The weathers cold, and youve snugly closed up your home. The birds have headed south. Small garden rodents are hibernating, and the insect population has dwindled to a lone spider clinging to your ceiling. During these times, your cat may become desperately bored and get into things she shouldnt.
Boredom is the cause of many behavior problems, says Michele Bamberger, MS, DVM of Vet Behavior Consults in Ithaca, New York. Its not normal for a cat to be sitting in a house doing nothing, so its really important to provide a source of interaction.
You can help stave off your cats wintertime blues by finding new and interesting activities to occupy her time. Here are some cold weather ideas to try.
On the Run: Lack of exercise may have an adverse effect on your cats health. Cats outside run around, says Dr. Bamberger. If your cat doesnt exercise, he can become fat quickly. The best way to exercise your cat depends on how much activity you and your cat can tolerate. A fishing pole toy enables a cat to run in a six-to-eight-foot radius while the owner remains stationary, says Dr. Bamberger.
Handle with Care: Turn up your cats purr factor through massage. More than just petting, massage uses finely tuned touch techniques that relax your cat. The more you pay attention to the way you touch, the more your cat will pay attention to you, says Maryjean Ballner, a licensed massage therapist, producer of the video Your Cat Wants a Massage! and author of Cat Massage: A Whiskers-To-Tail Guide to Your Cats Ultimate Petting Experience. (To order, visit www.clickertraining.com/.)
Combine the massage with a physical exam, says Dr. Bamberger. Its a great way to feel for lumps or bumps, check her eyes and ears, and look for parasites.
At Your Command: How would you like your cat to come when you want to put him in the cat carrier? Or stay safely behind when you open a door?
Wintertime can be a great time to teach your cat simple commands through clicker training. Through a simple system of association and positive rewards, you can train your cat to sit, come and stay, just as you would a dog.
Walk on the Mild Side: Winter is a great time to accustom your cat to being on a leash indoors so that she will be comfortable for her first jaunt outside when spring comes.
In the winter, you are spending more time indoors. Your cat wants your attention, so its the best time to spend five to 10 minutes having her adjust to the feeling of being on a leash in a setting she is accustomed to, says Dr. Bamberger. (See CatWatch, October 2004 for related article.)
Kick It Up a Notch: Although sudden noises frighten some cats, a more fearless Fluffy may enjoy noisy toys. Set up a chain of dominoes for your cat to watch or chase. Create a waterless slide by spreading newspapers on the floor, then toss a crumpled wad of paper onto them or drag a toy under them and watch your cat go. Buy her a crinkly sack or toy to play with.
Subtle Pleasures: If your cat runs from loud sounds, think twice about toys that go bam. It depends on the personality of your cat, says Dr. Bamberger. For fearful cats, noisy playthings may be way too much. For a skittish kitty, provide fabric tunnels into which you toss toys. Blow your cat away with the non-toxic Crazy Pet Catch-A-Bubble cat toy.
Whatever toys you buy or make, they should be sturdy and have no small parts that a cat could swallow. Make sure the toy is well built, advises Dr. Bamberger. Rotate the toys to keep them interesting. Use an L-shaped curtain rod to retrieve toys from under furniture.
Now You See It: Bring the wildlife closer to your cat by attaching a bird or squirrel feeder to the outside of your cats favorite window. If your cat shows an interest in television, buy a cat video to keep him occupied periodically.
While Youre Away: Give your cat plenty of ways to spend his time while youre out of the house, such as the Pet Mate Crazy Circle cat track or the Cat Spa from Hagen, which has raised surfaces on which a cat can rub his face. Lift the combs out for easy cleaning. A sprinkle of catnip will keep Kitty interested in either toy. The SmartCatTM Peek-a-Prize wooden toy box allows cats to capture their toys or treats from strategically placed access holes.
If you dont want to purchase an item, hide your cats favorite toys around the house for her to find. Sprinkle dried catnip in the toe of an old sock and tie the other end closed for her to lick and kick. Grow a pot of catnip in a sunny window or provide a pot of grass for her to chew. Catnip plants and grass are available in pet stores and nurseries.
Waste Not, Want Not: Tired of hauling cat litter, new or used? Treat yourself to less litter box mess by toilet-training your cat. No need to buy special kits – just a litter box that you progressively raise from the floor to the height of your toilet. Move the box on top of the toilet, lid up. Once your cat is accustomed to using it, remove the litter, cut a hole in the bottom and allow your cat to continue to use it for a week or two.