts, such as:

  1. Foraging for food

    Getting your cat to work for some of her food is bound to interest her, as it automatically engages the natural feline instinct to forage. However, it’s important to introduce these kinds of games slowly, to keep her from getting frustrated and giving up. Start small, by simply scattering dry kibble across your (clean) kitchen floor for her to sniff out.

    Once your cat has mastered that, progress to using a puzzle feeder, or make the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors’ easy at-home version by simply reusing a sturdy yoghurt pot. Punch two holes (just large enough for small treats to fall through when shaken) in the bottom of the pot. Then attach string to the top, and tie it in a spot that’s easily accessible to your cat. To get the food she’ll need to bat at the pot with her paws, just as she would when hunting small prey.

  2. Appy hunting

    Most of all, it’s important to keep your cat mentally agile; so if it’s obvious she no longer has any interest in chasing after real toys or feathers, she might still enjoy a less physically challenging digital version.

    Try on our recommended apps for cats such as Mouse for Cats (free for iOS and Android), which is ideal for low-energy interaction, and allows your cat to ‘catch’ an on-screen rodent by tapping at it with her paw. To really get your cat interested though, don’t simply place the device in front of her and leave. While cats are notoriously self-sufficient, they do still enjoy one-on-one time, and having you play alongside her will help increase your cat’s attention span in the game.

    However, as with all playtime, take your cues from your cat. If it becomes clear she’s had enough, allow her to wander off to a comfy spot and take a well-deserved break from the serious business of play.

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