Games Your Cat Will Love

What could be better for your cat than playing games? "The physicality of playing will keep a cat healthy," says Ellen Poole, owner and trainer at Just Tails, a feline training center in the San Francisco Bay Area. "The mental stimulation of the movement during play can keep a cat emotionally well too. A few minutes a day of play can help your cat release a lot of extra energy." 

Playtime is key, particularly with indoor cats that can sometimes feel a bit of cabin fever.  "Imagine if all you did all day was sit and sleep and wait for someone to come home," says Poole. "Cats, like humans, need to move. Just a little bit of action will make a big difference in the cat's health and attitude. Put a toy between you and your cat, rather than using your hands, because cat claws and teeth are sharp."

Poole says outdoor cats aren't as vulnerable to the dulling, obesity-causing problems that indoor cats face because they have the freedom to hunt, hide and chase. "All animals are predatory, and indoor cats especially need a healthy prey-drive outlet -- playing is a way do that," explains Poole. "Try playing with your pet just before you go to bed because cats are naturally nocturnal." Poole's logic suggests that a little activity before you go to sleep "works out" your cat's natural nighttime energy. Poole also says to avoid play immediately after mealtime. "Cats generally like to groom themselves after a meal," she says. "Think of big cats in the wild cleaning their nails and fur after a kill. That post-meal grooming is their instinct, even in a sweet-mannered indoor cat."

Wondering what to play? Check out these five new creative games to play with cats of all ages and temperaments:

Paw Hockey
Cat puzzles are designed to compel the cat to retrieve an object that's just out of reach. For example, a popular cat puzzle available at most pet stores is a rubber circle with a ball inside, and the cat bats it around to try to get to the ball, which is usually a noise maker. Says Poole: "Toys where the cat can bat are good because that's how a cat in the wild 'plays' when trapping a mouse, for example."

Mystery Lights and Shadows
You can use either of two devices for this game: a flashlight or a laser pointer. With a flashlight, turn off the lights and point the light toward the wall or even the sofa. Wiggle your fingers or dangle cat-friendly objects in front of the light to create mysterious shadows for your cat to attack. The red beam of the laser scurrying about the wall should be enough to give your cat a great workout.

Magic Wand
"I like wands that look like fishing poles with little toys on the end because you can wiggle them, and cats actually stalk the 'prey,' " says Poole. Wands vary in price and style; some have feathers on the ends, some have little charms or textured animals. Using the wand, you can pull the object along the floor and wiggle it. Cats especially love it when you bounce it above their heads. Poole says cats love to stalk because this is a natural predatory behavior. And with you controlling the magic wand, you're a part of the game.

Bubble Dance
Got 99 cents and a kitchen? Sit on the ground, or in a chair, and blow bubbles -- not too many at once -- for your cat to chase, catch and pop! ("Hey! Where'd it go?"). This is great fun for kids to play with the family cat, too.

Ball Dash
Ping pong balls work best for this game because they're light, they bounce and your cat's claws don't sink into them like they might with a ball made of fabric. This game is especially fun on a staircase, but flat ground is fine, too. Tie a long piece of string around the ball, and drag it down the stairs (so it bounces), over the sofa, across the floor -- whatever gets the ball doing more than just rolling. Be sure to let your cat "catch" the ball so it has a sense of success. Good hunting, kitty

Bling Bling for Cats

Do you want your kitty to live in the lap of luxury? When it comes to feline bling, the sky's the limit.

From diamond jewelry to sumptuous bedding and even gold teeth, anything your cat craves may just be within paw's reach. Gucci now has a pet bed for $2,000, and even feline real estate has gone sky-high. Cat condos with two to three rooms (that can be placed inside the home) can be had for as much as $5,000.

"Dogs have been in the spotlight for a while, and now felines are getting their fair share of bling and dazzle," says Arden Moore, author of 50 Simple Ways to Pamper Your Cat (Storey). She says as more and more cats become indoor pets, it "unleashes a new opportunity for upscale cat furniture that matches their owner's d‚cor," which means things like posh bedding and upscale climbing condos.

