In Germany, around 26 percent of all households have a cat - in 2021 there were around 16.7 million animals. I belong too. I have given a home to a 1 year old Maine Coon who needs lots of entertainment and attention. In order to make this possible for him in the best possible way, I contacted the long-standing veterinarian Stefanie Staack. I spoke to her about cat fitness – and the right game.
Outdoor cats are kept busy by exploring their surroundings. This allows them to live out their natural hunting and climbing instincts. They often cover miles of walking distances. It's different with indoor cats, because they have significantly fewer opportunities to keep themselves busy.
In addition to cat-friendly equipment, such as a large scratching post, a raised lookout, sufficient places to retreat and a chance to look out of the window, human entertainment is also very important in this case. Especially if a cat is kept as a single animal and cannot deal with a conspecific.
"Cats can suffer from loneliness, from neglect, and some animals also show this through behavioral problems: uncleanliness, aggression, recurring cystitis, for example," says veterinarian Stefanie Staack."
The territory of the animals is limited to the number of square meters of the premises. Accordingly, the indoor cat does not have much exercise compared to the outdoor cat. But indoor cats also have a natural hunting instinct that they have to live out. In order for the cat to remain interested in the ball, it should not be played with for too long. If the cat is played with twice a day for about 15 minutes, the cat gains self-confidence and is mentally and physically challenged.
When playing, the cat has to observe, judge distances, wait for the right moment, jump in good time, balance and dart around or climb up the scratching post. In order to coordinate all this properly, the cat has to exert both body and mind and learn new things. There is also the positive side effect that regular exercise has a positive effect on body weight.
Young cats are often wilder and more exuberant when playing, want entertainment and prefer to chase after something all day long. That goes away with age. Seniors prefer to first see where a ball is going. Even if they seem to prefer to sleep or relax, older cats should also be encouraged to play to stay fit.
It is important to give your pet your full attention. Cats are sensitive and notice immediately if the person is only half-hearted about what they are doing - or is casually staring at their cell phone. Noise should also be avoided. So noises in the apartment should simply be turned down so that the cat can concentrate better.
The toy should at best be the size of a mouse - like natural prey. However, this should not be waved right in front of the kitten's nose. Which bird in nature flies around directly in front of a predator? Too easy loot is boring loot. Toy mice, spring sticks or toy fishing rods from the pet shop are good options, and you can also make many things yourself from everyday objects. It is well known that many cats love boxes or ribbon. A simple cord is enough for many animals, or a chestnut that is brought back from a walk.
Ideally, the toy should be moved away from the cat, because as predators, they like to ambush their prey and chase after it. The toy can disappear behind a corner or a piece of furniture, only to reappear a short time later in a different place. Just as it would be with a prey animal in nature.
There are cats who are totally attracted to flashing balls or noises. It is important that the toys are stable, not too pointed and flexible so that the cat does not injure itself while playing. Plastic products that can splinter or break are not suitable. If the cat swallows a pointed part, it can be life-threatening.
Because cats have light-sensitive eyes, a laser pointer should also not be used. If a too strong, concentrated beam of light hits the eye, it can lead to injuries. Because the little dot the cat wants to catch keeps disappearing, the game can also be very frustrating for the animal.
It is important to deal with your cat's preferences, to try out new toys and to offer a change from time to time. So that a toy does not become boring, it should always be put away. Then, after a few weeks, it's just as exciting as it was at the beginning.
Sources: "For the love of pets", "A heart for animals", "Augsburger Allgemeine", "Fressnapf", "Statista"