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 cats go crazy over yarn. They love to play with it and get all wrapped up in it. Is it okay to let them play with it? I’m worried they’ll ingest it.
A: I love playing with yarn. I love everything about it. I especially love ripping my mom’s knitting projects to shreds when she forgets to put them away.
Despite the fun, playing with yarn can actually be dangerous. It’s impossible for us to keep dangling and squirming things out of our mouths, you see. Before we know it, we’re swallowing it and it’s getting wrapped all around our insides and you are rushing us to the (very expensive, my mama tells me) emergency vet.
Luckily there are alternatives, such as wand toys. My mama spends some time every day playing with me with a wand toy and it’s great! I hunt it and play with it and get (safely) wrapped up in it– and as long as I am playing with my mama, she makes sure I don’t swallow anything bad, like the feathers on the end. So, hide the yarn, add more toys, and your cat will never know the difference.
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 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.
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!
Q: Dear Nora, What do you think of battery operated interactive toys? My job keeps me out of my home for many hours every day, and I’m searching for ways to keep my cat stimulated while I’m away.
A: Cats are natural hunters and need that instinct to be stimulated somehow. If you don’t have the time to have interactive play sessions with your cats on a regular basis, battery operated toys are a great alternative! My favorite is the Motion-activated Mouse Chase Cat Toy. There is a mouse inside for me to swat at AND it has a scratch pad!
While you’re searching for toys, don’t rule out the ones that aren’t battery operated. I know lots of cats who love the Stimulo Activity Food Center. The Stimulo was technically designed to slow down eating to help cats with weight and digestion problems, but it’s also a puzzle that will keep your cat entertained for hours. The Turbo Scratcher is also great. It’s such a hit at my house that we have TWO! I like to bat the ball around, then pounce on it! Plus the scratch pad in the middle keeps my claws nice and sharp. Sometimes my mom sprinkles catnip into the scratch pad for some extra fun.
Today’s column is brought to you by Gaea Stephens, an expert in the art of living with a toddler. Gaea is an (almost) 14 year old cat who lives in the Southern VT/NH area. She lives with her human parents, their 2 1/2 year old daughter and an enormous dog. She spends her days sleeping, eating, loving and plotting.
Q: Dear Gaea, My toddler tends to play rough with our cat– tugging her tail, squeezing her, etc. The cat takes it like a champ, but I want to make sure she’s as happy as she can be. What can I do to ensure that my cat has ample space from my terrorizing toddler?
A: Sounds like you have a pretty great kitty and a toddler brimming with love for her. Just like kittens, human children show their love through rough play. What seems mean to a human adult can be seen as a sign of love for a toddler. And sometimes, love hurts!
Make sure that your feline friend has plenty of places to take respite from the rambunctious toddler. In my house my human parents allow me to hide in their room if I need some space. They have also provided vertical real estate for me– perches high enough that the tot can’t reach but I can still feel like part of the family.
Trust me when I tell you that your kitty will openly express her disdain if the kiddo takes things too far. I usually give a quick claw-free tap or a loud vocalization as a warning. I also show other signs such as flattening my ears and ceasing all purring. I have even been known to fluff up my tail and hiss a little when she gets really crazy. That is when the humans step in and remind their little one to be gentle with me. More often than not though, I really enjoy my little person’s company and affection.
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.