Indoor kitty =/= couch potato. Make it so!
December 4, 2009 5:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I make sure my new 3-year-old (indoor) cat gets enough exercise? She's my first, and the concept of fetch is understandably beneath her. When she doesn't have any interest in dangling feathers on a string, what options do I have? What should I get for her?

How do you exercise your cat?

Pumpernickel was adopted from a shelter a little over a week ago, and turned me into a cat person within seconds. I've got a large cat tree for her that she delights in exploring, and I want to make sure she remains healthy and at her proper weight. It's just that the toys I currently have don't seem to entice her each time, and I myself am having difficulty thinking up games for a critter that doesn't run around barking. Are laser pointers worth a try, for example?

I should mention that she's the only pet (aside fish), and getting a second cat is just not possible. I know this is often the very first suggestion, but among other things, when she was adopted we were told that she does better as the only cat in the household.

Thanks, roommates of other cats!
posted by Tequila Mockingbird to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Laser pointer.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pumpernickel is adorable!

Laser pointers are totally worth a try. And you can make the cat run around from the comfort of your sofa with one.

Also think about something long that you can drag around for her to chase. Our cat likes a thin metal ball chain, but I realize that's a little odd... try a shoelace (plastic bit at the end cut off so she won't eat it).
posted by dayintoday at 5:39 PM on December 4, 2009

What a beautiful cat! I wouldn't worry about it. Cats find their own way of entertaining/ exercising themselves. Laser pointers are fun as CR said. My cat delights in chasing his tail- sometimes for a full hour! Cats are not like dogs where you need to be mindful of the exercise they get.

If you want some concrete suggestions: fuzzy mice, balled up paper, the thing you tear off the gallon of milk when you open it, a Christmas tree, & there is always catnip!

Enjoy your new friend!
posted by MayNicholas at 5:43 PM on December 4, 2009

A little bit of catnip every once in awhile helps them make up all kinds of interesting games if you think she's getting bored.
posted by amethysts at 5:43 PM on December 4, 2009

Do you have more than one story in your apartment or house? Put the food and water on one level and the litterbox on the other, if at all possible. This will force the cat to move around, and I guarantee it will make a huge difference. If you don't have two levels, at least put the food and water as far from the litter box as possible.

Think about it this way: playing with your cat is fun, good exercise, and a great bonding experience, but it's the equivalent of a 5 minute sprint. The real calorie burning (or lack thereof) will come from the cat's regular routine.
posted by jedicus at 5:47 PM on December 4, 2009

Play with her when you feel like it, but my vet-tech-girlfriend's boss says cats will weigh whatever they want to weigh. It's pretty difficult to manage their weight. For instance, my fattest cat (~20 lbs.) easily scales the sheer side of our six-foot cat tree, while my other three (much slimmer at 16, 14, and 12 lbs.) have trouble and have to use the stepping-stones, as it were. Timmy seems to do okay, even if he's a fatass.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:47 PM on December 4, 2009

Almost all cats like laser pointers. Also boxes and paper bags. My cats also like little craft pompoms. Ribbon/yarn/string (do this only when you're watching, because they sometimes eat these). Feathers. Feather boas. Balled up paper or tinfoil. Toys on stretchy string. Catnip toys.

It's a little hard to predict what any given cat will like, but laser pointer is the best first guess.
posted by jeather at 5:48 PM on December 4, 2009

I have two cats who have lived together pretty much their entire lives, but their play interests are different. They both like the feather-on-a-stick, but the girl cat only chases it when it moves horizontally, and the boy cat only chases it when it moves up and down.

The girl cat also loves to bat around these small wooden mice with fur covering. The boy cat has no interest in those, but goes bonkers for his plastic springs. Neither one of them likes hard plastic balls, but they both bat around and chase after the foam rubber soccer balls.

All of these things are sold specifically as cat toys. Aside from trying those specific things (if you haven't already), my point is really that you need to try a bunch of different toys until you figure out what your kitty likes.

They generally seem to like anything string-like that can be pulled along the floor, especially if they can watch it disappear behind some furniture, so that they can chase after it and surprise it. They generally also seem to like small and light toys that go a long way when hit, roll or bounce, or that can be watched tumbling down the stairs.

