One of the things many people find very appealing about cats is that they can be left alone for longer periods than dogs. Even with the convenience of a litter box and an endless supply of food, cats left alone for long stretches of time, day after day, can suffer from loneliness, boredom and even separation anxiety.
Indoor cats left alone with no stimulation or environmental enrichment are more likely to become bored or lonely. Does that mean the solution is to allow your cat to go outdoors for stimulation and entertainment? Certainly not. The outdoor environment is filled with stimulation but it’s also filled with danger and uncertainty. It’s my recommendation that cats be kept indoors but when you do that, you have a responsibility to ensure the indoor environment provides the enrichment need to keep your cat mentally active and healthy.
Some Signs Your Cat may be Bored
- Lack of appetite
- Sleeping more than normal
- Destructive behavior
- Over-grooming (even to the point of creating bald patches)
- Litter Box Issues
If your cat is displaying any of the above behaviors or another change in his normal behavior, the first step is to visit the veterinarian. Behavioral changes can be due to an underlying medical condition so it’s important to get a veterinary exam before assuming a problem is behavioral. If there does turn out to be a medical issue it doesn’t mean your cat won’t also benefit from some boredom busters as well though. Every cat deserves environmental enrichment. To get you started, here are some tips to help prevent boredom in your “Home Alone” cat.
1. Set out Some Puzzle Feeders
Food-dispensing toys are an easy way to provide added enrichment. Working for food is a concept that’s a natural for cats but in many households, food is just piled high in the food bowl so the cat doesn’t get the opportunity to seek out his prey. As hunters, cats enjoy the chance to search for prey, stalk, pounce and enjoy their reward. Use a puzzle feeder so you can enjoy a little bonus playtime during meals. The puzzle feeder also encourages him to eat more slowly. There are more puzzle feeders available for dry food because wet food will spoil more quickly, especially if you plan on leaving puzzle feeders out for the day while you’re at work. You can still use wet food puzzle feeders but they’re best when the cat can enjoy them right away to ensure freshness. Save the wet food puzzle feeders for when someone will be home.
More on the subject: How to Introduce Your Cat to Puzzle Feeders
2. Create Treasure Hunts
Hide a few treats around the house in places you know your cat typically goes and this will create opportunities for some treasure hunting. Don’t go overboard because treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of a cat’s meal. Place a few treats around so your cat’s nose can do a little work to locate those tiny but tasty rewards.
3. Scratching Post and Scratching Pads
If you haven’t provided your cat with a scratching post it’s certainly long overdue. If you do have one but your cat doesn’t use it, then it’s time to re-evaluate why it has failed. Most cats prefer sisal-covered posts and not carpeted ones. Make sure the post is tall and sturdy so your cat can lean his weight against it to get a good scratch and stretch. Locate the post where your cat likes to scratch. I find this is one of the most common mistakes cat parents make because they don’t like the look of the post so they place it in a remote corner. Look at where your cat is currently scratching and locate the post there.
Some cats like to scratch horizontally and if that’s the case with your cat, you can purchase inexpensive horizontal scratching pads to scatter around. Some cats enjoy both horizontal and vertical scratching so keep that in mind as you plan your cat’s scratching arrangements.
Scratching is an important part of enrichment in a cat’s life so don’t under-estimate the value of having an appealing post available. Scratching is used not only for nail conditioning but also for stretching, marking and emotional release.
More on the subject: Why Does my Cat Scratch the Furniture
4. The Right Toys Used the Right Way
You should have some toys for interactive playtime as well as toys for your cat’s solo play. Interactive toys are the ones you’ll use so you can engage in play sessions with your kitty. These are typically based on a fishing pole design. Interactive playtime is important for all cats but the ones who are left home alone all day will especially need them. Interactive play should be done at least twice daily for about 15 minutes each. There are many types of interactive toys available so when you go shopping, try to match the toy to your cat’s personality or play style.
When it comes to solo toys, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a filled toy basket is all that’s needed. From your cat’s perspective that’s just a pile of already killed prey. You need to add a little life into those toys (not literally, don’t worry). Strategically place toys around the house so they’ll spark interest from your cat. For example, place a furry mouse on the cat tree with its tail dangling down, or maybe put a toy inside an open paper bag for your cat to discover.
You don’t have to have a large amount of toys to keep your cat happy. Rotate toys every week to re-ignite interest.
More on the subject: Choosing the Right Toys for Your Cat
5. Cats Love to Climb
Cats love being on elevated locations and they also love the process of getting there by climbing or jumping. Create safe climbing options for your cat by having a sturdy cat tree. It may seem like a costly expense but a well-made, sturdy tree should last your cat’s lifetime. Make sure the tree’s perches are large and comfortable. Typically, “u” shaped perches are best because they allow the cat to feel more secure.
