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, 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, My cat, Fiona, has lived inside for her entire life. She has never had to hunt for her food. Still, she stalks and “hunts” at any opportunity. Why does she do this if she knows I’ll dependably feed her twice a day?
A: Unlike many other domesticated animals, cats still maintain very strong instincts from their wildcat ancestors. Some behaviorists say domestic cats still have three paws in the jungle. That means that even though your domestic cat is thankful for the food, love, and indoor safety, her instincts will drive her to stalk and pounce even if she’s not particularly hungry.
The instinct to hunt is a key component to your cat’s health since it keeps her body and mind active. If you don’t already, encourage her inner-hunter by adding a wand toy or laser pointer to playtime!
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 is a rescue who was denied food for a portion of his life before he came to me. As a result, he’s a bit wild about food. At mealtimes he scarfs it all up immediately, then sometimes vomits before he even has a chance to digest it. How can I help him slow down so he’s benefiting from his meals (plus, you know, help me not clean up cat vomit a couple times a week)?
A: This behavior is pretty common in cats who have come from similar situations. As you can guess, he’s got some emotional issues that make him believe that if he doesn’t eat the food as quickly as possible it’ll disappear. And he has no trust that he’ll have a chance to eat again tomorrow. Eventually, as he learns and trusts that you will consistently feed him every day, he may ease up on the scarfing (But don’t be alarmed or offended if he is a lifelong scarfer. These issues can be very deeply rooted). While you work on helping him understand that you will always feed him, you can add food puzzles to his meals. A food puzzle like the Stimulo will make it impossible for your cat too eat quickly, making it easier for him to digest his whole meal. As an added bonus, it’ll help stimulate his hunter instincts and keep him alert.
Q: Dear Nora, I want to liven up my home, so I have been thinking about getting a kitten. The thing is that I work a lot and my schedule is unpredictable. But kittens are so cute and I really want one! What do you think?
A: You’re right. Kittens are cute. You know what else kittens are? Little, wild, mischievous, needy, balls of energy that need near-constant attention. My mom worked from home when I was a kitten and even then I was barely tameable. Kittens are fun, and they can be sweet (Sometimes. After they are done being monsters), but it’s not fair to the kitten if you don’t have a lot of time to play and nurture. Instead, consider adopting a cat who is over a year old. She won’t require as much attention and will still be excited about playtime and snuggles when you’re home from work. Plus, older cats have a harder time getting adopted from shelters, so you’d really be saving a life. Contact your local shelter, meet a few, and see who you click with.
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, I work from home and my cats drive me absolutely CRAZY. It’s hard for me to concentrate because they are always running over my keyboard, knocking pens off my desk, and begging me to play with them. How can I show my cats that I love them while also staying productive and maintaining my sanity?
A: I don’t really understand why you’d want to do work instead of playing with cats but okay, I’ll give this a shot. Your cats are super excited that you’re home, and it also sounds like they have a lot of energy, so naturally that energy is going to be directed at you if you don’t provide other enticing things to play with.
Do your cats have enough toys? I mean, toys they actually play with? My mom works from home too and we stay (mostly) distracted by the Bergan Turbo Scratcher. It has a scratch pad and a ball we can chase around. Plus there are all kinds of inserts to change it up with teaser toys and cat grass. There are also some automated interactive toys to keep your cats busy while you concentrate. Try an automated chaser toy or a battery operated mouse.
Also, make sure to take a break every now and then to play with your cats yourself. Taking breaks will ultimately improve your concentration and stamina and keep them purring at you when your work day is done.
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.
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.