Is Your Cat Feeling Stir Crazy? 10 Tips to Relieve Feline Boredom in an Everyday Environment

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We might not realize it, but to our cats, everyday can seem like Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day was a few weeks ago and while its traditionally known for Phil, the Groundhog from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania who emerges from his home to predict whether spring will be early or if we’re in for a longer winter, for many of us, when we think of Groundhog Day we think of Bill Murray in the movie of the same name. The iconic image of his alarm clock waking him up day after day after day to the sound of Sonny and Cher singing “I got you Babe.”

Groundhog Day is also right around the time those who live in colder climates begin to feel the wearing effects of a grueling winter and are itching for spring to arrive. If you live in Florida like I do, we get reverse Groundhog Day around August when we’ve had more than enough hiding indoors in the air conditioning during the summer because it’s too hot to be outside.

Regardless of the scenario or climate, the common denominator is getting that boxed in feeling of wanting freedom from the constraints of the daily grind of the environment we live in. Now imagine if you’re a cat. While it’s not always possible, in ideal circumstances it’s safest to keep your cat indoors and for many of us cat guardians, that’s exactly what we do. So, what’s it like to be an animal who, albeit domesticated, is innately wild by nature? An animal who is wild by nature who is living in the confines of whatever space you live in. How is it for their health and well-being if every single day is like the movie Groundhog day for them?

Even if we’re going stir crazy, whether it be work, or shopping, or running errands, or even getting our mail, we still have the opportunity to leave the confines of our house or apartment on occasion. Or if we feel like it, depending on where we live, maybe we spend the day at the beach, or we take a walk down a nature trail, or a bike ride to the park, or a trip to Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee.

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While I don’t do it often enough, if I feel like leaving the house for a day at the beach, I have the luxury of being able to do that if I want.

And even if we elect to stay indoors, we have the ability to change our surroundings if we so chose. We can watch a movie, we can play games on our computer, or we can make a batch of gooey chocolate chip cookies if we feel like it. An indoor cat doesn’t have that luxury. All they have is what we provide for them and that’s why it’s so important to be conscious of the environment we create for them. After all, it’s not just your home, it’s theirs, too.

Providing your cat with basic items within that environment to satisfy their instinctual needs is essential. Scratching post options to allow them to stretch and exercise their claws. Vertically shaped pieces of furniture to jump up to so they feel a territorial sense of ownership. An assortment of appropriate toys so they can mimic their need to stalk, hunt, and “kill” prey – all of this is critical to keeping your cat optimally happy and healthy.

cats on condo

This is just one of many vertical space options I have for my gang. This cat condo has several tiers, giving each cat a sense of territorial ownership and also has scratching posts on it.

But it’s not enough. Even by providing them with the basics, cats can get bored and sometimes they give us little hints to let us know when they’ve gotten to that point. For example, when Rolz randomly get aggressive and bullies his sisters with chasing, swats, screaming meows, and hissing, I know he needs special playtime to divert his pent-up energy. He’s not deliberately trying to be mean to them, it’s the only way he knows how to communicate his frustration.

ZeeFood-Dish

Often you’ll notice that your cat drops his toys in odd places, like his food dish. It’s actually quite normal and is one of the ways they fulfill their hunt and prey instincts in the home environment.

It’s just part of how a cat’s DNA is wired. Cats are crepuscular (meaning they are instinctively more active around dawn or dusk) and they typically nap up to 16 hours a day. Not because they’re lazy; it’s so they can reserve their energy to keep their hunting skills sharp because they are born predators. That’s why your cat will suddenly zoom from one room to the next like a two-year old toddler high on sugar, and then stops as if nothing has happened – they are exerting bursts of energy. That’s why it’s so important to provide your cat with unexpected ways to add some fun and stimulation to their everyday routine. Not only will it help to alleviate any stresses they may be feeling, it will relieve boredom and  keep their minds sharp and their bodies fit.

Here are some quick and easy suggestions to try with your cat:

1. Put an empty box on the floor. There are very few cats that aren’t tempted by the lure of a box – whether it be to nap in or to use as some sort of secret lair to simulate the hide/hunt/stalk/kill instinct (often translated by your cat “killing” a plush toy and dropping it into the box).

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An empty box can provide hours of non-stop fun for a cat. In this case, Jazmine is protecting her cave from Peanut who is clearly a dangerous thereat to her!

2. Switch things up. Maybe put a chair or pillow under a window that normally is not there or move a piece of furniture around. Cats like finding new areas to nap or explore and it’s a nice change of pace for them.

3. Make treat time more of an exercise in cunning rather than just handing your kitty a treat. Tucking treats in spots for your cat to seek out, or even buying a special product that is made like a puzzle so that your cat has to figure out how to get the treat helps hone their hunting skills.

4. Take an old toy (or get a new one) and dust it with catnip. Then hide it somewhere for your cat to find.

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What’s an instant way of creating fun? Move your couch to let your cat see what’s underneath it. Chances are good you’ll find all sorts of things he has put under there. Seen here among the traditional cat toys are some creative finds – a straw, a ball of wadded up paper, a milk jug ring, and an old pen.