Other climbing/perching options can be created by installing sturdy window perches or cat shelving. You can even create cat walkways. Just make sure everything you purchase or create is sturdy, safe and comfortable.
More on the subject: The Benefits of a Cat Tree
6. Window Views
Speaking of climbing, one of the reasons cast love elevated locations is because of the view. Place cat trees near windows for your cat’s viewing pleasure. Even a bed placed on a piece of furniture will do so your cat can watch the outdoor activity. Place a bird feeder outside to create more entertainment.
7. Let the Sun Shine in
Cats love to sun bathe. Another benefit of a cat tree or window perch is that can be a comfy place to nap in the sun. If there are windows that allow for a long beam of sunlight to fill the room, make sure you keep that curtain open so your cat can stretch out on the carpet or floor and enjoy a sun-filled nap.
8. Places to Hide
While you’re gone during the day you have no way of knowing whether anything very noisy or frightening occurs right outside your home. Whether it’s construction, a car accident, sirens, thunderstorms or even someone knocking on your door. Make sure your cat has places to hide. Very often cats will seek out a hiding place during severe storms and if you create cozy hideaways they may be a more secure option for kitty instead of ducking under the bed.
Set up a couple covered beds, cat tunnels or even just open towel-lined boxes placed on their sides. In my house, I have open beds and hideaways available for my cat so she always has a comfortable option.
More on the subject: Every Cat Needs Hiding Places
9. Have a Consistent Schedule
Cats are creatures of habit. Something that tends to cause anxiety is when a cat doesn’t have the comfort of routine to count on. Don’t be inconsistent so your cat never knows if dinner will be two hours late one day and then four hours late the next day. Try to stick to a schedule that won’t cause your cat’s meals to be delayed.
10. Use Boxes and Bags
I previously talked about using boxes as cozy hideaways but you can also use them, as well as bags, for playtime and fun. Leave a couple boxes or paper bags out for entertainment. You can cut holes in a box and then it upside down to create a kitty fort or cut the bottoms out of paper bags and then tape the bags together to make a homemade kitty tunnel. Cats love to explore and this is an inexpensive way to add a little extra activity into your cat’s day. If using bags, make sure they are paper and never plastic and that you cut all handles off to prevent the risk of strangulation.
I love to hide little toys in boxes and bags as an added surprise for my cat.
More on the subject: How to Use Cat Tunnels
11. Have a Catnip Party
Set out a little dried catnip twice a week so your cat can enjoy a little catnip party. You can just leave it loose on something like a paper plate or you can rub a couple toys with the dried leaves. I typically leave a few toys “marinating” in a container of dried catnip and then offer that to my cat.
Although catnip is safe for cats, don’t offer it more than twice a week because if constantly exposed to the herb, cats can become immune to its effects.
More on the subject: Helpful Facts About Catnip
12. Have a Pet Sitter or Neighbor Visit
If you spend very long hours away from work or if there are a few days coming up where you know you’ll be delayed, consider having a pet sitter or trusted neighbor come in to care for your cat or offer a little mid-day playtime. Maybe there’s a teenager in the neighborhood who would like to earn a little extra money by visiting your cat every afternoon. Just be sure the person is someone your cat likes so the experience of having someone in the home doesn’t add anxiety.
13. Bring in Some of the Outdoors
There are so many interesting scents and textures outdoors and there are a few ways you can bring those indoors so your cat can enjoy them without the danger of being outside. In the Fall, bring in a few dried leaves for your cat to play with. The lightness and crunch of the leaves may make them appealing toys. Bird feathers found on the ground could be brought indoors for playtime as well. If you don’t use any weed killers or pesticides on your grass you could snip a few blades for your cat to munch on. The other option is to get a container of kitty greens from your local pet product store and grow a patch of grass indoors.
For added scratching fun, bring in a small log (as long as you don’t mind the mess from the bark). Don’t bring in a log though unless you know for sure that other animals have not peed on it.
14. Maybe it’s Time to Add a Companion Cat
Adding another cat to the family can be a wonderful way to provide companionship and friendship. Introductions take time and finesse so if you think the addition of another cat would be a good idea, make sure you can devote the time needed to do a gradual and positive introduction.
More on the subject: Thinking About Adding a Second Cat to the Family
15. Make the Most of Your Time Together
When you get home after a long day, it’s very tempting to just want to relax and take time for yourself but your cat has been waiting for you all day. When you walk through the door, it’s the beginning of his day with you. Take time to enjoy playtime, grooming and if he enjoys it, lap and cuddle time. Talk to your cat as well so he stays connected with you.
More on the subject: How Cats Show Affection
Need More Information?
For more specifics on cat behavior and training, refer to the books by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. The latest book, CatWise, contains answers to the behavior questions that cat parents ask most often. CatWise is available at bookstores everywhere as well as online at sites such as Amazon.