Cats don't want to be left out, agrees Maggie Gallant, host of  Pet Trends with Maggie Gallant on Animal Planet. "Part of a cat's personality is to show off while still being that elusive super model. Adding a little bling brings out your cat's essence."

This can mean carting your cat in a thousand-dollar Luis Vuitton carrier or even splurging on custom-designed jewelry. "There are plenty of celebrities who get real jewelry for their cats and dogs and by that I mean platinum and diamonds," Gallant says. "They buy jewelry for the cat that matches their own pieces."

Here's a look at some swanky trinkets for your kitty:

Genuine Gems
Crystal and rhinestone collars abound. But diamonds are also a cat's best friend. Hope Cox, whose online jewelry company, The Pet's Jeweler, is based in Augusta, Ga., offers ID tags and necklaces for the feline crowd. Solid 14-karat tags with handset diamonds start at about $850, and a simple diamond and gold necklace can be had for about $1,000. For those who want to truly splurge, a 9-karat necklace, which must be special-ordered, runs $19,000.

Feline Fragrances
To prove your kitty is number one, have a fragrance created in his or her honor. Les Pooches offers perfume for your pet so yuor pet can smell like none other. Prices start at $50 for a 3.4 oz bottle.

Golden Grills
When his cat Sebastian needed his smile fixed, David Steele of Alexandria, Ind., ventured where few if any other dentists have gone before. He gave his long-haired black Persian cat solid gold crowns. "We used the best kind of gold you can get -- just like what you'd use on humans," says Steele proudly. The result not only strengthened Sebastian's teeth, but also helped make him the center of attention. "He's quite the showpiece," admits Steele, who says the cat's photo has been featured in publications around the globe. Since then, Steele says he's received several calls from pet owners around the country requesting his services, which unfortunately, he can't accommodate. "My office really isn't really equipped for pets," he says.

The bling, which would cost about $900 per tooth for humans, costs less for cats because their teeth are obviously smaller. Although there was a legitimate dental reason for the work, Steele, who admits to being a practical joker at heart, says, "It's also for aesthetics. He looks really cute with the grill. It's too bad his teeth are too tiny for diamonds."

Costly Carriers
When it comes to cat carriers, designer flair is everywhere. Big names now designing cat carriers include Juicy Couture, Coach, UGG and Gucci, not to mention Louis Vuitton, whose fanciest well-ventilated bag retails for just under $1,500. Having the "it" bag could cost you a pretty penny.

Big-Ticket Beds
Why settle for a nap by the window when a world of luxurious bedding awaits? Gucci now makes goat hair pet beds that retail for around $2,000. And for movie buffs, try the CinePetLounger by First Impressions. Designed for those lucky enough to have in-home theaters, the $895 personalized pet bed comes complete with a bedside bowl for snacking. For those with post-modern tastes, Muttropolis Dog and Cat Boutique offers the futuristic Designer Cat Couchette for $359, and the Designer Kittypod for $369. "In the past, cats had to be content with maybe some catnip or a feather to play with," says Muttropolis' Dana Humphrey. "Now everything a cat could ever need or want is available."

Flicks for Felines

Flicks for Felines

Watching a cat watch TV is funny, right? And lately, you can go to YouTube and see dozens and dozens of clips showing feisty cats pawing televisions, eager to get their mitts on the squirrel, the bird or some other natural feline prey skittering about on the screen.

"Some cats even run around the back of the television trying to find the bird that flew 'off' the screen," says Steve Malarkey, creator of Video Catnip, a DVD that features two hours of feline-friendly footage. "Cats really do watch movies, and it's especially good for indoor cats. It's a lot of fun to see how the cats react to the TV."

Malarkey has sold more than 350,000 copies of Video Catnip, with a 98 percent success rate -- pet owners regularly write him with their stories of how the DVD calmed and entertained their cat. "A cat DVD is great when the owner leaves the house," says Malarkey. "Cats get bored, and some cats get stressed or worried that their mommy or daddy isn't coming back. Some cats just stare at the screen, but they are definitely watching. The DVD reduces their stress and helps with separation anxieties."

