The Best Games for Cats

Your cat is playful, curious and a hunter, and he wants to interact with you to show off his natural skills. Playing games with your cat is a great way to entertain him, as well as give him some extra exercise.

Cats love to chase and hunt, so it’s natural from him to want to exhibit these behaviors for you. Many cats, if given the chance to go outdoors, will actively hunt for birds and other small animals. If they manage to succeed in their hunt, cats will want to show off their conquest by dropping a “gift” at your doorstep. Your cat’s hunting skills will also likely be exhibited if there is a bug or rodent in your home. He will swat, jump around and attempt to kill the intruder.

These hunting and chasing skills can be replicated in games that you play with your cat. Dr. Jeff Werber, DVM, Medical Director for Century Veterinary Group and Chief Veterinarian for ProSense Pet Products, says cats are attracted to movement, and most games for cats capitalize on these instincts, incorporating movement and a chase into the mechanics of the game.

Many cat toys that you’ll find in the store focus on the game of the hunt, and allow you to play along with your cat. If your cat lives indoors, he won’t be able to chase real animals, so it’s a good idea to provide a substitution to entice him to play. “Typical cat toys involve tantalizing the cat with a feather, or a little mouse or rabbit hanging on a string or dangling from a pole, or a ball that circles around a container, sometimes slightly hidden, that attracts the cat's attention and inspires the hunt,” Dr. Werber explains.  

Another great option for a game to play with your cat involves a laser. Your cat will be transfixed by the red laser light and try to catch it. “The cat sees the laser as an object to be chased and hunted down,” said Dr. Werber. “It can be quite comical to watch them trying to grab the laser as it flies by them on the ground, or against a wall.” This game can keep your cat occupied for a while and also provides exercise.

Dr. Werber recommends one other game that has proven popular with cats in the past. “Cats like to lie on their backs and grab and claw at your hand as it comes near their stomach,” he said. “This is fun for them, but not so much for you unless you wear a heavy glove to protect your hands and arm. An alternative version is to stick your hand under the blanket and slowly move toward them, or away, and watch them pounce.”

If your cat loves treats, you can purchase toys that you can hide treats in, too.

It is very important to keep your cat engaged in games that are both enjoyable and a good source of exercise. Your cat will make it known if he is bored, and walk away from you or the toy. Dr. Werber says that your cat may be bored with one activity but another one might continue to entertain him. Mixing up the games and toys will help keep your cat happy.

How to best bond with your new cat

Becoming a new cat owner is an exciting experience. Your kitten can become a happy new addition to your family, as long as you start by making your new pet comfortable in her surroundings and take the time to bond with her.

Prepare Ahead of Time
Laurie Donovan, DVM, recommends a few preparations to help ease the transition prior to bringing your new cat home. “The items you really need are food and water bowls and litter boxes, and you should always buy one more litter box than the amount of cats you have,” she suggests. “It’s also advised to purchase a scratching post as well. Cats like to jump on counters and shelves, so make sure to safely put away any valuable, breakable objects and tuck away any exposed wires.” 

It’s a good idea to ask around for veterinarian recommendations early, too, so you have one ready to evaluate your new cat during the first week.

Start Small
After you bring your cat into your home, it’s smart to keep him confined to one area at first, to help get him acclimated. “Make sure to lead your new cat to where the litter box is located, and show him a few times,” says Donovan. “Try to keep loud noises and activities to a minimum as to not spook the new cat while he explores.”

Of course if you already have a cat at home, introductions can be a bit more intense. Here’s how to keep the harmony in a house full of cats.

Show Your Affection … the Right Way
Creating a level of trust between you and your cat takes patience and positive integration. “Pet him when it seems he wants to be touched -- forcing it may just make him run away and hide,” says Donovan. “You can use toys that have the human-cat interaction, such as a laser pointer, and a stick with a cat nip mouse or feather attached to the end.” Cats are very sociable, and with a little time they will learn to love your company and become a perfect addition to your home!

How to Train Your Athletic Cat

Cat agility competitions are helping to shatter the stereotype of cats as untrainable, nap-happy slackers. Wondering if your cat has what it takes to be training in this increasingly popular sport? For those who are interested, getting started is fairly simple.

Find a Motivating Object
Cats don’t run the obstacle course just because it’s there. They need the proverbial carrot to lead them around. Popular items are toys, feathers or laser pointers, but knowing your cat’s quirks can yield great results. As examples, one of the fastest champions, Ursa Corynne, is motivated by chasing after a drinking straw, while Sir Linus, a Supreme Grand Champion in cat agility competitions, traverses each obstacle for the reward of a kiss from his owner, Vivian Frawley. Frawley is also a big proponent of clicker training: “Cats are very responsive to this. It allows you to apply operant conditioning to shape the behavior that is desired.” Lastly, don’t use an actual carrot, since food is forbidden as a lure during competition.

Know the Rules
“Typical course obstacles include a ladder that the cats step through, tunnels, fence jumps, cones or poles to weave through, and hoop jumps,” says Susan Lee, a cat agility trainer from Michigan. “An agility official oversees the run, times it and scores the faults. A fault is a refusal to do an obstacle. A slower run with no faults may place above a faster run with one fault.”

Practice at Home
“To start, sit in your favorite chair and drag a toy for your cat to follow. Then, add a pillow for them to jump over,” says Jill Archibald, agility coordinator for The Cat Fanciers’ Association. Official obstacle courses are expensive, but makeshift ones are easy to create. “A box with two open ends becomes a tunnel; a pillow becomes a jump; three one-liter bottles become weave poles; a toy hoop propped up becomes a hoop jump,” says Archibald.

