5 ways to keep your cat's brain fit and healthy

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You probably already know that keeping your pet's mind active is the best way to keep cognitive dysfunction (or dementia) at bay. But knowing where to begin can seem daunting. To help, we've put together five simple, cost-effective ideas you can easily put into practice today.

1. Make old things new

Cats are capable of learning new things at any age, but your pet doesn't necessarily need to master a new trick to exercise her mind. Any situation that requires your cat to think flexibly or problem solve can help to form new neural pathways, keeping her brain fit and responsive. Try doing so by putting items your cat is familiar with in an unexpected place. For example, as long your cat isn't visually impaired, moving an old cat tree to another room of the house can make it seem new and fun again. Even ordinary toys can become more interesting and stimulating if your cat comes across them in a new area. Think of it as a game of hide-and-seek for her mind.

2. Let technology help

Online video sites house plenty of great entertainment produced just for cats. These films can bring nature indoors for your pet, and feature up-close views of birds, squirrels, fish and other wildlife. After several viewings, your cat may even learn the patterns of the animals on-screen and begin to swat at, stalk and hunt them – practicing her natural hunting skills from the comfort of your sofa. Similarly, there are excellent apps available that allow your cat to hunt virtual prey, exercising and stimulating her mind. However, pet experts caution that these games may be frustrating for cats, as there's no real reward at the end of them. So always finish an app game with a feather toy your cat can catch and give her a small treat.

3. Try homemade agility training

You might think of an agility course as a dog-centric activity, but you can easily design a simple feline agility course in your own home for a great combination of mental and physical exercise. Start by having your cat go through a tunnel made of paper bags and then slowly build up the complexity by adding various obstacles (such as a cat tree, cardboard boxes and even your furniture) to the course. To get your cat interested, grab a dangling toy on a stick and lure her through the course or lay a trail of tasty treats for her to follow. Then reward her with plenty of praise once she's made it all the way through.

4. Turn mealtime into a treasure hunt

Meals don't need to be boring. Instead of just putting down your cat's bowl in the usual way, try hiding her food in a new place, or even a few different places. This will allow your cat to use her natural hunting instincts to track down her prey, which will provide her with a stimulating challenge and keep her natural abilities active.

5. Fetch

Who says fetch is just for dogs? It can be a great way for your cat to exercise her pouncing instincts. Try tossing a toy or a ball of paper that she can comfortably pick up. The trick is in teaching her to bring the object back. To start, toss the toy a short distance and say ‘fetch' as you do so. If she pounces on it and takes the toy in her mouth, call her back to you, using a treat to encourage her. Offer her the treat and, when she drops the toy, give her the food along with plenty of praise. Your cat will appreciate the chance to keep her instincts sharp, and playing the game will keep your bond strong.

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