What's New Pussycat?

Discussion in 'Free Thoughts' started by StrangerInAStrangeLand, Jun 24, 2014.

  1. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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  5. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Training Your Cat

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    Most people believe that cats can’t be trained because cats don’t seem to respond to many of the methods used to train dogs. But cats do respond to training! In fact one of the first scientific studies highlighting the importance of reinforcement in animal behavior was done with cats.

    The first step to training your cat is to understand him. Cats aren’t as social as dogs. Dogs have been bred specifically to work together with people, whereas the primary reason cats were domesticated was to kill vermin on their own. So they’re independent, and they aren’t as naturally inclined to work for praise and attention as dogs are. They’re also not as easy to motivate. You have to use really special treats that your cat finds irresistible. Training a cat requires some creativity and patience.

    Training your cat has important benefits. You’re stimulating his body and his mind, which helps keep him healthy. And spending time together means you’re strengthening the bond you share. In addition to teaching fun tricks like wave and fetch, you can also teach him a range of useful behaviors like sit, stay and to come when called. You could even teach your cat to pee in the toilet and flush afterwards!

    Use Tasty Treats

    The first step is to find a treat that your cat goes crazy for. Fresh chicken diced in tiny cubes, bits of tuna, meat-flavored baby food, and commercial cat treats are all good choices. Once you’ve identified treats your cat likes, follow the basic steps of positive reinforcement training (reward-based training) to teach him the behavior you want. Suppose you’d like your cat to sit and stay on a stool while you prepare his dinner. You’ll first need to start with teaching him to sit when you ask him to:
    •First, make sure you have your cat’s attention. Hold the tasty treat in your fingers right at your cat’s nose. When your cat begins to sniff the treat, slowly move it in an arc from his nose up just over his head between his ears. (Don’t raise it straight up, or you’ll be teaching your cat to stand on his rear legs rather than sit!) Many cats will follow this arc motion with their eyes and nose, and as their chin raises up and back, their butt will go down.

    •Second, the instant your cat’s bottom hits the floor, praise him and offer him the treat. If his rear doesn’t go all the way down on the first try, give him the treat anyway. Over several repetitions of practice, give him a treat each time his rear gets slightly closer, until he’s gets into a complete sit with his rear all the way on the floor.

    Cats don’t see things well that are still and close-up, so if your cat has difficulty taking the treat from your fingers, try offering it to him in your flat palm or tossing it on the floor. He’ll see the movement when you toss it and know where the treat is.

    Use a Clicker

    A clicker can make training easier and faster. If you don’t have a clicker, you can use a pen that makes a clicking sound. The instant your cat does the correct behavior, click and then offer a treat. The click lets your cat know the instant he does the right thing, so it helps him catch on faster. Just make sure you click at the exact moment he does the behavior you want, and then give him a treat. Cats learn through repetition, just like we do, so you’ll need to practice a few times in a row. Keep your training sessions short though—just a few minutes at a time. Most cats get bored if you try to drill the same thing over and over.

    No Punishment!

    While training your cat, keep in mind that cats respond very poorly to punishment! Rather than learning what behavior not to do, a punished cat usually just learns to run away. Depending on your cat’s temperament, punishment can frighten your cat to the point where he may hide from you and your family members. Punishment creates stress, and stress is one of the most common causes for problem behaviors in cats, including eliminating outside of the litter box and compulsive grooming. Stress also compromises the immune system, making your cat more vulnerable to disease, including feline idiopathic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder).

    It’s much easier to train your cat when you reward behaviors you want and offer him more attractive alternatives for behaviors you don’t want. Persuasion, not punishment, is the key to training your cat. If you patiently practice and reward your cat with treats, you’ll soon have a cat who’s sitting on cue and purring contentedly.
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  7. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Teaching Your Cat to Come When Called

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    Why Should You Do It?

    Teaching your cat to come when called is both fun and practical. Once he masters this skill, you’ll be able to quickly summon him for petting, feeding and playtime. Not only will this make your life easier—your cat will benefit, too. Training can give him a great mental workout and strengthen your bond. Learning to come when called might even save his life one day if he dashes out of your house.

    How Can You Do It?

