My cat has a million toys—everything from squeaking mice to feathers on a wand—but the only one that she seems to get really excited about is the laser pointer. Just curious, why is this one toy so fun for her? I want her to be able to play with the laser more, since she is so engaged with it, but I don’t have the time to do it every day. Suggestions?
A: In my opinion, laser pointers are one of the best things to ever happen to indoor cats. They’re unpredictable, can disappear from one spot and reappear someplace totally different, climb walls and dart under furniture. What’s not to love?!
Indoor cats can easily become bored or depressed if they don’t have adequate mental stimulation. Boredom and depression can lead to cats who are overweight and lethargic, potentially triggering further health problems. If you’ve found that you can keep your cat engaged, curious, playful, and active with a laser pointer I’d say keep doing it!
I understand that it can be hard to keep up with the level of play that your cat will need or want. Luckily there are electronic laser pointers out there, like this one, that can engage your cat even when you aren’t home or able to play.
Q: Dear Nora, My youngest cat (who is two years old but still acts like a kitten) constantly chases my older cat. The one who is being chased is getting skinny and anxious. Why does my younger cat do this, and what can I do to provide some relief?
A: I do this to my older sister, Pippi, too. My intentions are good– I just want to play, hone my hunting skills, and work off all the energy I have from being a kitten. Pippi, though, doesn’t like to play with me and just hisses a lot when I chase her.
When my mom sees me chasing Pippi (or just lurking, ready to pounce), she knows it’s time to play. My favorite is when she throws my favorite toy and I get to run and find it. I could really play this game for hours. I also like it when I get to chase the red dot around and when mom breaks out the wand toy, which really looks like prey and gets my hunter instincts satisfied. The more mom plays with me, the more likely I am to chill out and sleep when she’s not around the save Pippi from my mischief.
If you aren’t around to play with your cat as often, look into some battery operated cat toys that your cat can play with and chase. Make sure sure that your cat has all kinds of toys, vertical space, and scratchers to keep him stimulated and active. His instincts to chase, play, and hunt are real (and core to his catness) and simply need to be channeled to a better place.
Q: Dear Nora, My cat loves to scratch the sides of the couch, and I have been searching for an alternative for him. The amount of scratch board choices at the pet store are overwhelming. Cardboard, sisal, upright, flat, curved, hanging… how do I know which type of scratcher to choose?
A: Cats have different preferences when it comes to scratching posts, but your cat is already telling you which type he would prefer. If your cat is standing on his hind legs and stretching while scratching, you should invest in a good upright scratcher. Choose one that is tall enough to allow your cat to stretch his whole body. My sister, Pippi, used to dig her claws into the living room rug, so my mom took cues from her and stocked our home with scratching pads that are flat to the ground. Pippi loves them so much that she not only scratches them, she naps on them too!
Different cats prefer different materials too, but the key is to choose a material that is hardy enough for your cat to really sink his nails into, such as sisal or corrugated cardboard. Scratching not only helps your cat to stretch his whole body, but it also help shed the sheaths from his claws (which will help keep his paws nice and healthy). Avoid scratching posts that are covered in carpet; his claws with simply get stuck in the carpet loops and it will be more frustrating than satisfying.
To lure your cat to the new post, put it near the place you’d like him to stop scratching (in your case it’s the couch), and sprinkle it with catnip.
Q: Dear Nora, We live on a busy street now and don’t feel comfortable letting our formerly-indoor/outdoor kitty outside here. She seems bored inside. What can we do to keep her stimulated indoors?
A: I used to be outside too, before I was rescued. I like being indoors because it’s safer and my food bowl is always full– but when I first came inside I did miss chasing birds, climbing trees, and eating mice. There are a lot of things you can do to make a stimulating indoor environment for your cat. Here are a few ideas:
Food puzzles. Food puzzles are a great way to stimulate your cat– just think of all the scheming and problem-solving that will go into retrieving the food!
Bird feeders. Just because your kitty lives indoors now doesn’t mean she can’t still be stimulated by the outdoors. Set up a bird feeder outside her favorite window to perch in (perhaps with a cat tree nearby). She’ll love watching the birds and other critters.
Cat TV. If you aren’t able to have a bird feeder, or for something extra, consider Cat TV. My personal favorite is the bird channel, but my sister Pippi really likes the fish.
Q: Dear Nora, I keep finding my cat munching on my houseplants. I make sure not to bring poisonous ones into my home, but it’s still aggravating. Why does she love eating my plants so much? And how can I make her stop?
A: It’s great that you’re careful to not bring plants into your home that may be toxic to your cat. Other readers who aren’t already so conscious can find a list of common toxic plants on our Resources page.
