Happy cat is happy, but could be happier?
July 18, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Why is YOUR cat the happiest cat there is?

I'd like ideas for making my little kitty happy; i.e. the best things you've bought/built or routines/toys that you've used.

I was somewhat struck with sadness by the fact that my kitty is not immortal, and I was galvanized to make sure she had the best life possible, so I'd like to hear what you've done to make your cat content.

Details: my cat is a very active 1.2-year-old indoor cat in a Cambridge, MA apartment. She already has a big home-made cat tree.
posted by Salvor Hardin to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I taught my cat how to floss his teeth. He LOVES it.
posted by dhammond at 3:34 PM on July 18, 2010 [24 favorites]

I make my cats cat mats that I put by a sunny window. I make them out of hardy fabric and put some polyfill in it (the flat kind that comes in a roll - I fold it so it's two layers thick) as well as sprinkling some dried catnip on the inside. Not too much catnip, but enough that it smells through the mat when you sew it shut. The cats love it and they love the window. They toss the mat around when it's fresh and then, once tired, fall asleep on it. Once the catnip scent wears off, they still sleep on it, but if I feel like making things exciting again I'll rub some more catnip over the mat and put it back.

I'd suggest never feeding your cat table food. It only makes them want more, and, with cats, ignorance is bliss. Don't take the cat outside or she'll only want to go outside more, and it'll make her upset when you don't open the door every time she meows at it.

Cats of course have different preferences in terms of how they like to be pet, so once you find out if your cat likes tummy rubs, or the chin scratch, or to be carried around over your shoulder while you gently scratch her back, do that.

I say all this with sadness because my best kitty friend is currently very sick and I don't think he'll be around for much longer. :( But it's comforting to think that he's had a happy cat life, filled with cat mats and chin scratches and being carried around over my shoulder while I scratch his back.
posted by wondermouse at 3:44 PM on July 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

He has a blanket knitted in a basket-weave pattern that's nubby against his paw pads. He has another thermal fleecy blanket that gets left lumped on the sofa with lots of piles and pillows underneath it.

He occasionally has a warm basket of clean laundry, too. If he plays, it's with a fleece catnip mouse above all else.
posted by motsque at 3:55 PM on July 18, 2010

Best answer: Oh, and my cat's favorite toy was always a hair scrunchy tied to a piece of string. Loves it when dragged slowly across carpeting, or when I drag it behind myself while walking into another room - he lets the scrunchy get away and then comes running after it. I'd put the toy away when not in use so he doesn't try eating the string.
posted by wondermouse at 4:00 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

@dhammond - that's awesome.

We have a pot of cat grass which he loves for a snack. But he loves it even more when we feed the grass to him.

We also make sure to spend time playing with him everyday and of course, belly-rubs - he just loves the attention.

When we travel, we hire a pet-sitter to feed him and clean his litter. We also ask a friend who loves our cat to drop-by when possible to play with him so he is not totally without company.

Right now we looking to have his teeth cleaned professionally. We can't seem to do it ourselves. But by making sure his teeth and gum are healthy, we hope to avoid any problems and pain later on.

I think it is sweet of you to think that way for your cat - I often tell my husband, I wish I knew what our cat is thinking of so I can give him what he wants!
posted by serunding at 4:13 PM on July 18, 2010

I leave my cat alone. I don't have no freaking laser. He has his soft cloth balls and a couple of racquet ball balls and I occasionally fish them out from under the furniture. I don't bother him, he don't bother me.
posted by Gungho at 4:15 PM on July 18, 2010

Best answer: My 15-year-old kitty gets a grain-free diet and has wonderfully thick, silky fur. She also gets loads of pets and is allowed to sleep on my bed. Finally, I have a kitty condo with a heating pad that I got at the Dr's Foster and Smith online store. She loves to snuggle on that on cold days.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:15 PM on July 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Milk rings...or those cat-toy look-alikes.

Cardboard cat scratchers--there's a circular plastic one with a round corrugated cardboard insert that my cat loves. I don't know the brand.

