How to Play with Your Cat to Prevent Behavior Problems

cat-playing Tips on playing with your cat might seem out of place on a site about preventing litter box problems, but there is a clear connection. Just like in dogs and for that matter, people, boredom can lead to behavior problems.

Keeping your cat busy helps reduce the risk not only of inappropriate urination, but also furniture scratching, nighttime trouble-making, excessive meowing, and even aggression.

First things first, though: if your cat is exhibiting any unusual or problematic behavior, she could have a health problem. Consult your vet and make sure your cat is healthy before you look for other causes.

Why Cats Need Play

Cats are bright, energetic creatures. They have the intelligence of a 2-year-old child and can sprint at up to 30 miles an hour. For as much as they nap, they’re not designed to laze around all day staring out the window.

When they don’t have an outlet for their curiosity and energy, they become bored. Chronic boredom causes stress, and a stressed cat is highly likely to have behavior problems.

Playing with your cat not only helps her burn off energy, it also helps strengthen your cat’s emotional bond with you. She’ll feel more secure and be less likely to misbehave. For this reason alone, it’s a good idea to play with your cat, rather than just toss her a few toys and walk away.

How Often and When to Play

Try to have a minimum of two 15-minute play sessions with your cat every day. You might have one in the morning before you leave for work and another when you get home. Of course, this depends on your cat, too. Trying to make her play when she’s not in the mood will just stress her out.

If you can, have one a little before bedtime, too. Remember, cats are hunters. In nature, they expend energy chasing down and catching their food, then eat what they caught, then take a nap. You can use this pattern to your advantage by leaving the last meal of the day before your own bedtime. Have a brisk play session before the meal, then feed your cat and chances are she’ll go to sleep when you do.

How to Choose Your Cat Toys

Visit any pet supply shop, especially online, and you’ll find a seemingly endless assortment of cat toys. The reason there are so many is that different cats like different types of toys. To get an idea of which ones will go over best with your cat, pay attention to how your cat likes to play. Does she like to chase things? Bat things around? Watch things?

You don’t necessarily have to spend money on toys, either. A little googling will turn up plenty of ideas for safe, homemade cat toys that cost little or nothing.

You’ll need two basic types of toys. Those you pull, dangle or otherwise move around for your cat to play with and those your cat can play with by herself. Some of the latter, such as electronic toys, will need your supervision. The rest should be things your cat can enjoy while you’re not around.

Here are a few possibilities just to give you some ideas:

Toys for Two

  • Laser pointer
  • Wand toys
  • Thing in a Bag by Happy Dog Toys
  • Electronic crawling toys

Toys for Solo Play

  • Paper bags and cardboard boxes
  • Single toys like catnip mice, squeaky toys, and wool or plastic balls
  • Interactive scratching post/play center
  • Ball-in-ring (a ball semi-enclosed in a plastic ring)
  • Pop-up tunnel
  • SmartCat Peek-a-Prize Toy Box

Like kids, cats will get bored with any toy, no matter how much they loved it when they first got it. To avoid this problem, rotate the toys regularly. Divide the toys into two or three groups and put one group away for two weeks at a time.

Catnip toys eventually go stale and should be replaced. If you have a cat who goes crazy for catnip, use catnip as a rare treat no more than every two weeks. There’s some, largely anecdotal, evidence offering it too often will get you a cat who begs you for ‘nip.

A Few More Tips

For safety reasons, all toys should be durable and free of small parts your cat could swallow and choke on. Never leave your cat alone with toys that have long strings, such as cat dancer fishing-pole type toys. The cat could become tangled in the strong. As a guideline, if you wouldn’t leave a 2-year-old child alone with the toy, don’t leave your cat with it.

If you use treat-dispensing toys, wash them after eat use and take care not to overfeed using the toy.

Anything you use as a toy your cat will continue to think of as a toy. This is why it’s a very bad idea to use your hand as a toy. If you do, your cat is likely to attack your hand sometime when you least expect.

When Macho was a kitten, I used handkerchiefs as toys for him. Then as an adult, he would routinely hunt down handkerchiefs in the cupboards and drag them out to play with. He didn’t do this with any other article of clothing. He’d just learned to think of handkerchiefs specifically as toys.

For other ways to keep your cat happy and check out Cat Urine Problems Eliminated

How to Encourage Your Cat to Drink Enough Water (and Prevent Litter Box Problems!)

