New Ways to Eliminate Kitty Boredom

tabby cat on bed looking up at camera

Many indoor cats suffer terribly from a life of bountiful food, luxurious shelter, warmth, safety, love, and security because their daily lives are dull, boring and devoid of stimulating activity.  Our indoor cats have little to do all day and may feel a lack of purpose.

Does this sound like your cat?  Is your cat insanely bored? If your furry friend is an “indoor only” cat there is a high probability that without constant enrichment, excessive boredom will easily become routine.  It often goes unnoticed, is seldom recognized, and can be extremely dangerous.  While most cat owners excel at providing their cats with all of the important essentials in life like food, comfort, safety, and love, many fall short when it comes to keeping their babies active, engaged and entertained.  This is a common problem we all have and a serious issue many cats face.

 In my practice as a feline veterinarian, I treat bored cats day in and day out, in what I consider to be epidemic proportions.  When I started in veterinary medicine, most of my cat patients were either strictly outdoor cats or cats who wandered in and out.  Twenty-five years ago it was not common as common as today for owners to keep their beloved companions exclusively indoors.  Since then the state of affairs for cats has changed dramatically.  Veterinarians have done a wonderful job of educating owners on the safety of keeping their cats inside and most owners are doing so.  However, we have failed to take it one step forward in teaching them about the importance of preventing boredom in creatures that are smart, athletic and inquisitive who live life within four walls.  

Boredom is preventable and lack of an enriched environment is treatable and it is this urgent problem afflicting so many cats that drives me, and Dezi & Roo, to help owners remedy the situation easily.  

 What exactly is boredom and what does it look like?

While there are many different definitions or interpretations of what exactly boredom is, in general, it relates to a specific mental state that is found to be unpleasant and due to lack of stimulation.  Boredom is associated with a myriad of social, behavioral and medical problems and can seriously damage health. Signs of excessive boredom are not always easy to recognize.  They are subtle and frequently go unnoticed.  Signs of boredom do not appear suddenly and typically develop slowly, over time.  It can lead to depression something we don’t pay much attention to in cats.  Over time, boredom becomes routine and can appear normal.  That is why it is so difficult to detect and requires a keen eye and owners who are in tune with their cat’s state of mind to recognize when boredom is causing problems. A few signs include:

    • Depression
    • Obesity
    • Lethargy
    • Attention seeking
    • Excessive grooming or lack of grooming
    • Eating disorders
    • Aggression
    • Disinterested in play
    • Excessive sleeping
orange tabby cat on bed looking sad
Why it is dangerous and what does conditions does it cause?

We all know what it is like to be bored and sometimes it is a good thing.  While there are certainly benefits to having nothing at all to do, like daydreaming, relaxing and using our imagination, excessive boredom, on the other hand, can be excruciating.  It can even be life-threatening.