Scrunched up balls of aluminum foil...assuming you don't have a chewer.

Feather wands--preferably the ones with a spray of feathers and foil on the end.

See if your cat can get accustomed to a harness--my roommate can 'walk' one of her cats, which means going out in the yard and sitting down while he eats grass and rolls around and basks in the sun. My cat and her other cat are not fans of harnesses. No outside for them.

Cat grass/catnip/valerian (or all three) grown fresh on a window sill for eating.

MOAR HIGH PERCHES/LEDGES. There is no such thing as enough perches.

MOAR CHASING. All three of our cats like being chased...by people, and sometimes other cats, depending on which kitty it is.

Automatic laser light. This is the coolest thing ever, if you have a kitty who likes laser lights.

I know someone who sets up a bird feeder outside her window, where the birds are well safe from the cats, but the cats can watch. Kitty TV, as I've heard it called. I'm not sure if it's traumatizing for the birds. I assume they just wouldn't use it if it were that upsetting.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 4:16 PM on July 18, 2010

Our cat has one of these and he loves it. He'll sit on the couch and knead it with his paws for like 15 minutes at a time.

Windows are great, too. Make sure you've got somewhere she can sit and look outside.
posted by equalpants at 4:18 PM on July 18, 2010

Our cats go wild for cat dancers. And sushi.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:21 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Grow your own catnip!! Makes the happiest kitties ever.
posted by JujuB at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2010

I will sometimes give my cat a box.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:37 PM on July 18, 2010 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: Great stuff! These are all great answers - I'm marking as best the ones that I haven't thought of or done already, for my own future reference.

Thanks guys!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:43 PM on July 18, 2010

I used ikea shelves and bookcase units to create a set of wall mounted steps/platforms that they can jump up and down and bat at each other, and then can sit at the top (higher than our heads) and feel superior.

I have bird feeders that provide a lot of entertainment for my (indoor) cats (the birds never notice), and also will put seeds/peanuts out on the deck to attract squirrels and chipmunks for them to salivate over at eye level.

I have more than one cat, which provides them with social interaction and exercise. Not for every cat, but in my experience many cats appear to enjoy having other cat companions.

Once a day treats of a small amount of super smelly cat food that has actual little shrimps and/or fish bits in it.

Also, it's good to get your cat used to having its claws clipped. This doesn't sound like a cat happiness thing, but even with lots of scratching posts they may not be able to keep their claws in good shape. I had a cat who I let go too long between clippings, and found that somehow one of her claws had managed to grow around in a circle, so that the tip was actually pressing into her paw pad. I'm sure it was uncomfortable, and I still feel bad. Long claws can also snag on things and tear out. So, since a healthy cat is a happy cat, be consistent about claw clipping so that 1) it is routine and minimally stressful and 2) you maintain healthy cat paws. I just use human toenail clippers, a firm grip, and patience.

But also have lots of good scratching posts, both vertical and horizontal. If I had room in my house to build one that stretched from floor to ceiling, I totally would.
posted by acanthous at 4:48 PM on July 18, 2010

Old kitty here, 16 yrs.

She gets top quality food. I got her a faux lambskin cat bed thing and put it on a bench on the back porch, and she loves sitting there watching the kids play and the folks pass in the back alley, especially since they can't get at her, and she enjoys a rainstorm because she's sheltered from the overhang of the upstairs balcony. I don't fuss at her for anything, she can sleep on my bed or not, as she likes, she knows I'll always stop and give her some attention if she asks. My only regret is I have to be out working a fair bit - she so clearly enjoys weekend days when we're both here and can interact in an unhurried and casual way.

The best thing I'm probably doing for her, though? Not getting another cat. She's queen.
posted by zadcat at 4:50 PM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Put a bird feeder in front of a window that the kitty can spend time in/at. My cats can be doing anything at all in the house, but when a bird shows up they all make a beeline for the window.

Play with your kitty - drag string, user a laser, roll/toss a ball or toys.

