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Senior Cats Need to Play, Too!

495699649Everyone loves to play with kittens. We treasure the times when our cats are young, growing like weeds and getting into absolutely everything! But, you might be relieved when your cat has long outgrown those days and becomes content with napping on the couch. Remember, however, that playing is important for both the mental and physical wellbeing of your cat in his senior years, too. Here are some tips to keep your older cat happy and entertained.

Hiding Toys
Hide toys around the house so that your kitty can “catch” them again. This lets them use their natural hunting instincts. Sprinkling the toys in catnip or storing them in a bag of catnip will add a little extra excitement to your kitty’s day.

Make Meals Fun
Cats appreciate the simplicity of food appearing in their bowl, but as I’ve mentioned they are also hunters. So the “catch and eat mentality” is still there. Take advantage of it! Try a puzzle feeder to create a bit of a challenge at dinner. Or, look for toys that treats can be hidden inside of. The treats are released one at a time as the cat plays. The reward encourages the behavior and helps keep your kitty sharp and active.

Replacing older toys with new ones
Just as people like new things to play with, so do cats. I usually replace the cat’s toys once it ends up in the litter box or becomes unrecognizable. But sometimes replacing an older toy with a new one can be greatly appreciated over the same old boring thing.

177027004Give them a view
Indoor cats are undoubtably safer than outdoor cats, but that doesn’t mean they always like it that way. Older cats have a bit less energy for play, so give them something to look at so they don’t get bored. Consider adding a bird feeder outside your window or add a window perch so that kitty has somewhere comfortable to sit. I also discovered that my nineteen year old cat loved watching the gold fish swim back and forth in the fish tank. So if you have a tank put it somewhere safe for both cats and fish (don’t forget to secure the lid!).

Take them outside or a build a “catio”
Some owners choose to go the extra step and create a catio or take their cat for a walk. Not all cats enjoy this, some “skittish” cats might actually dislike it. But for some it is an exciting adventure.

Catios (cat patios) can be purchased prebuilt on many websites or other people choose to build their own. They often feature a chain link or metal cage big enough to accommodate a cat tree or shelves. My personal favorite are catios that connect to the home through a cat door or a window allowing the cats to pass back and forth more freely. I have also seen other versions of this that are more like gardens with a fence going across the top. With plants or grass inside for kitties to relax on in the sun.

If a catio isn’t an option, then perhaps your cat might enjoy a walk. Though this is usually something that takes building up during your cat’s life, some older cats are calmer and accept a leash and harness without any problems. A harness is a much better choice as it wraps around the upper body and isn’t as harmful if I becomes snagged or the cats pulls against it. They are available in many materials. Try taking your kitty into the garden for a few minutes, and let them roll around in the grass.

My mother and I had a cat when I was growing up who would often bolt out open doors. As she aged we worried more about this. My mom’s solution was to buy a leash and take the cat out into the backyard for walks twice a day. I admit being skeptical, but it seemed to curb her desire to run out any open door. However her door-darting was replaced with sitting at the door meowing all summer!

Interactive play
Play with your cat. It might take a few attempts to find the best toy for your feline but you’ll both be happy when you do. Here are a few suggestions.

Things on strings
Cats enjoy hunting (and catching) their prey. So a Neko Flies toy or feathers on a string are the perfect target. Dangle one in front of your kitty and wiggle it like a little creature. Pull it slowly along the floor or up a wall. And don’t forget to reward your kitties hunting skills with dinner or a few treats when play time is over.

My cat’s favorite thing on a string is “Da Bird”. All my cats have loved it immediately. It’s a bit different from others like it because the string with feathers are allowed to turn as it darts through the air. Sort of like a fishing lure (minus hook). My nineteen and twelve year old cats would chase this around for as long as I kept it moving.

Crinkle balls
Older cats tend to like these because they make more sound than some other toys. Even an older cat will notice the crinkling sound. You can put them on a string, as mentioned above or toss them in the air for kitty to bat around. Crinkled newspaper or wrapping paper is another cheap alternative.

Furry rattle mice
More realistic furry mice that produce some type of sound are popular with older cats. I’ve noticed with several times with my cats and with those of my friends. It seems like older cats need more to attract them to begin playing. So the sound and fur might give a bit more excitement.

Electronic and battery toys. Spinning circle, running mice, and motion sensor toys.

Cats can enjoy electronics too. Many pet stores now carry electronic cat toys such as battery operated mice that scurry around the floor and blankets with darting lights to temp a cat at night. I have owned several lasers that ran on timers projecting on a wall in my living room. I turned it on when I left for work so that cats could play with it. Something like that would be helpful on busy days when no one is home.

Prizes
Keeping your cats mind sharp is important as they age. Look for cat toys that allow you to hide treats inside, the toy will rattle to attract attention and then reward the cat for playing. I wouldn’t say cats are easy to train, but I know they are smart enough to continue doing something if they get a treat.

Laser pointers
Laser pointers really do deserve a category of their own. Such a simple little toy, I think my cats love chasing the red dot more than they love me. Almost any cat will chase the little dot that magically appears in front of them and then slowly makes its way across the floor. Only fleeing when kitty pounces. They are also available in other colors in some places, but I prefer the classic red.

I have read a few people say that laser pointers aren’t a good choice. The theory is that the frustration of never catching the dot can build up. Being expressed in unpleasant ways such as aggression. So I suggest ending a game of laser chasing with something they actually can catch, or a treat that appears where the laser vanished.

Pay Attention!
And of course you should pay attention to and spend time with your senior kitty. Having a cat isn’t like having a roommate. Whether it’s playing with a toy or laying on the couch watching Seinfeld reruns scratching her chin, your senior cat deserves all the loving attention you can give her.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Marci Koski

    Apr 29, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Really well done article! Great advice for most cats, but you’re right – a lot of people forget that their older cats need stimulation (both mental and physical) as well. I have a 16 year old that mostly sleeps on the couch, but he LOVES when I get the wand toy out (he really likes the Neko flies and Da Bird toys) and still runs around after the lure! He’s not as quick as the rest of my cats to I have to play with him separately from the others who like to butt in. But he gets just as much attention, and perhaps even more! Thanks 🙂

    • Sandy

      Dec 6, 2016 at 12:12 am

      It was dark when I woke. This is a ray of suhnsine.

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Just when this dog-eat-dog world has handed you all the poop you can take, it's time to walk the dog. Or wash the dog. Or feed the dog. You get the idea. So welcome to the world of easy-to-care-for cats. Entertainment comes bundled in a furry, huggable, self-cleaning cat who won't beg for your food. In his eyes, you don't eat well enough anyway. Just keep a laser pen handy, sit back and wait for the fun to begin! Cats...ya gotta love 'em.

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