To call cats lazy would be a misinterpretation of their behavior. Cats do need plenty of sleep, but they also require regular exercise and mental stimulation. If you spend all day at work, which is the case for most people, it can be difficult to provide this level of stimulation to your feline.
Cats are happiest when they can express their natural behaviors such as chewing, scratching, climbing, and hunting. You should create a home environment that encourages this behavior such as intelligence puzzles, a cat condo, or adding a second cat.
No matter how much you cat-proof your home, it can be a dangerous place, especially if your pet is left unsupervised. Use these tips to ensure that your cat is safe and contented when you’re away.
Environmental Enrichment for Cats
It’s wonderful that you are trying to provide an enriching environment for your cat because research shows that boredom is bad for cats’ health.
Cats who live in an enriched environment have increased levels of brain activity. Cats who receive regular stimulation will benefit from the following:
- Better Sleep – Cats who are stimulated throughout the day enjoy more restorative sleep.
- Improved Mood – Physical activity releases endorphins and may help to protect against feline depression and anxiety.
- Protects Against Brain Decline in Old Age – Old cats may experience brain cell death (similar to the neurogenerative diseases seen in humans). Brain stimulation helps to build synapses (the connections between neurons) which may help to protect against brain decline in older age.
- Good for Bone & Joint Health – Regular physical activity helps to protect against bone conditions and feline joint disorders.
- Weight Management – Cats who play regularly are less prone to obesity and diabetes.
- Improves Behavior – If cats live in stimulating environments, they can express their natural tendencies such as hunting, scratching, and chewing. This helps them to feel more fulfilled and improves their behavior inside the home.
How Much Exercise and Stimulation Do Cats Need?
There is no real consensus on this issue. However, most specialists would agree that indoor cats rarely get enough physical exercise.
One study found that domestic cats that are allowed to roam free traveled a radius of 4.9 acres from their home (some traveled much farther than this). This suggests domestic cats walk reasonably long distances, given the opportunity.
Cats who are confined indoors should be given regular opportunities to walk, run, jump, and climb to ensure they are getting a similar amount of exercise.
And what about mental stimulation? Cats who are let outdoors will stalk insects and small animals, chew on grass and jump on fences. Cats who live indoors should be given similar opportunities to express these natural cat behaviors.
Owners should aim to play with their cat for 3 x 15 minutes per day (as long as the cat is fit and healthy). They also advise owners to provide an “enriching environment” for their cat.
If you’re time-stretched, it can be hard to commit to 45 minutes of play per day, so providing an enriching environment for your cat becomes even more critical.
1) Intelligence Toys & Food Puzzles
“Intelligence toys” or “food puzzles” are becoming increasingly popular. These toys are ideal for entertaining cats because they stimulate the five senses and mimic the cat’s natural hunting tendencies. Not only that, they encourage cats to become more dexterous and spatially aware.
So, how do intelligence toys work? Well, the owner places the cat’s favorite treat somewhere in the puzzle board. To retrieve the treat, the cat must lift lids, open drawers, push the treat through a tunnel, or even use their tongue to retrieve it from a narrow hole.
The reward at the end is highly satisfying, so cats quickly become accustomed to this game. As a result, cats will quite happily seek out and play these puzzles without being prompted.
So, try placing one of these toys in the house a couple of days per week. Don’t make them available every day as boredom might set in. Also, cats should only receive treats 2-3 days a week.
2) Get Another Cat
Cats are not pack animals, but they are probably more friendly than we give them credit for. According to CATS, feral cats who have all their needs met (food, shelter) form communities with other cats. Fights only tend to occur when there are not enough resources to go around.
So, if your cat has her basic needs met, she may value the opportunity to socialize with another cat. When two cats are happy in each other’s company, they will groom each other, sleep nestled together, and sometimes play with each other.
The decision to get a second cat should not be taken lightly. You should consider the extra expense as well as the time it will take to introduce the new cat to your existing kitty. A new cat should be introduced gradually over the period of a couple of weeks.
This can take quite a lot of planning and organization so you may need to take time off work during this adjustment period.
3) Hire a Pet Sitter or Pet Visitor
If you’re not sure about a feline companion, why not get a human companion instead? As our work days become longer, some people are turning to “pet sitters” or “pet visitors” for daytime support.
Cats are quite low maintenance in comparison to dogs so you could hire a “pet visitor” for half an hour per day. During this time, a pet visitor could feed your cat, give her any medicine she requires, clean the litter box, play with her, or let her out in the garden.