Behavioral Problems:  Cats that are bored get into trouble, cause problems, create drama and are frequently relinquished, abused, neglected or abandoned because of it.  Boredom may cause these innocent cats to become destructive, bully housemates, urinate or defecate out of box, attack owners ankles, legs or hands, or develop chronic illnesses.  Through no fault of their own other than boredom from being “cooped up” cats with behavioral issues that owners find difficult to handle are often rehomed, ignored, or live with owners who are not strongly attached to them. Keeping these cats engaged in activities that are stimulating mentally and physically greatly improves their quality of life, decreases their problems, and strengthens the bond owners have with them.
    Physical Issues:  Bored cats not only eat more but are less active and physically unfit.  Their bodies don’t burn much energy and their food is laden with carbohydrates and fillers.  Cats that lack purpose in daily life find comfort in food or eat to relieve stress and anxiety.  Obesity is linked to preventable diseases like diabetes, increases the likelihood of developing musculoskeletal issues, and decreases lifespan.  It is a serious problem that can be helped by exercise, activity, and play.  Cats who suffer from inactivity are prone to loss of muscle mass, may have an increased risk of arthritis and generally appear less well-groomed than their more active counterparts.  Boredom not only takes a toll on their brains but also their bodies.
      Medical Problems: Sedentary, stressed bodies are unhealthy and boredom can be deadly.  I am a huge fan of Dr. Tony Buffington who did some important research on cystitis.  He documented the role of environmental stress on the brain in this disease and the ability of effective environmental enrichment in treating it.  Dr. Buffington is one of the few veterinarians passionate about the issue of improving the lifestyle of indoor cats with enrichment and how it can be used to treat many medical conditions. We know that exercise is important to keeping hearts healthy, muscles strong, and brains oxygenated and the lack of it causes the body’s ability to function properly. Keeping cats healthy and living longer involves preventing boredom which can wreak havoc on their bodies.
        Mental Issues:  Boredom is known to lead to depression and indoor cats are prone to it.  While not as obvious as the other signs listed above, depression can be seen in cats that lack the impetus to play, are picky eaters, sleep all the time or who do little more than live on the bed.  Cats that lack interest in moving around, engaging with family members or housemates or playing with toys may suffer from depression.  We know in human medicine how dangerous depression is to both body and soul and the same may hold true for our indoor cats that lack stimulating environments.   Good mental health is an important component to quality of life and addressing this problem in indoor cats helps them live fulfilled and rewarding lives.

          Why do cats get bored? They have everything they need, don’t they?

          Indoor cats become bored easily because their entire life exists within four walls.  Day in and day out their environment, food, social interactions, and routine stay basically the same.  Curious by nature cats have limited opportunities for exploration that keep them interested in their environment.  They are athletic creatures who enjoy hunting, climbing, chasing, running and playing a lot and are able to do so many times a day outdoors. Living indoors, however, limits their ability to engage in these pleasurable activities on a frequent enough basis to keep them from becoming lazy and bored.   Cats are very smart and need to be engaged, stimulated and challenged in order to keep their minds sharp.  Without adequate mental stimulation, their brains turn to mush.

          Here is a cute video showing how cats have fun playing in the Hide and Sneak.  It is interesting to watch how they use their bodies, minds, and personality to turn a simple toy into something interesting and fun. While these cats don’t have the natural opportunity to hunt, catch or kill live prey, they can still pretend and have fun.

          What’s the problem?

          Cat owners are busy people who work hard all day.  They have lots to do to keep their cats well fed and their litter boxes clean.  After a long day away from home and their cats, owners enjoy interacting with their furry friends by petting, stroking and sitting with them.  Actively playing with their cats typically takes a back seat to all of the other chores they have to perform.  Compounding the problem is the limited resources owners have in finding fun and engaging toys for their feline friends.  The variety of cat toys available pales in comparison to how many toys are offered for dogs.   Lack of practical ideas or easy solutions is other reason owners have difficulty finding ways to engage their indoor kitties.  And the bottom line is that it takes planning, effort, creativity and work to keep our beloved companions stimulated and some owners don’t always have the energy or time to engage actively with their cats.  However, daily play and activity is something all indoor cats need and it important to their health and well-being.

          Our Solutions

          The first step to fixing or preventing a problem is to acknowledge it. Recognizing that indoor cats are at higher risk of suffering from boredom than their outdoor counterparts and understanding the severe consequences it has on their well-being allows us to find solutions that prevent or remedy the situation.

