Despite what we humans might think, cats actually quite like being the only one of their species in the home.
Whether your cat has access to the great outdoors or not, offering a variety of toys to keep him amused is a prerequisite. But it’s not enough to just leave out one or two toys in the hope that he’ll spend the day happily playing with them. Not all cats like the same toys, so it’s really important for you to learn what your cat’s preferences are. And of the toys that your cat is partial to, consideration should be given to what toys are suitable to be left out for him to play with unsupervised. So, a certain amount of trial and error to get it right is to be expected.
If you have recently acquired your cat, or you’re unsure about what he likes, you can now buy variety packs of toys at a reasonable price. These packs include lots of smaller toys of different textures, shapes, and smells that your cat can bat around. Some packs also include fishing rod toys and cat tunnels.
Some cats like nothing better than to chase the humble ball. I like the lightweight foam balls because they move faster when swatted by a furry paw! For those cats who like their toy balls to be a bit more exciting, you could try crinkle balls, which, as the name suggests, are made from crinkle foil which reflects the light and makes a rustling sound when touched.
Speaking of toys with sound, there are lots of different types out there, but for some cats the noise can be off-putting, so bear this in mind when shopping around. Smartphone owners will be pleased to know that you can now buy cat toys that can be controlled via apps on your phone. I’ve seen a lovely looking little mouse which you can move in different directions allowing your cat to give chase, all from the comfort of your office chair. The offerings are currently limited, but I’ve no doubt this market will expand. There are also toys available that can be pre-programmed on a timer to keep your cat amused when you’re out. They range from those that rotate a laser beam for your cat to chase, to those that have feathers, a tail, or in one case, toy cheese wedges appearing randomly in and out of holes in the base of the unit. To preserve battery life, they usually have an auto-shutoff feature.
With regards to the laser pointers, to avoid your cat getting frustrated at being unable to complete his predatory sequence, I generally recommend that these be used when there is someone around to throw something for your cat to physically pounce on. Having said that, there are pet cameras available that not only allow you to keep an eye on your cat when you’re out, but which have a laser pointer incorporated for you to control, as well as a treat dispenser that you can activate during the game. However, all that sophisticated technology does come with a hefty price tag.
Luckily for us, cats enjoy playing with things that we already have lying around the house, from a scrunched-up piece of paper to a cardboard box or paper bag (handles removed) containing a toy, pinch of catnip, a feather, or treat. Leaving these dotted around should hopefully make the day more fun and interesting for your cat. If you live with a catnip junkie, then buying catnip toys that have different shapes, sizes, and textures, and rotating them each day, will give your cat variety and help maintain his interest in them. I would recommend putting them out just before you leave as this will engage him and hopefully leave him oblivious to your departure. If your cat turns his nose up at catnip, there are several alternatives for you to try such as valerian, silvervine, and honeysuckle. All of these scent-enriched toys can give your cat a lovely ‘high’, but don’t forget, what goes up must come down, so don’t be surprised to find your cat snoozing when you arrive back home!
Some owners believe that their cat derives comfort from having the radio left on when they’re out. I personally think this is more of a human thing and while I haven’t found any studies to support this theory, it certainly can’t do any harm. Video, however, can be useful. Some cats, my cat Billy included, get totally absorbed in watching videos of mice, birds, and other wildlife. These are all available online and usually last for hours! I wouldn’t suggest leaving them on for this long, but if you have a smart TV, a spare phone or tablet, then you can leave them playing, having set the device to go to sleep after a certain period of time.
Giving your cat plenty to occupy himself when he’s left solo doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t also be entertained when you’re at home. Scheduling a daily interactive play session with him will offer a variety of play and help strengthen the bond between you. This doesn’t take much time or energy. The good thing about cats is that you can be sitting in front of the TV waggling a toy on the end of a wand while he does all the hard work, stalking, chasing, and pouncing!
Of course, playtime can be increased at weekends when you have more time. I’m a huge fan of the fishing rod type toys as they allow you to manipulate the toy on the end of the rod in a way that most closely replicates your cat’s natural hunting habits. However, for safety reasons, never leave your cat alone with one of these. The same goes for any toys that can be dangled from the tops of doors or from door handles. Likewise, I’ve noticed that the toys that look like colourful plastic coils are gaining in popularity, but given that they can be chewed, I’d use these during supervised play sessions only. And while we’re on the subject of safety, do remember to remove any small parts from toys that could be bitten off.
Cat tunnels are another way for you to have fun with your cat. Although treats or toys can be left in them for your cat when you’re out, I personally think he’d prefer to have you throw toys inside it or trail a piece of string or shoelace through it for him to chase after.
Mixing it up
You can also buy cat furniture that doubles up as a toy. One such that has caught my eye is a Cat Activity Play Mat. This consists of two pieces of carpet, a non-slip bottom rug which is placed on the floor, and a top rug which has multiple small Velcro pads on its underside which allows you to stick it to the bottom rug and create different shapes. The top rug also has holes cut into it, small ones to enable your cat to stick his paws through to swat a passing toy, and large holes for him dive in and out of. The carpet looks to be great for scratching and it provides a nice hidey-hole.
No two cats are the same, so when it comes to providing entertainment for your solo cat remember that providing him with a variety of toys of different sizes, textures, scents, and sounds, and that offer different types of movement will enable you to narrow down his preferences. When you find something he really likes, you can provide more of this type in different forms and rotate these daily to ensure he doesn’t get bored.
However, as much as it pains me to say it, there are cats for whom people are more important than toys and being a people-oriented Siamese, my own cat Billy is one of these, so it’s just as well I work from home!