Websites like Petsitter.com, Tailster.com, and catinaflat.com can connect you with local pet sitters.
4) Encourage Climbing
Cats love to climb and survey their environment from a height. Your cat probably already enjoys climbing on furniture but why not give her more opportunities to express her natural behavior? Options include:
- A Cat Condo – This is an upright set of scratching posts/ladders with multi-level resting platforms. It provides height and climbing opportunities even in a tiny room.
- Large Houseplant with a Wide-Brimmed Pot – If you have lots of space in your home, consider purchasing a small tree/large house plant and put it in a wide-brimmed pot – thick enough for your cat to walk on. This will allow her to climb and get back to nature. It’s important to point out that some houseplants can be toxic for cats so choose a plant such as bamboo that is safe for cats.
- Window Boxes/Ledges – Many cats enjoy being up high and looking out of the window. Make your window boxes/ledges as inviting for your cat as possible by putting some cushions or a microfiber blanket on them. However, if one of your windows looks directly into something threatening (i.e., a neighbor’s dog), it might be better to cover this window up.
If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can try arranging your furniture in a way that encourages your cat to jump. Think carefully about the placement of any furniture and keep ledges, shelves, and surfaces free of junk if your cat regularly jumps on them.
5) Play a Nature Film
Switching on the TV for your pet might seem ludicrous, but some pet behavior specialists recommend this as an occasional therapy. It is useful if your cat doesn’t have access to the outdoors.
Choose a nature show that focuses on birds, insects or rodents; there are plenty of nature videos for cats on YouTube. You can then cast these to your TV from your smartphone.
Nature films shouldn’t be played daily because they may eventually become irritating or frustrating. However, they can provide some much-needed stimulation on a dreary afternoon.
6) Homemade Toys
Toys can be made from cheap materials or things you already have in your home. Cats often get the most fun out of homemade toys. Here are some options:
- Balls – Ping-pong/bouncy balls or other lightweight balls can provide cats with hours of fun. These can be purchased cheaply along with “cat springs” which are also just a few dollars.
- Cardboard Boxes & Packaging – Next time you receive a package, keep the box and any paper wrapping for your cat. Cats love to explore boxes and play with tissue paper. Keep a few different boxes in a cupboard and bring a new one out periodically for variety.
- Cardboard Tubing – Many cats like to chase the cardboard tubing from toilet rolls.
- Make a Catnip Sock Ball – Take an old sock and fill it with a tablespoon of dried catnip. Place this sock inside the other one and fold over to create a sock ball. Most cats will love to chase this around the house.
- Wool – Younger cats love to unravel balls of wool. This can create a lot of mess though you can limit the chaos by providing a smaller ball of yarn.
The key to your cat’s happiness is variety. Try placing at least one “toy” in each room throughout the house. Also, rotate the toys regularly to prevent boredom.
7) Make a Catio (a Cat Patio)
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, keeping a cat indoors (with an enriched environment) is preferable to letting them outdoors. Keeping cats indoors helps to protect them from injury and also protects the local wildlife.
However, it can be difficult to keep cats entertained if they spend their whole lives inside the house. A good compromise might be to install a catio (a cat patio) in your garden.
A catio is an enclosed space that allows your cat to experience the outdoors but prevents them from attacking local wildlife or injuring themselves. Catios range in size from a few meters squared to a whole patio/garden.
These enclosures are usually built from wood, and the sides are covered with a mesh-netting. You can buy ready-made structures or make one yourself.
Some owners line their cat enclosure up with the cat flap so their cat can come and go as they please. If this is not an option, you could leave your cat in a catio for several hours unsupervised, as long as there is shade, food, and water.
8) Cat Butterfly Toy or Hanging Mobile
Cats are true hunters, so they’ll chase anything that moves. You can encourage this natural behavior by purchasing a butterfly toy or a hanging mobile for your cat.
Butterfly toys have become quite popular in recent years. These toys have a plastic base, a wire, and a paper butterfly that sits on the end of the wire. When switched on, the butterfly moves around – enticing the cat to chase it.
This toy promotes physical activity and raises excitement levels. This will flood your cat’s brain with endorphins – helping her to stay happy and content throughout the day.
If you are worried about the safety or cost of a butterfly toy, you could opt for a hanging mobile instead. Hanging mobiles can even be made at home quite effortlessly. Be sure to hang the mobile somewhere where your cat can reach up and play with the strings.