If none of these things work, try reading a newspaper until your cat attacks it to get your attention.
posted by FishBike at 5:48 PM on December 4, 2009

Cats will play when they want to play; there's not much you can do when they don't. My cat finds it hard to resist when I put a length of rope or twine under a rug and slowly and intermittently pull on it so he can hear the movement under the rug. He can't really be enticed into playing when he's not in the mood, though.

On the other hand, sometimes he just gets crazy all by himself late at night and goes tearing all over the house, up and down the stairs, cat post, under furniture, etc. like he's running from a ninja assassin or something. You'll just have to watch her and play when she's in the mood.
posted by ctmf at 5:49 PM on December 4, 2009

had a cat that loved crumpled up paper - loved the sound, loved the throwing, loved coming upon one in the hallway. if there were papers just stacked up she'd paw at them, trying to get them to make the game start already.

there are some suggestions against laser pointers. i've never had this problem, but it's something to consider.

try to find games that speak to the inner beast - something she has to figure out or stalk before she gets it. for instance, check out this video of maru. notice how her owner has the toy under the rug. he's not just dangling a feather. he's giving her a chance to figure something out. in fact, watch maru just in general. good evidence of how cats will just plan find their own fun if you let them.
posted by nadawi at 5:51 PM on December 4, 2009

Laser pointer is a great toy for cats. When you're ready to end the game, toss down a treat and swing the laser dot to the treat. Kitty will come to understand that the game's over then.

Since I adopted Bug earlier in 2009, I've given him every toy possible: squeaky mice; noisy, rolling balls; you name it. He seems to prefer the cheapest toys: the wadded up ball of foil from a sandwich; the pulled safety cap of a bottle of orange juice; the discarded end of a shoe insert. These things, he adores and plays with every day. Also, catnip. He'll climb cabinets and refrigerators to locate the catnip! Bug came to me a bit overweight but he's slimmed down and shaped up.

Your Pumpernickel looks an awful lot like my AJ, who is 14 years old now. She was fed grocery store dry cat food for 13 years and I never made a point of trying to 'exercise' her (though, as a kitten, she did do the fetch thing for a while). She's been pretty svelte all her life.

Now, after her kidney issue, she (and Bug by default) gets Wellness brand cat food. I highly recommend it.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:55 PM on December 4, 2009

I crocheted a really long (8-10 ft) sort of single-row rope from some yarn, then crocheted the end back on itself a few times to make a sort of mouse-sized 'lump' at the end of the rope. My cats both love that thing, and my older cat will actually bring it to me and meow loudly to ask me to play with her.
posted by ZeroDivides at 5:58 PM on December 4, 2009

Seconding (thirding?) that your cat will play when and how she wants to. Cats are very creative when the mood to play strikes them, and, be warned, will make anything a toy.

Having said that, I find little spongy balls are a favourite, although you will be the one doing the fetching. But because they are small and portable, I have had a couple of cats who would throw them up and catch them themselves.

But don't spend a lot of money - I recently threw out a pair of nylons which my cat promptly pulled out the garbage and has been playing with for two weeks. Ditto with a large plastic bag. She plays with her found items just as much if not more than the toys I have purchased for her.

In fact as I write this I can hear her in the cupboard above my sink, unrolling my paper towel roll. It's a new game of hers that I can't seem to convince her is wrong
posted by scrute at 5:58 PM on December 4, 2009

Was she caged in the shelter? If so, she may not yet know how to play (or remember), believe it or not. All four of my parents' cats have had to be taught how to play (two ex-ferals, two who had spent six months in a cage), and there was usually about a month of "um, WTH does this weird bald cat think I want with a string/feather toy/stuffed mouse?" before the eureka moment hit. So, yeah, just keep trying out new things. Also, nthing the don't blow $ on toys, because cats will go for anything that wiggles, bounces, etc.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:08 PM on December 4, 2009

Our cat has (totally adorably) learned to fetch all on her own. (Seriously - this isn't a one time thing, she'll bring the toy back 30 or 40 times in a row.) She now shows up on our bed, couch, dinner table, bathtub, pretty much anywhere - with her favorite toy EVER, which is a crumpled ball of tin foil. Other big hits: acorns, crumpled paper, and turkey feathers we found. She also LOVES playing with water (but that's not as typical), exploring closets, and hiding under blankets.
posted by Cygnet at 6:13 PM on December 4, 2009

My formerly feral cat refused to play in front of humans for about a decade. The only reason I knew she played at all was that I'd go in the basement, hear galloping, come back up and find objects in different places. She lost her inhibitions when we got a laser pointer.