It’s very common for cats to eat plants and there are a few reasons she may be doing this.
Cats like things that dangle and flutter in the wind. If you have viney plants or plants that wiggle when the wind blows through the window, the plant may simply be poking at your cat’s natural instinct to hunt.
If you cause a big fuss every time you catch your cat nibbling, she may have learned that this is a great way to get your attention.
Eating plants can help with digestion, cause vomiting, and even act as a laxative. Eating your plants may be your cat’s way of trying to solve belly discomfort.
My first suggestion would be to make your plants inaccessible to you cat. Put them up on high shelves that she can’t access by jumping, hang dangling plants from the ceiling, or put them in a room she doesn’t have access to. Second, add a pot or two of cat grass to your home so she has a more appropriate way to fill her need to chomp on greens. You can buy pre-grown grasses or start them yourself from seed. You may even be able to find locally grown cat grass at your local health food store or farmer’s market. If you have a Bergan Turbo Scratcher (my favorite), you can even get an insert that will grow grass in the middle of it! Make sure to place the grass in areas that are easy for her to reach and close to parts of your home where she already spends a lot of time (for instance, near her favorite perch).
Q: Dear Nora, My cat sleeps a lot. Sometimes it seems like he sleeps almost all day. Is this normal? I’m worried that he’s depressed.
A: Day-long catnaps aren’t necessarily a sign of depression. On average, a healthy cat can sleep between 15-20 hours per day! Despite being domesticated, cats are still wild at heart and are hard-wired to sleep during the day and hunt at night. Your sleepy cat may very well be up chasing and pouncing at night while you are sound asleep. Try interesting him in some daytime hunting and playing with a wand toy or laser pointer.
Excessive sleeping may signal depression, though, if this is new behavior. Be on the lookout for lethargy, a change in personality or grooming habits, hiding, or aggression. Try this checklist from CatChannel.com to help you determine if your cat may be depressed. If you suspect depression or your cat’s behavior has changed, see your vet for options.
Q: Dear Nora, What is the maddening attraction cats have for string and the like? From the yarn in my hand to the drawstring on my pajama pants and sometimes even the spaghetti hanging over the edge of my plate. What is it?!
A: The answer to this is pretty simple. Your cat is a hunter. Even indoor kitties who don’t get to hunt actual live prey (except maybe the occasional mouse or fly) still have the hunting instinct strong at their cores. One thing is for sure: if it wiggles, we will pounce.
If this is behavior you’ve noticed is exceptionally strong in your cat I’d suggest adding some good wand toys into your playtime.
Q: Dear Nora, My 2-year old cat is generally great about using the litter box. We never have any problems except for when we go away for more than two nights. Although we have someone check on him and feed him while we are gone, he has always pooped on our bed when we return. We have three litter boxes in the house and this never happens when we are home. I’m sure he’s just upset with us, but how to I get him to stop?
A: The problem isn’t that your cat is upset with you. Cats don’t think like that. Your cat is likely either just stressed because you are gone and he doesn’t understand why you aren’t there, or there is something missing from his routine while you’re away (attention, playtime, etc.) and he’s making a statement about feeling neglected.
To deal with stress, I am a big fan of the Feliway plug-in (it comes in a spray version too. But the plug-in would be best if you’re out of town for a few days). Feliway mimics the pheromones that cats create when they are happy and content. It helps cats stay calm and comfortable even when their environments change.
I see that you have people check on him and feed him while you’re gone, but how long are they sticking around? Is he getting proper attention? Cuddles? Play time? Consider hiring an actual professional pet sitter who will be sure to give him the proper amount of time and affection while you’re away.
Q: Dear Nora, Why does my cat like to knock everything off of high surfaces? It’s driving me bonkers! What can I do, short of installing trampoline floors.
A: Sounds like your cat is bored. We’re playful and curious creatures, and if we don’t have enough appropriate things in our environments to stimulate us we’ll surely resort to inappropriate things. Does your cat have enough toys around? Does he actually play with them? If there aren’t enough toys around that actually get a lot of use you may want to just try a few more kinds. There are so many different kinds out there—balls, squeaking toys, wands, battery operated ones—there’s bound to be something to direct his attention away from knocking everything over. You can also try some food puzzles to keep him stimulated.
But if you do end up installing trampoline floors, be sure to invite me over. That sounds fun!
I’m not a veterinarian (obviously. Cats aren’t allowed into veterinarian school). The information you’ll find here is strictly for educational and entertainment purposes. Dear Nora is not intended to diagnose and we encourage regular visits with your local veterinarian to address any medical or behavioral problems.