Conscious Cat

January 5, 2011 38 Comments

Keeping your single cat happy

Posted by Ingrid

Allegra was never supposed to be an only cat.  When I adopted the then 7-month-old kitten last April, the plan was for Amber, who was 12 at the time, to show her the ropes, and for the two of them to become playmates and best friends.

Less than five weeks after Allegra’s arrival, Amber passed away after a sudden, brief illness. I was devastated, and in addition to coping with my grief, which took up almost all the energy I had, I now had a sweet, but rambunctious, slightly juvenile delinquent kitten on my hands.

I knew if I wanted Allegra to be happy, and address some of her behavioral challenges at the same time (she chewed on everything from picture frames to books to the edges of my bedroom dresser, and she was slightly play aggressive), I needed to keep her entertained.  Ideally, I should have gotten her a companion of similar temperament, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for that yet (and I’m still not quite ready).  So it was up to me to keep her active, stimulated and challenged.

All my cats always have been, and always will be, indoor cats.  I thought my home was kitty paradise already.  There are lots of windows with views of trees, birds and squirrels.  There are window perches in two bedrooms for the cats’ viewing pleasure and for naps in the sun.  There are cat toys everywhere.

But it was kitty paradise for older cats, not for a young, energetic kitten.  So I worked on what behaviorists call environmental enrichment.  I created hiding spaces for Allegra.  Cardboard boxes work just fine, as do grocery bags with the handles cut off.  Cat igloos and crinkly tunnels are fun, too.  I bought extra scratching posts.  I added vertical space.  There are numerous ways to do this:  cat trees, cat condos, shelves or window perches.  I got puzzle toys for her; they’re a great way to keep a young cat entertained.  I set up treasure hunts to keep her busy, hiding treats throughout the house and letting her find them.

All of this environmental enrichment was designed to keep Allegra entertained when I couldn’t play with her, but it was never meant to be a substitute for regular playtime.  I use a lot of interactive, fishing pole type toys to play with her.  These toys are designed to imitate prey behavior and they help wake the hunting instinct in cats.  Tossing balls or other small toys for her sends her racing through the house.  I haven’t managed to teach her to retrieve, although cats can learn how to do this.  I have a laser pointer toy, but rarely use it.  Even though Allegra goes nuts chasing after the red dot, it’s a very unsatisfactory way to play for her.  Cats’ play mimics hunting behavior, and it’s no fun for them if they can never catch their prey.

With young cats like Allegra, burning off excess energy is important.  We established regular play sessions of 10-15 minute each, at least twice a day, sometimes more frequently.  Playing before meals, or just before bedtime, works best.  Once we had these regular play sessions in place, a lot of Allegra’s behavior issues disappeared because she was no longer bored.

Eventually we’ll add another cat to our family.  For now, Allegra is very happy to be the only cat in her environmentally enriched home.

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38 comments to “Keeping your single cat happy”

  1. Great post with wonderful suggestions.

    pawhugs, Max

  2. Our cats love chasing that red dot. It gives them some exercise that way. Spunky used to like playing fetch on the stairs with little mice too. I throw it up the stairs and she runs after it, batting it back down to me. I guess she either got tired of it now or just got lazy because the last few times I tried playing that with her, she wasn’t interested.

    Here’s a video of my cats enjoying that laser beam toy:
    http://zemeks.blogspot.com/2009/12/spunky-and-manny-had-merry-christmas.html

    • Ingrid says:

      Great video, Karen and Gerard! The laser pointer definitely provides great exercise, but some cats do get tired of it after a while. Allegra will chase it like crazy for a couple of minutes, then she slows down (probably because it’s starting to dawn on her that she’ll never catch it). That’s when I switch to another toy so she can have the satisfaction of “catching her prey.”

  3. This great posts reminds me that some people think that their cats don’t like toys. I think some cats get tired of the same old, and adding play variety is a key. I have brought so many toys to my kitty charges over the years to watch them in seventh heaven. If you are convinced your cats don’t play, try something new – go to the pet supply store and pick up some different, high quality toys for your babies!