A suggestion I haven't seen yet which may be useful: ping pong balls. Especially if you have uncarpeted floors.

I once knew a cat who was entranced by drinking straws -- sound and physical qualities -- but I could see that being ill-advised for unsupervised play.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:27 PM on December 4, 2009

Leave a beer bottle cap on hardwood floor just before you go to bed and need a good sleep.

If your cat is like my cats, she will play with that cap ALL...NIGHT...LONG.
posted by suki at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pumpernickel looks just like my cat! Her favorite play involves the corks from wine bottles (I throw, she chases, the cork bounces off everything) or the plastic ring from milk jugs (I bounce it off the tile, she chases it, then catches it around her paw and slings it off) or a long piece of toilet paper (I walk while dragging it behind me or swish it around me while sitting on the floor, she chases the end and catches it, and revels in the satisfying shredding of it).

The more money I spend on a toy, the less she's interested in it. The only toy I've bought that she really enjoyed as much or more than corks and plastic rings and toilet paper, has been a laser pointer.
posted by Houstonian at 6:35 PM on December 4, 2009

One of the best cat toys for all of the 7 cats I've taken care of in my life has been the little plastic ring you pull off of the cap of a milk jug. I have no idea why cats go wild for those things, but they do!

Cats tend towards liking certain textures. My current cat likes crunchy crinkly things, but the last one would go apeshit for fur of any type. Another temporary cat liked feathers above all else, and another one LOVED yarn and string. They all sort of kept to their own textures, with occasional forays into variety, and sometimes they'd switch it up for years at a time. You'll figure out what Pumpernickel likes through trial and error.
posted by Mizu at 7:00 PM on December 4, 2009

Tin foil balls and the plastic thing from the top of the milk you tear off to unseal it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:04 PM on December 4, 2009

We started playtime at 11pm every night with our two cats a year ago. Every night, right around 11pm, our girlcat, Bouka, starts mewling to play. Udu, the boycat, will join in sometimes, but mostly likes to watch ... and wait for the treats we end the playtime with.

Like others have already written, cats can enjoy playing with anything: corks, little bouncyballs, little mice-y things, name it. We discovered out cats like stomping around on and tearing up and hiding under large swatches of wrinkled brown wrapping paper. And they like cardboard boxes (remove staples and tape).

For interactive play, we trying to avoid laser pointers. Mostly because it gives them no resolution- all hunt, no catch. Cats like to trap prey with their paws and jaws and that little red light doesn't lend itself to that. Check out Da Bird products, a superior featherwand, with mousie, furry, mylar attachments. Check out Cat Dancer too.

Like nadawi mentioned with maru, trying playing under things: dragging a feather on a string under the corner of the rug or under a sheet. Oh! Both of our cats love to be dragged around on a sheet on the floor. And swung in that sheet.
posted by Jezebella at 7:05 PM on December 4, 2009

Yep, the plastic ring off the milk jug is another good one.

Something my Zach also loved is something called the Cat Dancer, I think -- it is nothing but a piece of wire with a couple of bits of cardboard attached to one end. It honestly looks like you found it in the trash at a construction site or something, but it makes my cat go nuts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 PM on December 4, 2009

Another vote for the Cat Dancer. My kitty went nuts for it; she'd do backflips in the air and everything. She loved those things.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:09 PM on December 4, 2009

With my cat I always had the impression that any time I initiated any playtime she was just humoring me for a short while. This meant that buying toys was really a waste. She had as much fun with the bag it came in as the toy, so don't go out and spend a lot of money. Cats are going to do what they want to do.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:10 PM on December 4, 2009

I got my cats a giant catnip filled squid. Sometimes they wrestle with it, sometimes they snuggle with it, sometimes they try to eat holes in it to get the catnip. The body is almost cat sized so it's like another cat to play with and the long tentacles are fun to hang over the edge of a chair.