Overall, a cat is around 80 percent water. That’s an even higher percentage than we humans are at around 65 percent (or even the popularly assumed 2/3rds, the average for most lifeforms). Needless to say, a creature who contains that much water is in trouble if they don’t take in enough fluids.

Severe dehydration isn’t common in cats and is usually the result of illness or extreme heat. Many cats, however, suffer from mild dehydration–or rather, insufficient hydration–that doesn’t always show obvious symptoms. Nonetheless, a cat who isn’t taking in enough liquid can suffer from urinary tract problems, which results in litter box problems.

Why House Cats are Prone to Mild Dehydration

Cats have a low thirst drive. They may not feel thirsty until they’ve lost up to eight percent of their body’s water stores. For comparison, humans feel thirsty after we’ve lost around two percent of our water stores.

House cats, naturally, evolved from the big cats of the African plains and other hot, dry places. In those climates, standing or running water is hard to come by, so cats evolved to live without a strong need to drink from lakes, streams, and other water sources.

But they still need fluids. Where do they get it? From their food: raw meat. Biologically, house cats they don’t differ much from the big cats. They’ve inherited this low thirst drive that no longer serves them now that they aren’t living on raw meat. (A little like how we humans inherited the ability to store lots of fat!) An old, but relevant study from 1959 discovered that cats become dehydrated if their food contains less than 61 percent water (1).

Helping Your Cat Get Enough Water

If you feed only wet food, your cat may not need to drink much at all, although she should still have constant access to fresh water. If you feed only dry food (which isn’t a good idea), your cat will need to drink and may need as much as 6 to 8 ounces of pure water a day to stay healthy.

  • Provide canned wet food — You may have noticed that pricey canned cat food on the store shelves is as much as 80 percent water. Don’t worry! That’s a good thing. The cat food manufacturers aren’t trying to cheat you by selling you meat-flavored tap water. Instead, they’ve incorporated a necessary amount of water into the food to support your cats health. This type of food is the ideal way for your cat to take in fluids, so if at all possible, make sure she gets enough wet food.
  • Provide clean water — Fresh water should be available at all times. If your tap water is heavily chlorinated, get a filter like a Brita filter and give your kitty some better-smelling water. Spring water and other non-mineral-rich bottled water is another option, but avoid giving mineral water. (Excess minerals can also cause urinary tract problems.) Wash the bowl daily to prevent a nasty bacterial slime from forming at the bottom. And keep the food and water bowls away from litter box area.
  • Try different bowl types — Some cats like certain types of bowls (glass, ceramic, or stainless steel; shallow or deep; different shapes, etc.). According to experts from the Paws, Whiskers and Claws clinic in Marietta, Georgia, shallow, glass bowls are particularly popular with cats.
  • Offer running water — Your cat may also enjoy a fountain-type bowl that provides running water. If your cat likes to drink from the bathroom tap, leave the door open and the tap dripping just slightly so she has access to her favorite water source.
  • Set out multiple bowls — Appeal to your cat’s natural love of exploring and foraging by placing multiple small bowls of water around the house.
  • Make cat soup — That’s soup for cats, not from cats. 🙂 Although wet food is already, well, wet, you can make a soup-like mixture by placing a few spoonfuls of wet food in a bowl and adding enough water to make it runny. Water in food is a more natural way for cats to get their fluids, so you aren’t ruining her meal this way. You can also add a little water to dry food, if your kitty’s a dry-food addict.
  • Offer flavored water — Try adding a few drops of fish or seafood juice (from tuna, salmon, clams, etc.) to your cat’s water. The food-like flavor may encourage her to drink. On the other hand, she may avoid flavored water altogether, so keep another bowl of plain water out to give her a choice.

Keep in mind that the health problems caused by mild dehydration can result in litter box problems. If you’ve been feeding your cat dry food only and she’s been showing inappropriate urination behavior, take her to the vet. The vet can test for a pH imbalance and L-methionine (an amino acid) deficiency, both of which may cause urination problems. Otherwise, though, make it a point to ensure your kitty gets enough fluids either in food or pure water so she won’t be prone to health and urination problems in the future.

1. Prentiss PG. Wolf AV. Eddy HE. “Hypopenia in cat and dog: ability of the cat to meet its water requirements solely from a diet of fish or meat;” American Journal of Physiology; March 1959.