In my opinion, cats are the most mysterious, beautiful, complicated and wonderful creatures alive.
Felines have embedded in their DNA the instinct of survival and hunting. That is why the antics of play are most important to the mental health of indoor felines. We realize how important an indoor cat is to us, however, it is also blatantly apparent that he has very little to do. Many behavior problems in cats stem from stress, boredom and frustration. A lack of mental stimulation can result in up to 30% loss of brain function over time in both animals and humans. Thinking and problem solving will significantly alleviate senility, mental dullness and separation anxiety.
Let’s look at the distinctive and special talents and abilities known in cats:
- Vertical pupil slits allow them to better approximate their prey’s distance by honing their depth perception on the target.
- Thirty -two muscles in each ear allow independent movement for directional hearing. A cat’s sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than that in a human. They depend on their sense of smell for their very survival. Combine their sense of smell and their superior hearing and we have an animal that can detect scents and the direction of sounds before we even smell or hear anything out of the ordinary.
- Cats are survivalists. They use their senses to sniff out food, locate enemies, determine their territory and seek out their mates. Feral or street cats, it has been documented, can be completely blind yet thrive in their colonies due to their strong sensory capabilities.
- Sensory organs called proprioceptors located on the tips of the whiskers. These proprioceptors are extremely sensitive to air movement and pressure, and they can detect an object’s presence from a distance.
- Powerful back legs enable them to jump up to seven times their own height. Their speed and agility, plus other unknown senses, make this animal a skilled and precise hunter and forager.
Therefore, how can we best exercise these instincts in an indoor cat to give him a purpose to keep engaged, vital, fit and mentally sound?
Firstly, a few sessions of play time of at least ten minutes a day with a favorite toy or wand will allow your pet to exercise some of its many talents. Secondly, hiding treats or food in different areas of the house will help ignite the foraging instinct. Food puzzles are known to exercise the brain, alluring them with rewards of nourishment.
A simple home-made dispenser can be an empty clear water bottle with lots of holes. Put a mixture of favorite treats and dry food inside. Don’t fill it up too full as you want to make it easy to bat around and let the food fall out. Once your cat gets the hang of it, look for different types of puzzles and toys that will challenge his instincts. Another idea, especially for those who are not food motivated, is to put a few favorite toys in an empty cereal box. Make sure the holes are larger than the items that are hidden inside so they can get them out.
Cat wall climbing systems are a series of shelves and landings where you could hide a toy or food reward. Not only will it give the cat a perfect place to perch, he will enjoy and benefit from the exercise of the climb.
Take the time to research other challenging activities you might introduce to him; alternating different types of play to keep it fresh so he will not get bored and lose interest. Even senior and geriatric cats are documented to lose weight and regain a youthful spirit when they engage and awaken these skills and strengths.
As you take the time to encourage these fun exercises, appreciate the unique and magnificent talents these sentient beings possess. Keeping kitty happy, involved and secure in the knowing that their wellbeing matters to you, will strengthen the bond with you and your forever friend and give them the quality of life they deserve.