9) Timed Feeder for Grazing
If you’re out at work all day, your cat may go 8 or 9 hours without a meal. This is not ideal, because cats are grazers in the wild. We now know that the optimum feeding schedule for cats is 4-8 very small meals per day rather than 1-2 large ones.
So, if your cat is lethargic and bored throughout the day, it could be because she’s not receiving enough nutrition. To keep your cat’s energy levels steady throughout the day, it’s a good idea to purchase a timed feeder.
Timed feeders are split into 4 or 6 compartments. You can set the timer on the feeder to specify when you want to next compartment of food to become available. So, if you are out of the house for 8 hours a day, consider giving your cat 4 very small meals at 2-hour intervals.
Regular meals will energize your cat and help provide some structure to her day. It may also improve her behavior.
Exposing your cat to catnip occasionally can improve her mood and help her sleep better.
Catnip is found in many cat toys, but you can also buy it in dried form and add it to homemade toys. You can even grow it in your garden. Many cats love to chew on fresh catnip leaves.
To give your cat a treat, try hiding a few catnip toys or catnip sock balls throughout the house. Cats have an excellent sense of smell so they should start “hunting” for the catnip.
Choose hiding places that are challenging for your cat but still safe to access – behind pillows and underneath beds might be a good idea.
Catnip is extremely relaxing for cats and should help to soothe any separation anxiety they experience when you leave for work. However, don’t overdo the catnip. You wouldn’t want your cat to become desensitized to this plant.
Monitor your Cat from Work
If you spend all day away from home, it’s understandable that you’d worry about your cat. Is she safe? Has she eaten? Is she bored? These sorts of worries can distract you when you’re at work.
So, what’s the solution? If you worry about your cat a lot, you could consider installing a video surveillance system to keep a close eye on her.
Pet cams are a relatively new thing, but they are set to explode in popularity. These cams allow you to check on your pet’s welfare, but they also give you a boost during a busy and stressful workday.
So, what’s the best cat cam on the market? You can either opt for a regular home surveillance smart cam (such as Neos) or a specialist pet cam such as PAWBO. Both do the job, but regular smart cams are a lot cheaper than the pet cam alternatives.
Pet cams do add extras such as serve up treats to your cat. Some even have a laser game setting to entice your cat. Some specialists argue that these added features aren’t particularly good for your cat’s wellbeing because they might lead to frustration.
So, on balance, the cheaper smart cam video system may be the better option.
How Long Can You Leave a Cat Alone For?
The tips in this guide are intended for those who need to leave their cat home alone during the working day (around 8-9 hours). But what if you are staying away overnight or going on a weekend break? Would a cat be able to look after themselves for several days at a time?
Domestic cats that live solely indoors should not be left alone for more than 12 hours. They have learned to rely on their owners so they may experience intense anxiety if left alone for long periods.
Cats who are free-roaming and allowed to come and go through a cat flap could be left for 24-48 hours as long as food and water are provided.
If you intend to go away for more than one night, the kindest thing to do would be to hire a pet sitter, ask a friend to pop in and check on your cat or send your cat to a cattery.
How to Cat-Proof your House
One of the reasons we worry about leaving our cats is because the home can be a dangerous place for cats. You can minimize the risk to your cat by considering the following:
- Remove wires and leads (e.g., phone chargers) as some cats love to chew on leads.
- Shut your cat out of the kitchen. This will keep her away from dangerous appliances and stop her from stealing any food.
- Lock away cleaning products as some of these are toxic for cats.
- Some plants (i.e., lilies) are toxic for cats so check before bringing a plant into your home.
- Do not use incense oil diffusers. Cats can knock them over, and the oil will burn their skin.
- Close the toilet lid. Some cats may drink the water from the toilet. This is unsanitary but can also lead to injuries or even drowning. Make sure clean and fresh water is available at all times.
- Before leaving in the morning, do a quick “sweep” of the house to check all the windows are closed. Close the blinds if a window looks out onto something frightening (i.e., a dog).
- Remove any junk from ledges/surfaces that your cat likes to jump on.
- If you have a standard cat flap, consider upgrading to a sensor-detection version that only allows access to your pet.
There are countless ways to keep a cat occupied during the day — these range from toys and climbing equipment to access to the outdoors (where possible).
The most important thing to remember is to rotate the toys and activities you offer your cat. A bouncy ball may be exciting for one day, but it will probably become boring the next.
Providing an enriching environment for your cat will improve her physical and cognitive health. She’ll also become a lot less dependent on you. This is great because it means you can enjoy spending time with your cat without having her demand all of your attention.