Start Young
Although there are exceptions, most trainers agree that kittens or young cats perform and respond to training the best, as do neuters or spays. “Adult males or females are usually handicapped by their hormones,” says Archibald. “They are much more interested in finding each other than in doing agility!”

Get Your Cat Used to Crowds
“Training your cat to navigate obstacles is not enough,” says Archibald. “You must also train them to be comfortable in a large, noisy venue with unusual sights and sounds because almost all competitions are held at a cat show.” While it’s true that cats with outgoing, friendly dispositions are best suited to this, recluses can also succeed. Archibald recommends a steady diet of social exercise. “Go to a cat show without agility first, and enter the cat in the Household Pet class,” she says, to get it used to the sights and sounds of shows. “Otherwise, encourage people who visit you to play with the cat. Leave the TV on or the radio. They need to become used to unusual noises.”

Lastly, Have Fun!
Experts agree that the best recipe for success is the special bond that is created through all the practice (play) with your cat. “People underestimate what cats are willing to do once you have the kind of relationship with them that makes them feel safe and excited to do new things,” says Archibald.

Easy Exercises for Your Cat

If you think our distant human ancestors were extremely active back in the day, imagine what life was like for your cat’s relatives before they enjoyed provided food, cozy laps and other care. Physical activity was survival -- not just exercise.

Most healthy cats need to maintain a certain level of activity for basic physical fitness. Their bodies evolved to handle this -- not a couch potato lifestyle. While it’s difficult to tone individual cat muscles, you can encourage your cat to get sufficient exercise for overall body toning.

The ASPCA offers the following tips for making exercise interesting and enjoyable for your cat:

Stay engaged. Cats don’t usually like when you plunk a toy in front of them and then walk away. They are far more interested in spending time with you, so set aside time each day to encourage your cat to play.

Try leash training. Teaching your cat to walk on a leash is a tremendous health investment. The sights and smells will get your cat excited about walking, and this gives you an incentive to walk more as well.

Invest in climbing objects. Enclosed outdoor areas with cat trees and other objects for climbing can also help to get cats interested in physical activity while staying safe. Consider adding one to your home, if possible.

Determine your cat’s preferred method of play. Some cats like to jump. Some are more inclined to run. Some are stalkers. Purchase cat toys with these preferences in mind. The old adage about how kids prefer to play with the box instead of the toy may hold true for cats. Old Ping-Pong balls, cardboard boxes, paper shopping bags, and packing paper can all be toys to a cat with a little coaxing. Usually if you are interested in an object, your cat will be too.

Luxury Hotels for Cats

Are you treating yourself to a relaxing vacation that consists of beautiful scenery, daily pampering sessions and delicious meals? Why not treat your beloved cat to the same experience?

“Cats are hot right now,” says Charlotte Reed, an author who specializes in pet lifestyle and etiquette issues. “After years of booming business for fabulous doggy day care facilities, we’re seeing this surge in facilities for cats.”

“Before, boarding facilities were just a kennel with a cage,” says Wendy Diamond, pet lifestyle author and animal welfare advocate. “Now, these rooms are spacious and luxurious with beautiful beds. The whole world of animal boarding has changed. They’re not even called kennels anymore; they’re called hotels.”

5-star Service for Felines
Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in the U.K., established in 2010, claims to be the “world’s first truly 5-star cattery.” But the trend and the use of the term “luxury” by cat boarding facilities are actually about five years in the making. If you live near a major airport, chances are you’ll find such a place.

Of course, there’s no true rating service to determine the difference between 3-, 4- or 5-star boarding, and exactly what “luxury” means in cat terms is relative. But since you’ll be paying a premium (as much as $40-$50/night), the following are some considerations to take into account when rating your hotel of choice:

Personal Space
Typical boarding facilities offer a basic cage or a two-tier enclosure. “Any place using the term ‘luxury’ ought to be offering at least three-tier enclosures,” says Reed, “but many offer an entire room or more of unshared personal space.” Top-level suites have premium bedding, a climbing tree, a window with a perch, and decorative touches with bird or fish themes.

Webcam
“More and more, pets are like our children,” says Diamond. “We want to know what they’re doing, whom they’re playing with.” The technology to let people log in for a live feed of their pet is readily available, and more and more facilities are adopting it.

Medical Care
“The one thing pet parents worry about most when leaving their pets behind is the possibility of a medical issue arising,” says pet lifestyle expert Kristen Levine. A high-end facility will have someone on call, if not on staff, and can also accommodate special medication needs.

Cats-only?
Even if your cat lives with dogs, be wary of luxury hotels that also cater to canines. Such places will separate cats and dogs within the facility, but cats are sensitive and have an advanced ability to sniff out enemies. “It could be extremely stressful,” says Reed. “Even if the dogs aren’t visible, your cat might be able to hear or smell them and may be stressed the whole time.” Consider bringing your cat for a quickie tour and see how it reacts.

Playtime
“While luxurious accommodations are intriguing, I believe what cat owners want most is a comfortable, stress-free environment with sufficient human-pet interaction each day,” says Levine. If you pay a premium, you should expect someone to spend regular, quality time with your cat.

Food
“Kennels used to stock one kind of food, so you had to bring your own,” says Reed. “The luxury places are stocking lots of popular brands, so hopefully you just need to tell them which one.” Other facilities might offer choices like fresh fish -- for a price.

One thing that all three experts stress is to check out the hotel before you make a decision. And if you can’t find a luxury facility near you, just wait. “Are we going to see more of these facilities? Absolutely. This is just the beginning,” says Reed.

Photo: Longcroft Cat Hotels ltd.