Another popular toy (if you're not a vegetarian) is a real fox tail. It's cat sized and is very popular with two of my three cats. They play with it in the same ways as the squid. We call it the "good kitty" because it never bites our feet or trip us in the kitchen.

Try stuffing a tube sock with fiberfill and catnip and tying the end shut. If Pumpernickel likes it then she'll probably enjoy the squid or fox tail.

Also, I made my cats a climbing wall by hot gluing a strip of carpet to a narrow piece of wood and mounting it like a coat hook rack. My crazy cat loves it.
posted by irisclara at 7:30 PM on December 4, 2009

cheap things. cardboard box to jump in and out of. paper bags. bottle caps. corks. if you can get your hands on a piece of dryer tubing that she'll fit through (take care of the sharp edges), or other crinkly tubing. tin foil balls. crumpled paper balls (I liked the junk mail ads for this). ink pens/caps - make sure these are empty! once dropped a disposable baking pan on the floor and had an instant cat loaf, I laughed for a long time about that.

definitely try a laser pointer, but get a cheapy one at an office supply store. don't pay the pet store premium! Also, carry one around, alley cats love them! Be aware of the batteries yours takes, it kind of sucks to need a strange battery at an odd time.

absolutely no string - pumpernickel may eat it and cause you a terrible vet bill, plus some early grieving. no coins either, for the same reason, though slightly less dangerous.

May I suggest not teaching the cat to play in bed? I say this because one forgets how much one likes an uninterrupted night of sleep when the cat is doing something cute in the daylight. Especially if the cat in question has a preference for chasing feet and no aversion to chewing your hair. Or you know, just keep the cat out of your bedroom when you want to rest. But then you risk having a howling cat reaching a paw under the door.
posted by bilabial at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2009

Some cats like those cheap little super-bounce balls that you can get in the dispensers at the supermarket.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:43 PM on December 4, 2009

Definitely the tin foil balls. Sammy Katz discovered that one recently--something about their sound and weightlessness makes him go batty.

He also has a toy that's essentially a bunch of feathers and a little bell on a long stick. He likes hiding underneath a chair and going after it.

Also, get high quality catnip--cosmic kitty is a good brand--and those catnip mice that you can open up to refill. Throw these, and other toys, underhand and over her, not past her. That might get her playing even if she's not absolutely in the mood.

Also also, Pumpernickel is adorable!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:58 PM on December 4, 2009

My past two cats showed vastly different preferences towards different toys.

HRH Miss Lady Qu'Appelle (R.I.P), a shelter adoptee, loved nearly all toys, but bored of the quickly once she 'figured them out'. Especially the laser pointer - she'd just look at the dot, look back at the hand holding the pointer, then look at me with an expression of "Really?! You expect me to fall for this? Hell, no. Now get me some tuna or I poo on your bed." The one toy she couldn't resist at all and played with for years? A little fuchsia mouse made of hemp cloth and filled with catnip.

Then, I got Squish. Squish was a semi-feral Siamese kitten when I got him, and he's also a bit brain damaged. Literally. That boy ain't right. Squish didn't like to play at all. He preferred the company of other beings, and inanimate objects just weren't the same. Until I pulled out one of Qu'Appelle's rejected toys - a feather on a stick. He went BONKERS for that thing, and played with it all the time! He went through 3 in one month until I found the deluxe Feather on a Stick, which featured *3* feathers instead of a measly one. That thing became his favorite toy of all time, and could also handle all the abuse a retarded Siamese can dish out.

So, the moral of the story? Cats are finicky bastards. Also, keep on giving her different toys - one just may stick. And luckily, cat toys are pretty cheap.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:02 PM on December 4, 2009

Also, I tried the laser pointer with Squish, but he just couldn't understand the concept.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:05 PM on December 4, 2009

Possibly tangential to the question, but if it's weight gain that you want to avoid, proper food seems to help a lot in that regard. One of my two cats was on her way to having her own gravitational field until I switched them over to Innova Evo, and she slimmed up and got a ton more athletic as a result. Normal cat food seemed to just make her fat and sleepy.
posted by Kyol at 9:05 PM on December 4, 2009

My cats like things that rattle or crinkle, period. They have no interest in a mouse or small toy object that doesn't make noise when they're playing with it.