    Many people don’t realize how trainable cats are. This is a shame because cats are just as smart as dogs. They just need a reason to show off their ability to learn! The key to training cats is to figure out how to motivate them. It may take some time, but he’ll be eager to learn new things once you identify what he’s willing to work for.

    Chow-Time Training

    Many cats love mealtime, so one of the easiest ways to teach a cat to come when called is to make a consistent noise—such as a whistle or tongue click—or call his name (“Max, come!”) right before you start preparing his food each day. The sound you make will become your command or cue. Make sure you give the cue before you crinkle a bag of cat food or use a can opener. If your cat hears food-preparing sounds first, he’ll come in response to them rather than your cue. (In fact, those enticing sounds will likely excite him so much that he won’t even hear you!) After a week or so of mealtime training, you can move on to the exercises below.

    Training throughout the House

    Identify exciting rewards.

    First, you’ll need to figure out what your cat likes most in the world. For many cats, this might be a flake of tuna, a tiny piece of chicken or a bit of meat-flavored baby food on a spoon. For others, it might be playing with a laser light or a special fluttering wand toy. Experiment and choose two or three of your cat’s favorite things. Each time you call your cat, you’ll surprise him with one of these things. Be sure to mix it up so that your cat never knows which wonderful reward he’s going to get. The element of surprise will make him more motivated to come to you.

    Start training.

    Train at a time when your cat is motivated to work. For example, if you’re going to reward him with treats, have sessions right before dinnertime. If you plan to use toys instead, train when you know he’ll be energetic and ready to play.
    •Choose a good spot. It’s best to start your training in a quiet room with no distractions.
    •Say your cue. Standing just a foot or two away from your cat, make the special sound you’ve chosen or say a verbal cue, like “Max, come!”
    •Reward your cat. Immediately give your cat his reward. If your cat is the playful sort, you can reward him with a few seconds of playtime. However, because you’ll need to repeat this exercise, it may be easier to use a food reward if you can find one that your cat adores. Many cats don’t like to take treats from people’s hands, so you may need to drop each treat on the floor in front of your cat or deliver his reward on a spoon if you’re using something wet like baby food.

    Walk a step or two away, and then repeat the exercise above. Eventually, your cat will start to orient toward you when he hears you say the cue. (This may take just a few repetitions or it may take a few training sessions.) At this point, you can start to gradually increase the distance your cat must come to reach you and earn his reward.

    Increase difficulty.

    Over the next few weeks, continue to ask your cat to come from greater and greater distances. Eventually, you should be able to call him anytime and from anywhere in your house and see him come running.
    •Aim for at least one or two short training sessions per day. Sessions should last five minutes or less. During each one, call and reward your cat 10 to 20 times.
    •Practice in every room of your house. If your cat is allowed to go outside, you can practice there, too, after your cat masters the skill indoors.
    •If you have more than one person in your household, you can try calling your cat back and forth between you. Remember to reward him every time he comes to either person.
    •When your cat will reliably come from all the way across a room, start calling him from one room into another.

    It’s important to keep rewarding your cat every time he comes to you. It’s fine to vary the rewards—you can engage him in play with toys, give him treats and even scratch him in his favorite spots. However, if you stop rewarding your cat altogether, his new skill will likely fall apart. Cats need a good reason to do what you ask, but if you provide that reason, they’re happy to listen!

    Additional Tips and Troubleshooting
    •If your cat is shy or fearful and has no training experience, it might be best to start his training career by teaching him a few easy behaviors. For example, try using a clicker to teach him to touch his nose to your finger, sit or lie down. (Please see our article on Clicker Training Your Pet for more information.) After your cat has mastered a few simple skills, you can move on to more difficult ones like coming when called.
    •If your cat has a hard time learning to come when called, he may not be able to hear you. White cats are often deaf, especially those with blue eyes. If you suspect that your cat has a hearing problem, you can take him to a vet for an examination. If your cat is hearing impaired, that doesn’t mean he can’t be trained. It just means that instead of a verbal cue, you’ll need to use a visual signal such as a waving hand. The only disadvantage is that you won’t be able to “call” your deaf cat when he can’t see you.
    •Most housecats stay home alone all day, stuck indoors, while their pet parents work long hours. Regular training sessions can give bored cats a great mental workout—and the more you exercise your cat’s brain while you’re home, the more he’ll rest peacefully when you’re away. In addition to coming when called, you can teach your cat a variety of entertaining and practical behaviors, like Sit, High Five and Roll Over. He can even learn to use the toilet!
  8. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Teaching Your Cat to Ride in a Carrier

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    A cat carrier is a vital tool to have for emergencies, for traveling with your cat or for transporting him to the veterinarian. However, if your cat isn’t comfortable in his carrier, you’ll find it difficult or impossible to get him into it, and he’ll be stressed out when he’s inside it. Considering the importance and usefulness of a cat carrier, it pays to work toward making a ride in one a pleasant experience for your cat.