Popping in a DVD for your cat might seem odd, especially since veterinarians rarely go on record regarding the exact details of feline vision. What we do know is that cats see quick movements (just ask anyone whose cat plays with a laser light), and that critters such as butterflies, dragonflies, lizards, squirrels, chipmunks and birds are natural feline prey. Movies such as Malarkey's occupy the cat, distracting those often anxious home-alone feelings. 

Below is a list of feline-friendly flicks that are sure to get rave reviews and two paws up from your cat:

  1. Video Catnip: This bestselling DVD features two hours of footage of birds, squirrels and chipmunks.
  2. Cat-TV II: This 60-minute DVD showcases fish, mice and other rodents to entertain adventurous cats everywhere.
  3. Kitty Safari I and Kitty Safari II: These 30-minute DVDs feature all-music soundtracks, which could be a draw for the kitty that likes music played when its owner leaves the house.
  4. Lullabies and Butterflies: This 60-minute DVD is made for infants and toddlers, but cats love its quiet, peaceful nature scenes set to lullabies.
  5. Cedar Lake Nature Series: Nature's Bird Talk: This DVD features a full hour of footage of beautiful birds in their natural environment, accompanied by their melodic birdcalls.
  6. Animal Rescue: Volume 2: Best Cat Rescues: Okay, this one is about the big cats, but what domestic cat wouldn't like seeing its brave cousins make it out of sticky situations?

Adding a New Cat to Your Home

If you've decided to add another feline to your family, don't be surprised if you get a bit of cattitude from your current cat. Your feline friend may have some strong opinions about this new change, and the fact that it is being forced to share your attention.

There are, however, things you can do to create peace. Check out these solutions for the most common problems that come up when our feline family expands.

What's the best way to prep my current cat for the addition of another cat to the household?
A feline is fiercely territorial and may need to warm up to the idea of sharing its space -- and your attention. Two weeks before you bring a new feline into your home, show photos and videos of cats to your current cat, suggests Janet Riley, a cat behaviorist from Naples, Fla. "In a low, reassuring tone, tell the cat that it's getting a brother or sister," she advises. This way, your cat will have some exposure to other felines and be less hesitant about this change. Spending lots of one-on-one time with your cat in the days and weeks leading up to the homecoming will also help prepare your pussycat for the upcoming changes.

What's the best time to bring a new cat home?
Weekends are best, since you'll have more time to focus on orchestrating a smooth transition and to bond with both cats. "Choose a quiet time when the household is calm," says Riley. Avoid times when relatives or friends are visiting, or any period when your current cat is under the weather or recovering from illness.

Should I lock my current cat in a bedroom when I bring my new cat home? What's the best strategy?
Resist the temptation to lock your current cat away while you bring the new cat in. This will only increase its anxiety. Instead, veterinarian Ken Harkin, an associate professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, advises that you (or the person your cat is most attached to) sit together in its favorite spot. "Make sure your cat is relaxed," he says. Once your cat is comfortable, have a friend or family member approach with the new cat in its carrier. But skip formal introductions for now. This first meeting should be brief.

Next, place your new cat in a room that has a door and can provide a sense of safety during the transition. (A bathroom or laundry room is ideal.) This is where the new cat's litter box and food should be. Shut the door and allow the new cat to explore its temporary "safe room."

During the next seven days, work on slowly getting your cats comfortable with one another. Let them sniff each other's things from time to time, and crack the door of the "safe room" so they can see one another.

When they meet face-to-face for the first time, Riley suggests enlisting a friend's help again. Sit on opposite sides of a room. For ten minutes, play with your current cat while your friend plays with the new cat. Then, trade off -- you play with the new cat for ten minutes while your friend entertains your other feline. During each "play session," slowly move the cats closer to one another. This exercise teaches the cats that they get special treatment when they're around each other, and that neither is a threat.

