When we think of pets that need exercise and play time, cats do not automatically spring to mind.
Our domestic cats don't need to hunt for a living, but they still have those natural instincts to chase, climb and hide. Toys, games and other forms of entertainment enrich your cat's life and burn calories, keeping it happy and healthy.
And kitty playtime takes only two or three minutes several times each day. Here are some of our favorite ways to keep cats active, both physically and mentally.
Get a move on! Cats are attracted by motion. Even the laziest of cats gets excited by the bouncing beam of a flashlight or laser pointer. Following the fast, erratic motion enhances a cat's ability to think and move quickly. To give your cat a real workout, direct the light beam up and down stairs or walls, encouraging the cat to run and jump.
Be careful not to shine a laser pointer in your cat's eyes. Chasing a pingpong ball down the hall will also get your cat moving. Some cats will even bring it back to you.
Gone fishin': Other toys that arouse a cat's desire to chase are fishing-pole toys, which have flexible handles attached to lines with furry or feathery lures at the end. Dangle it over your cat's head or drag it in front of the cat and watch it become a silent stalker: ears forward, rear twitching, then pouncing on the prey, rolling and kicking to "kill" it. The amazing flips and spins in pursuit of the lure will keep your kitten – and you – entertained for hours, or at least until your cat is ready for another nap.
Just remember to put the toy away when you're not around to supervise: You don't want your cat swallowing the string and developing a dangerous intestinal obstruction.
Live-action entertainment: A peaceful way to give your cat a taste of the hunt is to set a bird feeder just outside the window.
The birds stay safely outdoors and get a meal out of the deal, while your cat's life is made more interesting on its side of the window. This is a great way to encourage your cat to do a little jumping – onto the windowsill – and to appeal to its birder nature.
Kitty brain candy: The rapid movements of birds, aquarium fish and other prey animals are like crack for cats. Feed your cat's hunger for prey in a nonviolent way by turning on a nature show or popping in a DVD made especially for cats. Make sure your TV is securely placed so it won't fall over if your cat decides to leap at the screen in a vain attempt to score a meal.
Will play for food: Pet stores have a variety of food puzzles – toys you put food into for your cat to work out.
If you can't find a food puzzle your cat likes, try a homemade version. Put dry food inside an empty paper towel roll, and let your cat figure out how to get at it. Or get a Wiffle ball and insert pieces of kibble. They'll fall out when your cat bats the ball around.
Hide and seek: Put an empty paper sack or a cardboard box with a little packing paper inside it on the floor and let your cat explore. It'll love the dark interiors and crinkly noises. Boxes are extra fun when you have two cats, providing the perfect way to play hide-and-seek.
Use your imagination to keep your cat busy. So many cats these days live mostly or entirely indoors, which is good for them, the neighbors and the wildlife.
But when you close the door on your cat, you need to make the indoors more interesting. Fortunately, doing so strengthens the bond between you and your pet.