    How to Teach Your Cat to Get into His Carrier and Relax

    Teaching your cat to enter his carrier and be comfortable in it is a step-by-step process. If he hasn’t had any experience with a carrier, you can complete many of these steps in just a single session. If your cat is already fearful of the carrier, this training may take several weeks. You’ll know your cat is ready for the next step when he’s calm and accepting of the step you’re working on. Be patient, and be sure that you don’t rush through the steps.

    Many cats ride in their carriers only when leaving the comfort of home and going to the veterinarian’s office. They quickly learn to associate bad experiences with the carrier, so they become agitated and fearful at the mere sight of it. Many cats even run and hide. To avoid this, teach your cat to be comfortable just being near his carrier before you try to train him to enter it.

    To ensure the success of all your work during the following four training stages, it’s important to keep one key rule in mind: Do your training in between vet visits and at a time when you don’t need to transport or travel with your cat. Since you’ll be gently and gradually teaching him to associate pleasant experiences with his carrier, it’s crucial that he doesn’t experience any fear or stress around or inside it during the training period. If he does, teaching him to like his carrier will be much more challenging, if not impossible.

    Stage One: Getting Used to the Carrier
    •Place the carrier in an open space where you and your cat spend time together. A great location is the room where your cat eats his meals. Watch your cat closely to see if he seems curious or worried about the carrier. When he acts as if he doesn’t care that it’s there (or if he decides to sleep inside it on his own!), go to the next step of Stage One.
    •Put your cat’s bowls in front of the carrier and start feeding him there. He might not eat right after his food bowl is placed in this spot, particularly if he‘s been afraid of his carrier in the past. If he skips more than one meal, move the bowls a bit further away from the carrier until he starts eating. Then, over several meals, gradually move the bowls back toward the carrier. When your cat eats his food comfortably right in front of the carrier, proceed to the next step.
    •Approach your cat while he’s eating, and either stand or sit next to him. Some cats aren’t afraid of the carrier by itself, but they connect the combination of the carrier plus you with being caught and carried, and they fear that. So don’t be discouraged if your cat runs away when you walk up to him and the carrier. Just keep trying. If he has some favorite treats, like Kitty Kaviar® bonito tuna flakes (available at most pet stores), vacuum-sealed salmon, bits of stinky cheese or pieces of chicken liver, drop some of those into his bowl to encourage him to eat while you’re near the carrier. When your cat will continue to eat while you’re standing or sitting by him and the carrier, you’re ready for the next step.

    Stage Two: Getting Used to Entering the Carrier

    Now that your cat is comfortable with being right outside the carrier, you can begin to teach him that the inside of the carrier is a safe place to be, too. During this stage, only give your cat his food and special treats during training, when he’s inside the carrier. Patience may be required as you progress through these next steps, but your hard work will pay off in the end.
    •Stand or sit next to your cat while he’s eating in front of his carrier. Take a small treat and place it on the door ledge of the carrier. When your cat willingly approaches the door ledge and eats the treat, you’re ready to proceed to the next step.
    •Place your cat’s bowls just inside the carrier door. When he’s brave enough to put his head into the carrier to eat from his food bowl, you’re ready to go to the next step.
    •Place the food bowls a little deeper into the carrier so that your cat must put his front feet inside to reach his food. At the same time, place a couple of small treats even deeper inside the carrier. When your cat is comfortable eating his regular food with his front feet inside the carrier and will walk deeper inside to eat the treats, you can move on to the next step.
    •Put your cat’s food into the back of the carrier so that he has to go completely inside the carrier to eat. When your cat willingly enters the carrier and eats, you can go to the next step.
    •If your cat gets particularly excited at mealtimes—because you feed him a couple of times a day or you leave dry food down but give canned food only once or twice a day—you can take advantage of his excitement to introduce him to a short cue (command) for going into the carrier. This will prepare him for the more intensive training in Stage Three. With your cat watching or following you, walk over to his carrier. Say “Get in” or “Enter,” and then put his meal inside.