Also - yes, boxes. It doesn't matter what size, they'll try to get into the smallest of them.

Good food and yearly check-ups. If something is "off", don't wait to get him/her to a vet.

But mostly - just spend time with him/her. Make your lap available when s/he is in the mood.

PS: Photos are mandatory when asking about pets in AskMe!
posted by deborah at 4:51 PM on July 18, 2010

My cat likes to sit inside of boxes as well. Also laundry baskets. And buckets or basins. And short trash cans. Paper bags are a fun toy, too! They can get inside, and then you can scratch on the outside to get them going.

Peekaboo is, for whatever reason, extremely fun to my cat. I spend ridiculous amounts of time on the floor for this reason (which reminds me, my cat also really likes when I do yoga on the livingroom floor, because he can help by attacking a foot here and there, or by sniffing my hair while I'm in savasana). I get on one side of a doorway, and he waits for me to peekaboo and then after a few times, runs at me and stops and runs the other way for me to chase him. Also I drag a ribbon around on the ground and run from room to room, and he runs after me.

But really, the thing I think my cat loves the most is that we have a special snuggling time before I go to bed almost every night. It's in a specific chair that reclines a bit, and I just invite him up into my lap and we watch a tv show or something while he kneads his kittydough on me. I find it pretty relaxing, too, actually.
posted by so_gracefully at 5:02 PM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bergamot was a born hunter and we are sometimes sad that he is an indoor city cat. So I knit him little mice and put catnip in them. He hunts them, runs around howling with them in his mouth and also brings them to us as gifts (a hell of a lot better than the real thing!) He rips them to shreds and new ones have to be knit regularly. He can be an indoor cat and a hunter!

My husband also talks to the cats. Not just chatting, but squints and yawns at them, they love it and squint and chatter back.
posted by sadtomato at 5:05 PM on July 18, 2010

We have two cats, and they don't seem to like each other very much. We started putting one litter box in Cat A's "territory" and the other Cat B's general haunting grounds, and that seemed to stop the random pooping on the floor.

We generally let them come to us. Our more aggressive cat will hang with me when I'm on the couch or at my desk - he's sleeping on the desk as I type - and our timid cat will watch the outside through the screen door. They get stressed if we bother them too much.

Boxes are good. I took two boxes, closed the tops, and cut holes in the sides - they like crawling into them that way, rather than jumping into the top of the boxes. It also keeps them relatively enclosed. Other cat hideaways get old towels - under the bed and on the radiators mostly.

Other than that, lots of windows have helped. The recent hot weather has calmed both of them down; I guess they're just too hot to try to antagonize each other, but they've been gong about their normal business otherwise. We just bought them a couple of "mustaches" filled with catnip, and those were a big hit.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:23 PM on July 18, 2010

My 15-year-old beastie is currently the happiest cat ever because she has a brand-new Amazon box to snooze in. Actually, she has a couple of boxes -- she sleeps in them, sharpens her claws on them, hides her toys in them...

Actually, she's blissed out right now because both my husband and I are unemployed, and thus we're home with her all the time. She sleeps on the bed with us (she's trained me to turn over onto my left side when she hops up on the bed, so she can curl up against my stomach and use my hand as a pillow. Totally spoiled.)

She also likes being talked to. Silly beastie.
posted by sarcasticah at 5:29 PM on July 18, 2010

I cut a big piece of butcher paper off of a roll I have and put it in the middle of the living room floor. For reasons I can't entirely understand, Zeke loves slip slidin' all over it and will mount random attacks at invisible creatures that appear to be living underneath. I think he likes the feel of ripping the shit out of something.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:31 PM on July 18, 2010

Our cats are possibly the most spoiled cats in the history of cats. One of them really likes bags. We will leave canvas bags on the floor for her just because she likes them so darned much. (This can go to extremes when delaying putting suitcases away because daawwwww...dere's a kitty in da suitcase...) We've removed any human items from her usual hangouts, even if it means re-arranging the bookshelves.