    • Ingrid says:

      Leslie, I rotate Allegra’s toys every few days. The ones she’s played with for a while go to the bottom of the basket or into the closet. When I bring them out again, it’s like a whole new toy. The only ones I keep out all the time are her absolute favorites that she really does play with all the time.

  4. Rena says:

    What a great article. Allegra is a very lucky girl. I have three cats, and we call the youngest one the terrorist. Although she doesn’t chew on stuff, she gets into everything and drives the other cat crazy. She loves hiding in the cloth grocery bags. You give some great tips on keeping an active cat stimulated. Thanks!

  5. Rachel says:

    I have a juvenile delinquent who has other cats, two dogs, frequently visiting dogs and puppies and does go outside and I create mysteries for him but honestly, his punk behavior ( and I know what I’m doing!) requires massive management, especially with anything that resembles food. On the plus side, I have trained a very reliable recall from several houses away if I want to call him home and he does make me laugh. Maybe parenting 3 tween and/or teenage daughters on TOP of that is an exacerbator!!!

  6. Debbie says:

    Just a quick note to encourage you to take in another fur baby while Allegra is still young. You’re such a great cat mom, and so many out there need good homes. But I’m sure you’ll know the time is right when you meet the right one. (Can you tell I volunteer for a shelter rescue, LOL???)

    • Ingrid says:

      Allegra will get a new companion eventually, Debbie, and you’re absolutely right, I’ll know when the time is right. Most likely, the right one will find us :-)

  7. Marg says:

    That is a great post Ingrid. I can’t imagine having just one cat. But I would imagine they would get bored and it sure sounds like you have some great solutions. But even with as many cats as I a have, they all still want that attention and they let me know. It is amazing how much attention they really want. Luckily for me, they do get to go outside, so that keeps them from being too nuts. Good information. Thanks.

  8. Hats off to you for working overtime. It’s hard work keeping a solo kitten entertained and intellectually stimulated. I can’t imagine young solo cats being alone all day. Like you, we’re lucky to be mostly working at home. My seven-month-old has two older kitty “uncles” plus two devoted hoomans to nurture, guide and play with him 24/7 and he still wants more! Cats like humans have distinct personalities. I’m convinced more than ever that some cats are smarter than others. Some are okay alone and some need their own kind. It’ll be interesting to see how Allegra takes to a new feline family member.

    • Ingrid says:

      I had certainly forgotten about kitten and young cat energy when I adopted Allegra. I think she’ll take to a new family member very easily, but I do think she’ll want to be “top cat.”

  9. Great post, Ingrid. I have three cats, but only two of them will play together — they shun poor Saffy. Essentially, she is like an only-cat. We found that we need to exercise/play with her more often because she doesn’t get it with the other cats.

  10. Amy Nievera says:

    Thanks for the article! I just tweeted this morning how rambunctious my kittens are. I haven’t been spending as much time playing with them as I used to – I really must get back in the habit!

  11. Oh, Ingrid I didn’t know about Amber and your recent loss. :(

    I think Allegra is very lucky to have you as a mom! And she is such a sweet juvenile delinquent. (luv that!)

  12. Tracy says:

    I’m so sorry, gosh aren’t cats just the best? Well perhaps we better not ask Hurricane that question because I’m afraid his answer might incriminate him :)
    I personally think cats need a companion..be it another cat or companion, especially if that is what they are use to…but if you get a kitten, she’ll definitely be ‘Top Cat’
    Good Luck and keep me posted on the outcome!

  13. Esme says:

    That may be one of the sweetest photos of Allegre yet. I agree with play time-it is important to engage with the kitties as they play. What are the puzzle toys. I bought a toy for our neighbor’s cat and left it on the counter-I do know Penelope will hop up there looking for food-needless to say she attacked the toy and it is now hers.

    These two could donate toys to less fortunate cats everywhere.

