Have you ever experienced the feeling of having nothing to watch on TV despite the fact that you have cable with at least 50 channels and shows to choose from? How often have you clicked from station to station expecting something new to appear? Well, our cats feel the same way when it comes to owning lots of toys but having nothing to play with. With so many choices that rarely change, they become uninterested and bored quickly. Helping indoor cats remain active and engaged is easier said than done and we know it is not easy for owners to find interesting ways to entertain their babies. Given that the cat toy aisle in most stores is limited to a row or two, it is easy to understand how difficult it is to find quality, interactive and fun toys that are novel and unique. Imagine how bored cats feel with the same forms of entertainment, day in and day out. It is frustrating for pet parents too. While many owners keep a basket full of toys and many cats have lots of them lying around, they still get bored and start to see it all as background noise. Toy fatigue can turn the coolest toys into pieces of junk in the eyes of a cat. Just like for people, novelty is everything and they want new experiences, new games, new toys, and new smells.
Most creatures like new things and cats are no exception. They, too, suffer from neophilia which is the love of or enthusiasm for what is new or novel. Cats learn from new experiences and this is an important survival quality for them to possess. This learning occurs as they discover different ways to play with an old toy or as they engage with a fresh one. Their brains are programmed to absorb everything they hear, see, touch, taste, etc… Playing keeps cats healthy and living longer by keeping their minds and bodies in shape. However, if they keep touching the same textures and seeing the same toys, in the same place, day after day, they lose interest and stop attempting to interact with their toys because they are predictable. Even cats that fortunately own our toys (like Wiggly Balls or the Hide and Sneak cat tunnel), will become uninterested with them if left out all the time or if those are the only toys they have to play with. We would feel the same way given a few toys meant to last us a lifetime. Having a basketful is not enough and our furry friends need variety, but there is an easy way to address this common problem.
We call it “toy fatigue” and many cats suffer from it. Toys are a tricky thing. They are actually teachers, masquerading as mindless entertainment to our cats. They are interesting tools for keeping cats active and engaged physically while stimulating them mentally as well. And just like your child in a roomful of toys, your cat can begin to ignore most of his toys and fail to even see anything to play with when he is actually surrounded by them? This is similar to looking for a snack in the refrigerator over and over again unable to find something good to eat and yet expecting to encounter something different even though nothing has changed from the last time you looked. While it’s crazy, we still do it all the time. It’s the same feeling you get when you walk into your closet that is full of clothes and yet you feel like you have nothing to wear. Cats get that feeling too, except it’s with toys. So, despite the notion that lots of toys bring hours and hours of fun, the truth is that cats with too many often become overwhelmed, frustrated, and even bored.
Here are some easy steps to help you get started.
Step 1: Gather all toys and corral into one place out of your cat’s sight.
Step 2: Declutter – decide which to keep and which to throw away. Figure out how many new toys you need to purchase.
Step 3: Categorize into interactive play, independent play, and scent. Make sure you have enough in each category to satisfy your cat’s needs.
Step 4: Choose a small selection for your cat to play with and keep the rest hidden. Try to include a toy or two from each category. Routinely swap those toys out and replace them with some that have been stored away. Your cat will now have “new” toys to keep him occupied and entertained. If your cat has particular toys that he uses every day, don't rotate the actual favorites. The whole point is to put away toys that aren't being played with and aren't keeping their interest anymore.
Step 5: Buy new toys regularly and build up your arsenal. Repurpose old ones by adding new scents like catnip, Cloud Nine silvervine, valerian, or honeysuckle. You might even consider rolling toys in leaves or grass to change their olfactory composition.
Sep 6: Implement plan - remain vigilant and rotate toys as often as possible. A rotation is an opportunity to weed out toys your cat has outgrown. Each rotation is like getting a new set of toys, which brings excitement back to play and reduces boredom. Your cat will be so much better off for it.
We hope you have been inspired to begin a routine of rotating toys for your cat. It will make their lives more interesting and they will be happier for it. If we are going to keep our pets indoors, then we have a responsibility to make sure they do not suffer from inactivity and boredom because of it. One way we can help them is to ensure their toys remain stimulating, novel, and fun to play with.
So, the next time you can’t find anything to wear – think about how your cat feels about having the same old toys to play with. And when you find yourself checking the refrigerator twice for something to eat, play with your cat instead of feasting. You will both be trimmer for it. Inventing a new game to play with your furry friend is a lot more fun for the two of you than channel surfing for another boring TV show to watch. We know activity, exercise, and play is not only good for our cats, but it is just as good for us too. Fun activities make life better for us all.