The kitties eat well and get plenty of cat treats. They like the "Kitty Catch" kind - I think it's Meow Mix brand, you can get them at PetCo. Cardboard scratchers. Laser pointer.

But really, if we find something that makes the kitties happy, we do it. One of them really loves 'moonMan and his pillows. She sleeps next to his head every night, to the point where she is the one on the pillow and he's got his head on the bare mattress. I don't suggest going to this level of absurdity - just mentioning that your kitty will let you know what makes her happy. Just keep doing it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2010

Oh, and also, the happiest my cat ever is is when I take him out for a walk.

Yeah, I said it.

I walk my cat.

Like he's a dog.

On a leash.

And it's awesome.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:57 PM on July 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

I took a piece of 550 cord about a foot long, pulled both ends of the inner strands out about 2 inches, and tied the ends off so the strands can't come all the way out. My cats love playing with the resulting "snake", especially if I dance it across the floor for them -- I think they find it more satisfying than a laser pointer or cat dancer, because they can actually catch it and gnaw on it at the end. It's dirt-cheap to make, too.

Mine also love Petromalt. It's good for their coat (so shiny!), helps prevent hairballs, and apparently tastes really good. I squeeze a tiny bit onto Greenies treats for them -- omg a squishy treat and a crunchy treat all in one!
posted by vorfeed at 6:05 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

In this house we have a lot of craneflies, those big gangly bugs. I catch them and throw them in the cats room. Hilarity and noms ensue!
posted by The otter lady at 6:05 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Things that make our Eli (left) and Gatsby (right) happy:

- amazon boxes occasionally around the house (bonus points if there are plastic bags in them - they love the crinkly sound).
- milk rings.
- gatsby likes fresh catnip; eli could care less.
- wadded-up pieces of paper (post-its work best for us).
- open screened-in windows with lots of sunshine.
- lots of blankets stuffed into all their favorite nooks & crannies.
- purina indoor catfood has made their coats very shiny and soft.
- fresh water straight from their favorite blue cup.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:51 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

My cat loves the stray kitten he made friends with through the window, who I eventually brought in to be his pet.

On a more practical note, he loves his (closely supervised!) visits to the land of Outside. He also loves licking fruit (not eating it, and not drinking the juice if separated), especially crunchy-fleshed fruits like apples and watemelons. I'll buy a half watermelon, get a fork and set it on the floor, and we'll all feast on it together - good times! Oh, and small mouth-sized toys, especially with feathers and/or jingle bells. And leather purses. The new baby is fascinated by video games. What I'm getting at is, be prepared for her to have highly individual and strangely specific tastes.
posted by jinjo at 6:52 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want your cat to be really, truly happy, then, just like for any good relationship, you need to develop common interests and good communication. Many human couples achieve this by playing board games together or taking a class like ballroom dancing. Books like "The Five Love Languages" are helpful for figuring out ways to please each other -- not always as easy as we would like!

Communicating and sharing with a cat is more obviously fraught with difficulty. Some people and cats manage well enough, while others never quite seem to click, so to speak. Any relationship, though, can get better. But how?

Clicker Training for Cats is awesome. If you don't get impatient, and especially if you give your cat lots of treats, your cat may well become ecstatic every time he sees you pick up the clicker. He will do the trained activities spontaneously, partly, it can't be denied, because he wants more treats, but isn't that far superior to a melancholy cat who sits around just hoping for treats? Clicker training empowers cats to ask, nicely.

It also encourages them -- even at an older age -- to be active, which naturally can lead to a happier, perkier cat.

Most importantly, your cat is communicating with you -- he figures out what you want, and is able to give it to you. If you've ever made someone else smile, or say "good job", you know how wonderful that can be. Is it the same for cats? Probably not exactly, but it's still pretty good -- you can tell from a happily raised tail and eager participation.

The training itself is very very fun, for human and cat, although the substantial patience required at first can be a challenge. Also, if your cat doesn't really enjoy cat treats, it may be difficult to motivate him.