    Stage Three: Entering the Carrier on Cue

    Now you’re ready for more intensive practice with your cue. You’ll need very tasty treats for the steps in this stage.
    •If your cat has set routines, practice this step just before his breakfast or dinner so that he’s ready to eat. When you and your cat are both near the carrier, put a treat between your fingertips. Show it to your cat, give him your cue, “Get in,” and place the treat about halfway into the carrier. When he willingly follows the treat into the carrier, you can proceed to the next step. Remember, using treats he truly loves is essential! If your cat won’t enter his carrier for treats, go back to Stage Two for a few more sessions.
    •At odd times throughout the day, when you and your cat are in the same room as the carrier, take a treat and assume your position in front of the carrier. Give your cat the verbal cue to enter the carrier, and place the treat at least halfway into it. When he willingly enters the carrier to get the treat, you’re ready to proceed to Stage Four.

    Stage Four: Closing the Door and Getting Ready to Go

    Now that your cat’s willingly entering his carrier, you’re ready to teach him to relax while the door is closed and the carrier is moved around. Being lifted off solid ground and carried around is usually the most frightening for cats, and it often temporarily increases their fear. Imagine how you’d feel, suddenly losing control, being suspended above ground, swaying and rocking, perhaps getting bumped into walls, and seeing things whiz quickly past you! It’s not surprising that this stage of training often takes the longest. Go slowly, and don’t be discouraged if you need to back up a step.
    •Prepare four or five small, tasty treats. Give your cat the verbal cue to enter the carrier and toss the treat inside, just as you did in Stage Three. When your cat enters, place one hand on the door of the carrier, and start to close it while tossing in a few more treats. Keeping your hand on the door, close it all the way, but don’t latch it. Wait a full second or two. Then toss in two more treats as you open the door. At this point, your cat should be free to leave the carrier through the open door. When he stays in the carrier to finish eating his last treats instead of scooting out as soon as you open the door, you’re ready to proceed to the next step.
    •Prepare four or five small treats. Give your cat the verbal cue, and place a treat inside the carrier. When your cat enters the carrier, place one hand on the door of the carrier, and move the door toward the closed position while tossing in a few more treats. Close the door without latching it, and keep your hand on it. Wait three or four seconds, and then toss in two more treats while you open the door. When your cat eats those last treats instead of just exiting the carrier when you open the door, you’re ready to increase the time you keep the door closed. Continue repeating Step Two, slowly increasing the time that the door’s closed, until you can keep it closed for 15 to 20 seconds. Again, you can proceed to the next step when your cat stays in the carrier to eat the treats you tossed in while opening the door to let him out.
    •Repeat the cue for your cat to enter the carrier and toss in the treats, but this time close the latch on the carrier door and step back for a moment. After just a few seconds, kneel down and offer your cat a couple of treats through the closed door of the carrier. (If you don’t have a carrier with a wire front, you can open the door just enough to toss the treats inside. For example, if you’re using a bag with a zippered front, such as a soft-sided Sherpa® bag, just unzip it enough to make a small hole for the treats to pass through.) After giving your cat the treats, immediately undo the latch and open the door. When your cat chooses to eat the treats instead of scooting out of the carrier, you can proceed to the final step.
    •Repeat the cue to enter the carrier and toss the treats. When your cat’s inside, shut the door and lift the carrier off the ground a few inches. Then set it back down gently, toss in a couple of treats and open the door. When your cat chooses to eat the treats instead of scooting out of the carrier, you’ve successfully completed Stage Four.

    Introducing New Experiences in the Carrier

    Many people train their cats only through Step Four. At this point, their cats are entering the carrier on cue and comfortably eating meals in the carrier. If you choose to stop at this point, you might need to do a little retraining of the enter cue after your next visit to the veterinarian’s office.

