Tips for keeping cats: Veterinarian: "A cat doesn't just lie decoratively on the sofa. She wants to be given time!"

In Germany, about 26 percent of all households own a cat.

Tips for keeping cats: Veterinarian: "A cat doesn't just lie decoratively on the sofa. She wants to be given time!"

In Germany, about 26 percent of all households own a cat. In 2021, that was around 16.7 million animals. I too belong to these people. I share my home with a one-year-old Maine Coon who wants a lot of entertainment and attention. In order to enable him to lead a species-appropriate, fit and healthy life, I contacted the veterinarian Stefanie Staack. I spoke to her about cat fitness and proper play.

Outdoor cats are already occupied to a large extent by exploring the neighborhood. When roaming through nature, the animals can live out their natural hunting and climbing instincts. They often cover miles of walking distances. When they come back to their home, the mouse that may have been caught outside is first digested and taken to sleep. Therefore, an apartment in which an outdoor cat lives does not necessarily have to be furnished with special cat furniture.

The situation is different with cats that are only kept indoors: The animals have significantly fewer opportunities to move due to the limited space. "The environment shouldn't be too irritating for a cat," says Stefanie Staack, which is why cat-friendly equipment is very important: This includes a large scratching post, lots of climbing opportunities, sufficient places to retreat, a raised lookout or even a cozy place by the window to look out . Shelves can be attached to the walls or boards for walkways. In the pet trade there are also sisal posts, suspension bridges and other products with which the apartment can be designed to suit the animal.

Of course, the "quiet place" is also important: Stefanie Staack points out in the conversation that it is more comfortable for the cat to have a toilet without a lid. Even though covered litter boxes can be more practical for owners because there isn't as much litter flying around, doing the business for the animals is "a situation where a cat doesn't want to hide, where it actually likes to have a 360-degree view around to see if the enemy is coming." Also, the cat doesn't want its food bowl next to the toilet and its water bowl next to the food bowl.

But furniture alone is not enough - cat owners must also actively take care of the maintenance of their velvet paws. That means: play! "Exercise is fundamentally important for physical fitness and an indoor cat generally always has too little exercise. In this respect, of course, playing is important, but also the right feeding," says veterinarian Stefanie Staack.

When playing, the cat has to observe, estimate 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 animal has to exert its body and mind and learn new things. In addition, there is the positive side effect that regular exercise can have a positive effect on body weight - similar to us humans.

This is especially important if a cat is kept as a single animal and cannot occupy itself with a conspecific. However, if there is space and opportunity, an indoor-only conspecific should be considered at best.

But: even if two cats are kept that get along well and play together, regular interaction with humans is important. "It means movement for the animal and input for the head," says Staack. It also strengthens the bond between humans and animals - and after all, you have a cat because you like it and would like to interact with it.

"Cats can suffer from loneliness, from neglect, and some animals also show this through behavioral problems: uncleanliness, aggression, recurring cystitis, for example," says Staack. She also explains that it's a misconception that cats are inherently solitary creatures that can be left alone all day. Indoor cats in particular are demanding: "They need people and they need someone to talk to them."

"A cat isn't just lying on the sofa decoratively. The cat wants to be given time and when it's older it's probably more time for cuddling and scratching, talking to it or watching TV with it. A younger cat wants to play and It's fun and you should definitely talk to each other. In fact, the cat doesn't understand what I'm telling it, but it can tell that I'm talking to it. It gets that - and the tone of voice pretty much too."

"Cats like a certain amount of predictability. They know exactly when their people are there and when they are going to be fed," says Staack. It's the same with gaming. Cats love routines, which is why humans should ideally set up fixed playing times in addition to fixed feeding times. Anything longer than 10 minutes is a good time. "If you have an old cat that doesn't feel like playing that much anymore, she does it for three minutes and that's fine. If you have a young cat, you can stay with it for half an hour."

Which toy is preferred is different for each animal. You should - just try it. At best, the toy should be the size of a mouse. However, this should not be waved right in front of the animal's nose. Which bird in nature flies around directly in front of a predator? Too easy loot is boring loot.

For example, toy mice and cat fishing rods are good options. Many toys can also be made from everyday objects. It is well known that many cats love boxes, simple strings or even a chestnut that is brought back from a walk.

"There are also cat fidget boards that you can buy ready-made or you can make your own. The cat has to use its paws to fumble treats out somewhere with skill and a little dedication. Be it out of some kind of tube or between some rubber knobs. If you have such a board yourself If you want to build something, you can also use egg cardboard, Toffifee packaging, toilet paper tubes or household paper." recommends Staack.

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 doesn't become boring, it should always end up in the drawer for a long time. Then, after a few weeks, it's as exciting as it was at the beginning.

"The important thing with all toys is that there shouldn't be anything on them that could be swallowed," warns the veterinarian. This means small beads, feathers or pompom particles that can tear off. "Most of the time they migrate through the body, but basically you have to be a little careful."

In general, not all products that can be bought in pet shops are suitable: "However, there are staff in many specialist shops who are able to give appropriate advice." She doesn't think some of the products that companies give her as gifts in her veterinary practice are particularly well thought out. "Sometimes I think: If a little girl comes, I'll give her this wand with silver stars, beads and glitter as a magic wand."

It is important that the toys are stable and do not smell of chemicals. They should not be too sharp so that the cat cannot be injured. Plastic products that can splinter or break are not suitable. If the cat swallows a small or sharp part, it can be life-threatening. The vet explains that things that could get wrapped around the neck or one of the paws should also be avoided. Especially when the animals are sometimes alone, the toy should not be lying around.

Playing with a laser pointer is also not a good idea, as cats have very sensitive eyes to light. 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.

Stefanie Staack also has a tip for the end of a game: "In fact, you let a game run out slowly and don't end it abruptly. That leads to a certain frustration with cats." Playing with a cat can sometimes get very wild. At some point, for example, you simply move the fishing rod less. In the "Cool Down Phase" a snack roll or a fiddle board can also be filled with treats. This keeps the cat busy and rewarding itself for a while.

Sources: "Augsburger Allgemeine", "Statista", own research