My cat has been acting very vocal and aloof since the arrival of our second cat. Is this normal?
Yes. It's typical for your cat to feel anxious about this new arrival, especially if your cat was previously an "only cat." It may display signs of anxiety, such as hiding, increased vocalization or aggressive behavior. Extra attention will help your cat feel secure. Any additional grooming, playtime, or petting will also help to alleviate its fears.

How long will it ultimately take for two cats to accept one another?
This process usually takes about a week, but not always -- so be patient. "It may take a few weeks or more for the cats to establish parameters about how they're going to accept each other," says Dr. Harkin. Ease the transition by giving them separate litter boxes, which allows them each their own "turf." Heap attention on both, and allow the space and time for them to adjust. Eventually the felines will work it out for themselves -- and before you know it, you'll be one big happy family.

Clever Cat Scratching & Climbing Posts

Even though every feline has its own personality and quirks, scratching and climbing are second nature for all cats. Because this is an immutable kitty truth,  cat owners should provide a special place for their furry friend to claw, clamber and leap.  If not, you risk a lifetime of shredded sofas and knocked-over knick-knacks (as well as an unhappy companion). Fortunately, there are all kinds of new and entertaining climbers available these days -- enough to meet your cat's demands, as well as your aesthetic sensibility.

Scratching that Itch
Just as you need a good morning stretch to get your day started, your cat also needs a good morning scratch. Scratching is good for your cat's health because it removes dead skin cells from claw sheaths. It also allows your cat to mark territory with scent, and to stretch muscles and ligaments. The best post for your cat, then, is tall enough to allow it to extend to full height; the post should also be sturdy enough for your cat to lean its full body weight on.

Scratching posts are generally covered with rough, shreddable material. Sisal rope and faux fur make the least mess, although many cats prefer scratching on carpeting due to its multiple loops. (Warning: These loops could eventually be shredded and end up in tiny bits on your floor!) When the post is worn out, both sisal rope and carpet posts can be resurfaced with simple carpet tacks or nails.

Kathy Kruger of Plymouth, Michigan found that scratching posts kept her cats from destroying her wooden furniture. "When I first brought Max and Sarah home, they were doing a real number on my kitchen chairs," she recalls. "My vet recommended a sisal post, and they were immediately attracted to that." To encourage a less enthusiastic pet to scratch a new post, reward it for scratching with a treat or some extra affection; you can also rub your cat's paws on the post to deposit its scent, or spray the post with catnip.

The Thrill of the Climb
Cat castles and cat trees are full-service climbing-scratching-lounging destinations. Some are free-standing with heavy bases to prevent tipping, while others extend floor to ceiling, usually relying on a spring-tension rod to keep them upright. They offer cats open areas for sleeping, posts for scratching and multiple levels for leaping. Free-standing models are best for one-cat homes, and for small to medium-size felines. Because they offer more stability, floor-to-ceiling models are more appropriate for multiple-cat dwellings, or large, heavy cats. If your kitty is larger than average, make sure the castle doors are wide enough for it to fit through comfortably.

"When my boyfriend moved in with all of his stuff, there was suddenly less room on my tall bookcases and on top of the refrigerator, and I was worried that my cat Cleo wouldn't get the exercise he needed," says Linda Bain of Garden City, New York. "So we found a nice wooden cat tree on the Internet. It sits unobtrusively in the corner, and Cleo loves it."

House of Style
Satisfying your cat's needs doesn't mean sacrificing your sense of style. The key to combining feline and human furniture is all about blending. "Look first and foremost for color. Make sure it doesn't stand out in contrast to everything else in the room," advises Karen Powell, a Connecticut-based interior designer and co-founder of Decor and You. "Then place the post or gym strategically in relationship to the other furniture, away from the focal point of the room, and outside of the traffic flow." Before you invest, visit a variety of pet supply stores and Web sites to get a broad picture of what's available. Your cat will thank you kindly.