    If you have the time to do a bit more work with your cat, it’s helpful to slowly accustom him to more experiences while he’s in the carrier. For example, pick the carrier up and walk around your house. Then return the carrier to its original spot and toss in some treats as you open the door. (Remember to wait until your cat chooses to eat those treats instead of scooting out of the carrier when you open it before you try introducing him to another new experience.) You can take your cat for a car ride or two in the carrier—or even drive him to the veterinarian’s office, walk into the lobby, and then turn around and go home. The more pleasant experiences your cat has in his carrier, the happier he’ll be when you need to use it.
  9. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Teaching Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

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    Teaching your cat to walk on a harness and leash is a great way to let your cat enjoy the outdoors while ensuring his safety. Outdoor excursions can reduce obesity and boredom-related behavior problems that many underexercised indoor cats develop. Leash training also comes in handy during trips to the vet and other necessary travel. Before you get started, be sure your cat is up to date on his vaccinations.

    How to Train Your Cat to Wear a Harness and Walk on a Leash

    Most cats can be trained to walk on a harness and leash. Kittens are naturally more accepting of this new experience, but older cats can be trained with patience. Proceed in small steps, rewarding each bit of progress. Start harness training indoors so that your cat’s comfortable with it before you venture outside.
    •Purchase a harness designed for cats. The leash attachment should be located on the back of the harness, not at the neck. Try Premier’s Gentle Leader® Come with Me Kitty™ Harness & Bungee Leash, which is easy to use and adjust.
    •Leave the harness and leash near your cat’s food or favorite sleeping spot for several days. He’ll get used to the sight of it and associate it with feelings of contentment.
    •In addition (or instead of Step 2), hold the harness and let your cat sniff it. Offer him treats as he does this. Then lay the harness against your cat’s neck and offer him a treat. As he’s sniffing the treat, remove the harness and let him eat the treat.
    •Meanwhile—if your cat doesn’t much like being held and restrained—get your cat used to the handling you’ll have to do to put on his harness. (Just skip this step if your cat already accepts or enjoys being held.) With his favorite snack or toy close by, hold him firmly but gently for a few seconds. Softly praise him while you hold him, then show him a treat and release him to eat it. Repeat this exercise often for several days, always following your handling with treats, and gradually holding him a few seconds longer each time. Practice gently handling your cat’s legs and feet, too, and rewarding him for accepting that.
    •Next, drape the harness over your cat’s shoulders and down his chest between his front legs. Introduce the new feel of the straps while your cat is sniffing or eating his treat, and remove the harness immediately. Work until you can snap the harness on him over his neck and shoulder area and between his front legs, continuing to distract him with treats.
    •Put the harness on your cat, but don’t attach the leash yet. Immediately distract him with tasty treats. Adjust the fit of the harness. You should be able to slip two fingers (but not three or four) between the harness and your cat’s body. Leave the harness on for just a couple minutes, removing it before your cat’s interest in his rewards starts to decrease. Repeat this training daily for several days. If your cat stays relaxed, gradually increase the time the harness is on. If he ever gets upset, distract him with treats and then remove the harness. Try again later with a better reward and take the harness off sooner, before your cat has a chance to get upset.
    •Now it’s time to attach the leash. Place your cat in a room with few things that might snag a leash. Put the harness on your cat and attach the leash, letting it drag on the ground behind him. Distract him with treats or play. Repeat this step for several days. Always supervise so that the leash doesn’t get caught on something and scare him.
    •When your cat seems relaxed and comfortable while dragging the leash, hold it gently (not pulling against him) while he walks around the house. Let him go wherever he wants to, and keep the leash loose as you follow him around. As he roams, praise him often and periodically reward him with tasty treats. Practice this step for a few days.
    •You might be satisfied to conclude harness training here and proceed outdoors. But you can also practice directing where your cat walks on leash indoors a bit (rather than just following him) before you go outside, since you’ll need to direct him once you’re outside. Here’s how you can encourage your cat to walk along with you:◦Using a sweet, soft voice, encourage your cat to follow you.
    ◦Drop him a treat, and while he eats it, walk away to the end of the leash. When he catches up to you, praise and reward him with another treat. Repeat this over and over.
    ◦Apply gentle, persistent pressure on the leash if your cat tries to go in another direction. Be sure not to jerk or pop the leash. Just wait patiently. When your cat finally takes a couple of steps toward you, he’ll be rewarded by relief from the tension on the leash, and you can again reward him with a treat.