If your cat tree is tall, try playing swat - shake the rattley mice from above to get their attention, then lob it underhand towards them. It keeps both my cats occupied - one of them is up there swatting (his favorite game ever!) while the other one chases the swatted mice.

If you have a string or ribbon, the 'flip' noise it makes when you whip it is what really gets the cats of my acquaintance going.

When my cats were kittens, we learned they made a particular noise when trying to entice the other one to play. We use it on them, and they come running! It's like a somewhat high-pitched "p-r-r-r" noise of rolled Rs, YMMV.

Good luck! She's gorgeous! :)
posted by bookdragoness at 10:01 PM on December 4, 2009

Both our cats love the laser pointer and cat wand. Doppler, the younger one, has a favorite stuffed mouse that he's already taken the tail and one of the feet off. Max loves garbage - rolled up foil, bottle caps, paper bags.

Doppler, when he's not hiding, will also run frantically around the house every day at 6:00 am. He apparently doesn't understand the concept of weekends. This usually involves crawling under the bed, tear-assing down the hallway, then running back into the bedroom and pouncing on the runner so that he slides and it balls up near the head of the bed.

He will also attack your toes if he's on the bed while you're sleeping.

Max tends to chase his tail and chew on his feet. Catnip gets him VERY excited, but we noticed that he gets really aggressive from it so we've cut him off for now in an effort to promote more peace and harmony between the two of them.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:32 AM on December 5, 2009

Nthing catnip, although I've found that it tends to either put cats in a narcotic coma or get them really worked up. One of our cats just lays on the floor and licks her catnip log with a glazed expression on her face, while the other runs all over the house, almost as if she's doing laps around a track.

So it's like a human drug that acts like opium or speed.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2009

My cats love hair ties.

They also go insane for this cat tunnel.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:30 AM on December 5, 2009

I'm Nth-ing the Cat Dancer- my cat LOVES that thing and will bring it to me for playtime. Consider that Pumpernickel probably has favorite ways to hunt, and that's what you're looking to simulate: the thrill of hunting. Cats are particularly excited by things moving away from them, so they can pursue, or things which are partially hidden. They like a mystery. My cat also adores bubble wrap: he likes to pop the bubbles and hide in the wrap.

Hide some various toys around the house- the cat has fun discovering them and will soon enough show you which are her favorites.

Also, when my cat was younger he needed something to beat the shit out of now and then. Especially at the end of a play session- if it were a real hunt, he'd have prey to chomp on at the end of the hunt. Get Pumpernickel a stuffed animal that's about her size and has distinct limbs (I don't know why, but the limbs flip some evolutionary switch in the cat brain). After an exciting play session, give her the stuffed animal to beat up and "kill." You'll see her administer the killing bite to the neck of the toy (it's kind of a chewing bite, designed the break the prey's neck). It definitely beats having your foot attacked after a good session of play.

One more tip for indoor kitties- my cat loves salad greens (yeah, the bagged kind from the grocery). Keeps him off the potted plants.

Enjoy your new kitty pal. They're wonderful companions.
posted by Monsters at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2009

I noticed the warning about laser pointers. Lasers have different safety classes. Class I is considered safe, even if you point it into your eye all day long (though I don't recommend it, especially if it is a cheapo pointer whose power wasn't tested well). So make sure it is a class 1 and you should be okay.

Not all cats respond to the laser. I had a cat who thought it was a lot of fun until she finally 'caught' it. She quickly smashed her pawn on it with pride, then noticed that it had the ungodly power of jumping from underneath her paw to on top of it. She ran as fast as she could from this demon from hell and refused to ever play with it again.
posted by eye of newt at 11:27 AM on December 5, 2009

Also, here's a useful chart for keeping an eye on your cat's weight. I find the overhead views particularly useful- if my cat's abdomen lines up with his shoulders and hips, I know his weight is about right.
posted by Monsters at 12:14 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: These are great stories and suggestions! Thanks a ton, folks :)
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 2:37 PM on December 6, 2009

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