One of the things many people find very appealing about cats is that they can be left alone for longer periods than dogs. Even with the convenience of a litter box and an endless supply of food, cats left alone for long stretches of time, day after day, can suffer from loneliness, boredom and even separation anxiety.
Indoor cats left alone with no stimulation or environmental enrichment are more likely to become bored or lonely. Does that mean the solution is to allow your cat to go outdoors for stimulation and entertainment? Certainly not. The outdoor environment is filled with stimulation but it’s also filled with danger and uncertainty. It’s my recommendation that cats be kept indoors but when you do that, you have a responsibility to ensure the indoor environment provides the enrichment need to keep your cat mentally active and healthy.
Some Signs Your Cat may be Bored
- Lack of appetite
- Sleeping more than normal
- Destructive behavior
- Over-grooming (even to the point of creating bald patches)
- Litter Box Issues
If your cat is displaying any of the above behaviors or another change in his normal behavior, the first step is to visit the veterinarian. Behavioral changes can be due to an underlying medical condition so it’s important to get a veterinary exam before assuming a problem is behavioral. If there does turn out to be a medical issue it doesn’t mean your cat won’t also benefit from some boredom busters as well though. Every cat deserves environmental enrichment. To get you started, here are some tips to help prevent boredom in your home alone cat.
1. Set out Some Puzzle Feeders
Food-dispensing toys are an easy way to provide added enrichment. Working for food is a concept that’s a natural for cats but in many households, food is just piled high in the food bowl so the cat doesn’t get the opportunity to seek out his prey. As hunters, cats enjoy the chance to search for prey, stalk, pounce and enjoy their reward. Use a puzzle feeder so you can enjoy a little bonus playtime during meals. The puzzle feeder also encourages him to eat more slowly. There are more puzzle feeders available for dry food because wet food will spoil more quickly, especially if you plan on leaving puzzle feeders out for the day while you’re at work. You can still use wet food puzzle feeders but they’re best when the cat can enjoy them right away to ensure freshness. Save the wet food puzzle feeders for when someone will be home.
More on the subject: How to Introduce Your Cat to Puzzle Feeders
2. Create Treasure Hunts
Hide a few treats around the house in places you know your cat typically goes and this will create opportunities for some treasure hunting. Don’t go overboard because treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of a cat’s meal. Place a few treats around so your cat’s nose can do a little work to locate those tiny but tasty rewards.
3. Scratching Post and Scratching Pads
If you haven’t provided your cat with a scratching post it’s certainly long overdue. If you do have one but your cat doesn’t use it, then it’s time to re-evaluate why it has failed. Most cats prefer sisal-covered posts and not carpeted ones. Make sure the post is tall and sturdy so your cat can lean his weight against it to get a good scratch and stretch. Locate the post where your cat likes to scratch. I find this is one of the most common mistakes cat parents make because they don’t like the look of the post so they place it in a remote corner. Look at where your cat is currently scratching and locate the post there.
Some cats like to scratch horizontally and if that’s the case with your cat, you can purchase inexpensive horizontal scratching pads to scatter around. Some cats enjoy both horizontal and vertical scratching so keep that in mind as you plan your cat’s scratching arrangements.
Scratching is an important part of enrichment in a cat’s life so don’t under-estimate the value of having an appealing post available. Scratching is used not only for nail conditioning but also for stretching, marking and emotional release.
More on the subject: Why Does my Cat Scratch the Furniture
4. The Right Toys Used the Right Way
You should have some toys for interactive playtime as well as toys for your cat’s solo play. Interactive toys are the ones you’ll use so you can engage in play sessions with your kitty. These are typically based on a fishing pole design. Interactive playtime is important for all cats but the ones who are left home alone all day will especially need them. Interactive play should be done at least twice daily for about 15 minutes each. There are many types of interactive toys available so when you go shopping, try to match the toy to your cat’s personality or play style.
When it comes to solo toys, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a filled toy basket is all that’s needed. From your cat’s perspective that’s just a pile of already killed prey. You need to add a little life into those toys (not literally, don’t worry). Strategically place toys around the house so they’ll spark interest from your cat. For example, place a furry mouse on the cat tree with its tail dangling down, or maybe put a toy inside an open paper bag for your cat to discover.