    •Now it’s time to take the show on the road. Most cats who haven’t been outdoors are nervous and easily startled outside. So start in a quiet, sheltered spot and just sit with your cat on the leash. He’ll start exploring as he adjusts. Just as you did indoors, start by following behind your cat as he checks things out, and travel further with your new walking buddy when he’s relaxed and ready to move on.

    Additional Tips
    •Your cat won’t constantly pester you to go out if you take him only at a certain time each day. Try setting a regular walking schedule.
    •Always put the harness on away from the door and carry your cat outside. Never let him walk out on his own, or he might try to dash out between walks without his harness on.
    •Never harness your cat when he’s crying or pestering you. Ignore him until he’s quiet. Then you can reward his good behavior with a walk.
    •Do not tie your cat’s leash to something outside and leave him, even if you plan to be gone for only a minute or two. Your cat might get tangled in the leash and hurt himself, and he won’t be able to escape if a dog or other animal approaches. In fact, it’s best to avoid leaving your cat outdoors unattended altogether, whether he’s on a leash or not.
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    Cat Toys

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    Although they’re much safer inside from disease and danger, most housecats tend to be overweight and underactive. Cats, like people and dogs, benefit from keeping fit and active, both mentally and physically. Exercise is essential for your cat’s mental and physical health because it relieves stress and boredom, improves circulation, builds muscle tone and can prevent or reduce behavioral problems.

    So, we need to get our cats up and moving, and there’s no better way to coax out their natural instincts to stalk and chase prey than by engaging them with toys.

    Types of Toys for Fun and Games

    Wand Toys

    A wand toy can be as simple as a stick with a thin piece of fabric or soft ribbon tied to it. You can wave, twitch, flutter and circle the wand around randomly so that the ribbon moves enticingly like an insect or bird or other prey. A key added benefit of the wand toy is that it lets you keep some distance between your cat’s claws and your skin.

    There are hundreds of variations of the wand toy, and most are relatively inexpensive. The wand itself can be wire, wood or plastic. Anything pliable but firm will do. Many objects can be attached to the wand to attract your cat’s attention: feathers, strings or small stuffed toys. These objects can be accented with bells or electronic noises, or with catnip scent or fur that smells good to your cat. Feathers from peacocks or other large birds can be used as wand toys themselves.

    It’s best to put the wand toy away after playtime for three reasons:

    1.This toy should be available to your cat only when you’re playing with her, so you can build on your relationship with her.

    2.When you put the toy away after a play session, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s still safe. Watch for pieces of string or other components that might fall off the toy and get swallowed by your cat. If you notice any loose toy parts, it’s probably time to retire the old toy and get a new one.

    3.How many times have you seen mice or birds just hanging around a cat? By putting the toy away after playtime, it remains attractive and interesting when you begin the next play session.

    Some wand toys you might like to try:

    •The Cat Dancer®

    •Da Bird

    •“Fishing pole” type toys

    •Peacock feathers from a craft store

    Ball Toys

    Balls are also very attractive to many cats. Their movement along the floor mimics the movement of scampering mice or other prey animals, which will entice cats to chase. You can insert treats or catnip into some balls to make playing with them more rewarding and exciting for your cat. Other balls have bells or other small objects inside them that make noise to attract your cat’s attention. The only downside to ball toys is that they often end up under the couch or other furniture!

    Some ball toys you might like to try:

    •Wadded-up paper (experiment with different textures and sizes)

    •Mylar balls (crinkly and shiny)

    •Ping-pong balls (watch for wear)

    •Sponge balls (nice and quiet)

    Food-Dispensing Toys

    Many people allow their cats free access to food at all times. This can be convenient for pet parents, but it often leads to cats eating more than they should. Instead of free feeding, try using a food toy to “deliver” your cat’s food. She’ll have to work a bit for her meals, which will engage her mind and satisfy her natural instincts to hunt. Food-dispensing toys can also slow down cats who eat too quickly and encourage more activity throughout the day.