          1. Rotate Toys - New toys, along with a consistent rotation of old toys, is one of the best ways to keep things interesting, fresh and exciting.  Cats, like children, learn from discovery.  Their brains are programmed to absorb their experiences and include everything they see, taste, hear, smell and feel.  However, the constant repetition of the same experience over and over again becomes too predictable, boring and unappealing and cats lose interest.  The easiest way to renew it is to make it novel again and allowing old toys to resurface is a great way to do so.  It allows cats to rediscover the joy of playing with a particular toy they completely forgot about.
          black and white cat trying to catch a green tailed Wiggly Ball
          2. Bring the Outdoors In - We wrote a blog on ways to Bring the Outdoors In and it offers unique suggestions on how to give cats more natural ways to play indoors.  With no access of their own to the outside world, it is important for cat owners to find ways that give their cats opportunities to express their normal instincts and natural behavior.
          orange tabby cat eating cat grass
          3. Foraging for Food - People and animals typically work for food but our indoor cats appear to be the exception.  They don’t have to do a thing and they are fed constantly.  While we may be enviable of this lifestyle, it is actually detrimental to them and contributes negatively to their overall sense of well-being.  Cats like to hunt and find great enjoyment doing so.  Devoid of that pleasure takes a lot of life out of them.  In a new study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery,  it was found that food puzzles take advantage of the feline hunting instinct and are a helpful way to reduce levels of stress and encourage more physical activity.
          4. Give Cats Choices – While a normal routine is good and cats are creatures of habit, a never-changing life gets stale and boring quickly.  Especially for cats living in the same four walls for years on end.  Owners can find creative solutions by looking closely in their home for ways in which to make every day new.  Hiding treats, toys, and scents like silver vine and catnip, help make life more interesting.  Adding new scratch posts and litter boxes with novel litters give cats unique opportunities to choose the items they prefer.  Creating new bedding and new places in which to hide also brings enrichment into a cat’s life and allows them to find exciting things to discover.  Creating new experiences give cats what they need and want and allows them the opportunity to choose what they like best.
          black cat holding plush cloud toy and silver vine pot
          5. Consult the internet – This is one place where owners can find lots of tricks, tips, and ideas on ways in which to play with their cat and what the best toys are for them. Some of our favorite articles include: International Cat Care’s, “Playing with Your Cat” The Spruce, “How to Play With Your Cat”, and “10 Minute Games to Play with Your Cat”   or The Purrington Post, Adventure Cat Training 101.  We recommend looking for your own inspiration via websites, blogs and YouTube videos for creative ways in which to keep your cat entertained.
          black and white tuxedo cat holding wiggly pong in mouth

          These simple suggestions are just a few of the many ways in which to keep your cat from becoming hopelessly bored.  We hope it inspires you to take a closer look at finding ways to ensure that your cat is living an active lifestyle filled with joy, fun, and excitement.  You can help other cat owners by sharing your best tips and techniques for keeping life interesting for your cat with us. Let us know what special things work for you by leaving your comment below.



          • Maitha

            My cat is exactly that, as an indoor cat I try to keep him stimulated but it isn’t easy as a I also work full time and wasn’t able to get him a variety of toys, I will try to include these however if anyone has any other ideas on how to keep your cat stimulated indoors, that would be lovely!

          • Teresa

            My 1 1/2 year old cat seems bored constantly. Me and my son play with her several times a day. When it’s nice out there are several windows where she can watch the world and the birds and smell everything. We even started taking her outside on the deck on a leash and stay with her out there for half hour or more. She watches the birds and sniffs all over the place. She has lots of toys that we rotate but she really only plays with springs and wand toys where we play with her. Sometime she’ll play fetch. But she still spends a lot of time just walking around meowing. Vet says she’s physically fine. It’s just exhausting trying to keep her stimulated. It seems like it’s never enough and she just wants to be outside. :(

          • Barbara Kehoe

            I’d really love to see articles like this with more advanced ideas, or more ideas for non-food focused cats.

            We have a round see-through garbage pail and we put toys in it for our cat to get out. He’s discovered a few ways.
            He’s very smart and gets bored easily and we’ve exhausted everything on the average internet search list. It’s all the same: puzzle feeders, play with them, places to watch outside, leash training….

          • Trisha

            I let mine hunt my ferret. The ferret is very gentle with the cats, but if a cat gets too rough, she knows how to handle herself to keep herself safe. The activity is fun for both and it stimulates their brains.

          • Holly Holmes

            I so appreciate these posts! Even though i’m a lifelong cat companion, a vet assistant, and owner of a pet-sitting business, i need these reminders of how to enrich my own indoor cat buddy’s life. She’s indoors-only at my landlord’s demand, and used to be outdoors a great deal of the time. I find this so hard to deal with, for her sake!

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