I can't recommend working with your cat on training highly enough. We originally taught our cats to jump through a hoop without using a clicker, years ago, and that was pretty good too. I worked on that with some kittens, and they always purred and purred when it was training time -- it also very clearly bonded them to me, and humans in general, quickly and thoroughly. The clicker training has a similar effect, but can be used to encourage a wider variety of behaviors, as described in the book linked above.
posted by amtho at 7:08 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Our cat Bolt really loves playing with balloons. He carries them around the house and then sits and attacks the string. Eventually he (or his sister Nut) will chew through the string. The string gets shorter and shorter, and eventually he can't reach it anymore, but it's a good time until then.
posted by purpletangerine at 7:53 PM on July 18, 2010

My Cosette likes to "bird hunt" (really, watching the pigeons outside from our couch). We play a game where I ask her which one she's going to get for dinner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:35 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ice cubes are the ultimate toy in my household. And amazon boxes are prime real estate. Just making an effort to spend extra time with them is really what makes the biggest difference. I get up an extra half hour early each day just to allow a little time before I rush out the door for them.
posted by gilsonal at 8:53 PM on July 18, 2010

I switched my cat to raw food (frozen ground chicken meat and necks from a local grocery store, plus a supplement). He took to it really well. His coat improved, his breath was better, and I credit it with giving him two more great years of cosseted geezerdom (15 to almost 18) after he was diagnosed with hyperthyroid, congestive heart failure, and kidney problems.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:57 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Our very-neurotic grey cat becomes noticably less neurotic when we give her the greatest cat-toy known to mancat-kind: the cap off a tube of toothpaste. Large enough she couldn't swallow it if she tried, makes just the right skittering sound when it hits and/or rolls on the wood floors, dense enough that when she swats it that thing goes FLYING across the floor, and almost-cylindrical enough to start rolling (and thus prompt stalking-and-attacking) from minor external stimuli like the air conditioner kicking in. I have very seriously seen her spend half a day stalking and attacking that poor maligned plastic cap, then carrying it around triumphantly and depositing it on my shoes for approval.
posted by Mayor West at 5:27 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

We recently lost Mr. Hobbes; we still have Draper.
Hobbes' favorite 'trick' was to ring the wine glasses over the wet bar downstairs whenever the food bowl got low.
His happiest was probably playing catching quarters; he would crouch down on the bed while I flipped a quarter over his head. He would jump up and catch them in his front paws. He gave up on the laser pointer because he immediately saw that I was controlling it, that was no fun for him.
Draper is not nearly as smart. He loves the laser and then drapes himself over furniture.
posted by Drasher at 6:18 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kinder toy eggs for Tanis - they are the perfect size for his mouth, and he chases/bats/carries them around until he loses them, usually under the fridge. The other two are not nearly as interested, but Tanis goes for them every time.
Brushing Osiris - he loves being brushed; he goes into a state of what I can only describe as 'bliss' when he's being brushed. The other two like it okay (though Tanis prefers to chew on the brush), but Osiris will abandon any other activity to come be brushed
Turn the tap on for Icarus - this is pure spoiling, but Icarus seems to prefer drinking the water from the tap over the water in the bowl. In the morning he rushes to the bathroom and jumps on the counter, waiting for me to turn on the tap. I oblige. The other two don't bother.

As you can see, each cat is different. Try stuff, but eventually you'll figure out what makes your kitty come running.
posted by sandraregina at 11:54 AM on July 19, 2010

We got a heavy duty bird cage that can't be tipped, put a peaked roof on it, and covered the lowest parts with plexiglass and then put a half dozen flighty, fast moving finches in it.

All four of my cats spend pretty much their whole days just staring into it like it's their personal TV.

Also, I have catnip growing in my back yard, and true kitty happiness comes from dropping a three foot long plant on the floor and watching them all just bliss out.
posted by quin at 2:12 PM on July 19, 2010

Oh, and seconding things like milk-rings. But one thing that my cat likes even better is the giant milk-ring like piece of plastic that comes off of glass peanut jars. She wanders around with it in her mouth pretending to be a dog.