    Start with a hungry cat and some of your cat’s favorite treats. Open the food toy and make it extremely easy for your cat to get a treat out of the toy. This process will remove any fear your cat might have of the toy itself, and it will help her learn the association between the toy and eating. As soon as your cat is happy to eat out of the toy, make the situation a little more challenging. Close the toy, or reduce the size of the opening so that your cat has to interact with the toy (touching, pawing or nosing it) to get the treat to come out. Over time, begin to mix your cat’s kibble with the treats. Over time you can gradually fade out the treats until you’re using only kibble. Finally, set out a couple of the toys in different places in your house, and feed your cat only with the toys. No more boring food bowls!

    Some food-dispensing toys you might like to try:

    •Ball of the Wild™ by OurPet’s

    •Twist ‘n Treat™

    •Tricky Treat Ball™

    Catnip Toys

    The majority of cats in the U.S. find catnip stimulating. Adding this herb to play time can greatly increase your cat’s enjoyment! Catnip can be stuffed into toys or packed into balls. Try sprinkling it onto a fresh piece of newspaper or into a paper grocery bag or cardboard box to invite your cat to play. It’s safe for your cat to ingest catnip, especially if you choose an organically grown brand without any additives.

    One caution about catnip: Some cats become very excited when smelling or eating it, so be careful about petting or rubbing your cat until you know how she responds. When cats get overexcited, they can sometimes bite.

    Some catnip toys you might like to try:

    •El Gato catnip stuffed cigar toy

    •Bonkers™ catnip mice, stuffed pillows and tubs of dried catnip

    Toys Made of Attractive Materials

    Similar to using catnip to attract cats to toys, toy makers combine materials that cats like in one toy:

    •Feel: wool, fur, fleece

    •Sound: crinkly materials, bells, electronic chirps

    •Sight: fluttery, feathery materials, lights, moving parts

    •Smell and taste: fur, added flavoring (fish, fowl, beef, catnip, honeysuckle, etc.)

    Check out OurPet’s Play-N-Squeak® toys, which are made of interesting materials and make exciting sounds.

    Guidelines for Play

    To satisfy your cat’s natural instincts, think of each play session as a mock hunt for prey. Start enticing your cat by moving the toy in a way that her prey might move. Once you have your cat’s attention, remember that prey moves away from the hunter, so make the toy flee from your cat in short bursts to activate the chase. Eventually, let your cat win by allowing her to catch the toy and “kill” it. Your cat might grab the toy with her front legs, bite it and make little kicks with her back feet. Letting your cat “finish the kill” is very rewarding to her. Some cat experts recommend ending the game with a small treat.

    For maximum enjoyment, keep these additional guidelines in mind when you play with your cat:

    •Go at your cat’s pace. Offer several types of toys to find out which are her favorites and what style of game your cat prefers.

    •Your cat’s instincts motivate her to bite toys while you’re playing. This is normal behavior—but be sure you don’t encourage her to bite your fingers or hands as well. Rough play in a small kitten can be cute, but it becomes painful and dangerous when the kitten matures into an adult cat. For this reason, avoid gloves or mittens with toys attached. They might teach your cat that it’s okay to scratch and bite human hands.

    •If your cat gets overexcited, she might redirect some of her energy at your hands and feet or at other animals. Encourage play, but take a break if things get too rough. Let your cat rest a bit, and start back up when she’s calmer.

    •Avoid using laser lights during play, because some cats and dogs become frustrated or obsessed with chasing a light that they can never catch. Instead, use something your cat can catch and bite.

    •Try scheduling play time with your cat both in the morning and in the evening on different days throughout the week to find out when she’s most receptive and inclined to play. Some cats enjoy a stimulating game right before bedtime. Other cats enjoy playing just before meal times. If you play with your cat before feeding her, you mimic a natural sequence of cat behaviors: she gets to “hunt” and eat, and then she’ll likely groom herself and end with a nice nap.

    •Choose a place to play where your cat feels safe and distractions are minimized.

    •Give all of your cats a chance to play. You might need to separate them in different rooms and play with them individually if one tends to dominate play time.

    •Avoid allowing your cat to play with sharp objects, Christmas tree icicles, curling ribbon and any small items she could accidentally swallow. Don’t allow your cat to play with rubber bands, paper clips or plastic bags. All of these things could be dangerous to her.

    •Finally, keep in mind that it’s always wise to supervise!

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