  14. amanda says:

    My kitten is like five months old and has had diarrhea for almost a week is there something I need to do? I haven’t changed his food nothing new at all. What should I do….Could someone email me with a helpful hint or something…

    • Ingrid says:

      Amanda, I think you need to take your kitten to the vet. Five days of diarrhea is a long time, and your kitten may be dehydrated. Better safe than sorry.

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  16. amir says:

    I have been trying to overcome one of the deepest states of depression I have ever encountered over the course of my life. I’m 35. If I out poured what has happened over the last 2 yrs, nobody would believe me but it is actually the truth. The reason I am posting this is because I worry about the well being of my cat Sophia. I feel like I have the sweetest cat on the planet, I’ve had her for almost 9 yrs, but I know I am being emotionally neglectful to her. I am also allegeric to her since I adopted her as a stray. At the very least, I need to wash my hands thoroughly after I pet her. Lately, I come home tired and distressed and can’t even pay much attention to her due to said ailments. She is so loyal and attached to me that I can’t stand the option of giving her up for a fear of a worse situation. I really do love her, but I sincerely want her to have a happy life. I thought I was a responsible pet care taker as far as regular vet appts, but I do know that cats can be just as, if not more, a true and loyal companion over the best of dogs.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry you’re having such a difficult time, Amir. I hope you’re getting professional help for your depression – if not, I strongly encourage you to do so. Cats can play a significant role in helping humans overcome all sorts of challenges, including depression, but they’re also very sensitive creatures who tend to take on their humans’ energy and illnesses. Combine that with you not feeling able to pay much attention to her, and you’ve created a very tough situation for yourself, and your cat. I urge you to discuss this with both your physician and with your cat’s veterinarian. You both deserve a happy life.

  17. […] it’s a companion for a single cat, or whether another cat in the household has passed away and left a void, adding a new family […]

  18. Chantal says:

    Hi, I have a little kitten… Ok maybe little but not kitten any more she is one! Mercury has always been our only little girl although we do have our lovebirds that she loves watching (her soapie)! She is a very energetic little girl but also enjoy her naps, its been bugging me if we should get her a little play mate but every time when I am about to take the step I find my self unable to go through with it. I mean yes I think she will enjoy a buddy but she sleeps all day and at night when we get home she plays with us and naps while we watch TV on our laps, to split our attention we give her in two will feel cruel, she is truly a spoiled little girl with a huge scratch post leading up to steps and has all her little hart desires. When she was a kitten my mom looked after her for us during the day, my mom has two adult cats and she used to hiss at them she only allowed the Maltese dog to get close to her and play with her. Am I wrong by keeping her as our only baby girl, I am so in two

    • Ingrid says:

      Mercury sounds like a delightful and happy kitten, Chantal. Unfortunately, there’s just no way of predicting whether she’d enjoy having a buddy, or whether she’s happier being the one and only. From what you’re describing, it sounds like she’s getting plenty of attention. I wish I could answer the question with a definitive yes or no for you, but instead, I’m going to tell you to follow your heart. You know your little girl best.

      • Chantal says:

        Hi Ingrid

        Thank you so much, you will not believe how this answer helps. Most people have been judging me for only haveing on little girl, even though I feel its best for her.

        Thank you Ingrid *Hug*

  19. Chantal says:

    Hi Ingrid, We attempted a friend this weekend and thought I would give you feedback. When Mercury was a kitten like a mentioned she got along with my mom’s dog so well, yesterday we thought we would bring the same small dog over for a visit. Lets just say it did not go off as planned with my back almost ripped to shreds by my little girl, she got such a fright and just clawed and ran for the hills.

    We got her when she was we presume only 3 weeks old, her mother had abandoned her litter of kittens in a roof at my hubby’s work, all the kittens got homes except for her, that when we decided to take her in. So she has been on her own from a very small age, could this be the reason she does not get along with other animals? She is very tiny due to the first 3 weeks of her little life being under nourished, however now she eats well loves her food hehehehe. We allow her to play in the garden sometimes while we outside and keep a eye on her, but she slipped my view and when I saw again she was chasing our neighbours cat that is almost double her size, I think she think she is a mountain lion hehehehe.

    Thanks again for the advice

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