And if you are feeling extra DIY and have a hardwood or linoleum floor, you could make a bristle-bot our of a toothbrush and a pager motor. To say it makes cats lose their minds would be an understatement.
posted by quin at 2:17 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't believe I forgot to mention this: katsuobushi (shaved bonito).

In English, we say "letting the fox guard the henhouse", but the Japanese say 猫に鰹節 -- "katsuobushi to a cat", because cats go crazy for these dried fish flakes. You can buy some at a Japanese market, or on Amazon. One bag will last a long, long time... and it's not an unhealthy treat, because it's pure fish. I usually deploy it in conjunction with catnip.
posted by vorfeed at 8:16 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our fifteen-year-old cat has had this toy almost all of her life, and she plays with it EVERY day.

Salvor Hardin, if you go with dhammond's suggestion about the dental floss, PLEASE make sure your kitty only does it under supervision! If she starts to swallow it, she can't spit it back out, and anything stringlike is not good for her innards.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:54 AM on July 20, 2010

Because every summer, on the first day of the season, I bring her fresh garden peas and let her eat one from every pod.

Also because ever since I noticed she hates stale water, I put a new metal dish in the kitchen between the sink and the fridge, and give her fresh clean cold water every time I get myself a glass.

And whenever she asks, I make her a parceltape ball, and throw it for her, and play cathockey with her until she decides we are done.

I rolled up the bottom of the deck screen so she can watch pigeon TV whenever she wants.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:59 PM on July 20, 2010

One cat is happy, but two cats are happier!

Perches! The decor in our house in practically centered around having furniture at a suitable perch-height at the windows. We have a screen porch in front and a bigger screened porch (lanai) in the back and they lie out in both places nose to screen staring at the lizards, birds, squirrels, bees, butterflies, and the like.

We used to play every night with our kitties. We mostly used wandy feather things until we found Da Bird wand toys (really the best) and that kept them happy and playing for a year. Now, they still want to play every night, but they don't go for Da Bird....or any of its attachments. They get bored after a minute or so with laser lights. They are over the Cat Dancer too. Flingamastring entertains them for a few minutes. We have NO IDEA how to play with our cats now! :(

Generally, they do like big boxes with dollar coin sized holes in them for seeing out and for poking feathers/things in for them to snatch at. They like stringed toys dragged under the rug. They like playing through the mesh of those collapsible laundry bags. They like to play with sheets when we make the bed, so we play with the sheets, grabbing them (the sheets, not the cats) at the corners and drape over the cats, move wands around under the sheet, wait until they are on the sheet and drag them around the house or swing them back n forth gently in the sheet. They like little rubber bouncy balls. Marbles on the floor (bat-ability with noise) too.

We used to sit with all the little toys (balls, mousies) and toss them to the cats. I think they preferred it when we slid the toys across the floor.

Dried smelly fish treats make very happy kitties.
As does regular nail-clippings and weekly/daily Furminator sessions.
Those cat trays with the friendly cat grasses. Yummy!

And one of those water bowls where the water pours down over a ramp (in addition to 2 or 3 other placed around the house). I live in Florida and I fill the reservoir with ice.

Two or three laps every once in awhile of halfnhalf (I know, but it really is a just taste every few weeks!) and one of our cats, Bouka, likes to share a hard-boiled egg with me (whites only!). Half a can of wet food each twice a day and a quarter cup of Evo Innova at the same time.

- - -

- - -

Still, they seem bored.
posted by Jezebella at 8:26 PM on July 20, 2010

Er...YOLKS only. I eat the whites.
posted by Jezebella at 8:41 PM on July 20, 2010

Our cat is on the deck in his stroller right now, having begged me to put him there because there is no sun today to bask in near a window. We never dreamed the stroller would be so handy. He's a Houdini cat in getting out of his harness so we all appreciate this a playpen on wheels.
posted by Mertonian at 12:33 PM on August 3, 2010

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