Unfortunately, many pet "parents" choose to own a cat rather than a dog because they assume that cats will thrive without their human family members having to dedicate a lot of time and attention to them. While it is true that cats don't require regular walks or trips to the dog park, many do still need frequent play periods and environmental enrichment to promote normal behavior and reduce the likelihood of stress and boredom-related disorders developing.
Cats that are in need of mental and physical stimulation often do not demonstrate their normal, spontaneous play behaviors, seek attention from their owners in an inappropriate manner (e.g., at night or by "attacking" and then running away), may stop grooming themselves, and can have accidents outside of the liter box. A veterinarian should first rule out any medical problems that could cause these changes before behavioral issues are blamed.
Encouraging cats to engage in their normal play behavior will improve the psychological well-being of most individuals. Stalking and "hunting" are favorite activities so provide them with different types of toys, crumpled up paper, and empty boxes that promote these activities. Cats may play by themselves for a while but owner-directed activities (e.g., feline fishing poles or laser pointers aimed across the floor) are often lead to longer play periods. Cat videos, fish aquariums or placing a bird feeder outside of a window can also provide hours of entertainment. Cats are not herd animals, so bringing additional cats into the home may provide a welcomed playmate in some instances, but also increases the chances that other behavioral problems will develop. If their owners are willing to fill the role of companion and playmate, most cats are perfectly happy to be an "only child."
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008