5. Initiate special grooming time with your cat. Not only will it help to reduce the tendency of hairballs or mats developing, but it’s a nice diversion and opportunity for you to bond with your cat.

6. Crinkle up a piece of paper or foil and throw it on the floor so kitty can play a game of “hockey” – you’d be surprised at how much fun that simple act can provide a cat.

7. Incorporate more human-feline playtime with your cat – wand toys are especially fun for a cat, but even more so when you are the one that is enticingly dangling the other end of the string that is holding the “victim.”

Deb-and-Papayrus

I love fresh flowers, but they’re a big no-no in our house because my cats will instantly attack them and many flowers are poisonous. To give them an unexpected burst of fun, I bring some fresh papyrus in the house – it’s not dangerous if they take a nibble or two and they’ll follow me around like I’m the Pied Piper to swat at it! It’s truly the ultimate in excitement for them!

8. As long as there is nothing dangerous in the room, consider opening a door that is normally closed, such as a closet or guest bedroom. There’s nothing more exciting for a cat than to explore an area that is typically off-limits.

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Occasionally I’ll open the door to the guest room that we keep permanently closed. I keep my collectible dolls in there and I also like to keep it as dander-free as I can for those times we have guests with allergies. But sometimes I’ll let the cats in for a change of pace – after some brief exploring, they love to cuddle up on the bed for a nap.

9. If weather permits and you have screens, open the windows so your cat gets a whiff of some fresh air and new smells.

10. If you live in an area where you feel it is safe and your cat is up for it, consider taking her outside for a walk in either a leash/harness or specially designed cat stroller that she can sit in to watch the world.

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On those occasions I allow Zoey outside, she is wearing a leash and harness and we are in the safe confines of our fenced in backyard.

Feline behavior is a fascinating subject and how it ties to the environment they live in is equally fascinating. I did significant research on the subject when I wrote Makin’ Biscuits – Weird Cat Habits and the Even Weirder Habits of the Human Who Love Them. If you would like to learn more about the how’s and why’s of what our cats do – such as why do they hide toys around the house, or steal food from our plates, or seek out boxes to nap in, I highly recommend you check the book out! Not only is it entertaining, it’s educational, too! For more information, please click here.

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  1. terry davis says:

    thank you for the ideas to keep my ‘babies’ entertained and good exercise. Right now am trying to find the catnip to put on a toy. Emptying a box and they love to dart into the closet door, then when I can’t find one I start opening closet doors and there she is. One morning around 2am I was on my way to bed and I hadn’t seen Mitzy ‘tuxedo’ kitty, I call the three to ‘nite-nite’, then I heard a faint ‘mew’ so I started at the bottom of the chest of drawers and she popped up out of the top one. She was fast, I had opened and shut that drawer awhile earlier. lol

    • Deb says:

      Oh yes! Kitties sure can be crafty (and quick) when it comes to finding spots to nap or hide in! Glad you found her before you went to bed!

  2. meowmeowmans says:

    These are such great tips, Deb. As much as cats don’t like big change, it’s really important to keep them engaged and give them enough new things to keep them from getting bored. :)

    • Deb says:

      Very true meowmeowmans…too much change can overwhelm them, but when it’s little things that you know will make them happy, why not go for it?!

  3. Great tips! I love that a box, or a pillow in a random spot can make my girls happy for days! I love the photo of you and the papyrus–mine would be very curious about that too–one of the downfalls of being in an urban area, that doesn’t have a garden…

    • Deb says:

      I got a new printer a couple of months ago – the box is HUGE and completely overwhelms my office…naturally, they love it and I don’t have the heart to move it. It’s now a beloved piece of furniture for them!

  4. jmuhj says:

    Thank you for these excellent suggestions! We already do almost all of them except the harness-and-leash outdoor visits — we’re strictly indoor types! One thing we may try from your suggestions is bringing in some papyrus. It’s a favorite here, but I didn’t know it was completely safe for cats. They may enjoy it, and I would, too!

    • Deb says:

      I try not to let them nibble the grass, but if they do, at least I know it’s okay! It’s just so much fun for them to sniff and swat at – I can’t even walk more than a foot before a swarm of cats isn’t around me!

  5. Great tips! At this time of year, with the weather colder (at least it is here in the north), windows and doors are closed and there isn’t much for us cats to do. So we appreciate these suggestions. Now we gotta go find a box.

  6. mariodacat says:

    Great ideas. We are into boredom season here for sure. Had a few days with a taste of summer, and now winter is returning. Time to switch things around and come up with new games for Mario. We’ll be trying a couple of your dieas.

  7. Ellen Pilch says:

    Great ideas. Cats sure do love their boxes.

  8. Maggie says:

    Playing with cats livens up those Winter days when we Northerners feel hibernating. It’s good fun for humans too.
    These are great ideas!

  9. Basil says:

    Great post with oodles of great tips, thanks fur sharing!

    Purrs

    Basil & CO xox

  10. Our local weather forecaster goes by the name of Sam, and Sam said we were gonna have an early spring. Well… we did. Last week. Now it’s cold again. Just goes to show you, groundhog forecasts aren’t worth beans. MOUSES!