Is there anything I can buy or do to increase my cat's quality of life?
July 22, 2019 1:43 PM   Subscribe

E.g., get a heating pad.

Pet tax.

Basically, I really love my cat and am wondering what else I can do for her.

She is an active, 2-year-old cat. I play with her twice a day, 15 minutes per session. She seems to really enjoy this (although she only plays with wand toys-- I have bought other toys she can play with by herself but she doesn't seem interested) as well as cuddling every once in a while. She currently eats mostly dry food, but I'm thinking of switching to mainly a wet food diet because I hear that's healthier. She sees a vet twice at least twice a year (since she's FIV+).

Her favorite things: Churu treats, Cat Dancer, this wand toy, and having access to a window to look out of. Are there things that your cats go bananas for or seem to really like? (Or are cats generally very different?)
posted by typify to Pets & Animals (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Does she have a scratchy thing? My cats wreck the cardboard insert in this thing pretty regularly, and I put a little catnip on it to keep them interested.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

Our cats have been on an all-wet-food diet ever since I read this right here. Our cat is indoor/outdoor and seems to get plenty of stimulation outside, though she's too derpy to be much of a hunter. When she's inside, she seems to like quiet laps and places to loll about. Actually, that's what she wants when she's outside too.
posted by jquinby at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

Heated cat beds have been very popular with our many cats over the years. Our cat who was FIV+ especially appreciated it when she was getting thin and having more trouble regulating her own body temperature. We've always gotten the really economical kind that are a flat heating pad with a fleece cover.
posted by Orlop at 1:47 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cats enjoy water fountains more than you might expect.
posted by Francolin at 1:56 PM on July 22, 2019 [15 favorites]

does she have access to sunny windows to nap in? lots of kitties seem to really like a good sunbeam.
posted by supermedusa at 1:57 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Being able to go outside, lie in the breeze or under the shrubs. If you live in a place where your cat can safely go outside during the day, this is one of the best things you can do for your cat. (Yes, I know the risks. I still think all animals need to have access to their natural environment, just like we do).
posted by nanook at 1:59 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Possibly a cat friend to play and cuddle with? (And possibly not, depending on your cat).
posted by pinochiette at 1:59 PM on July 22, 2019

Our two have automatic feeders and the kind of water dish that comes with a reservoir. This is so they don't make us bonkers with demands for food (they know when the food is coming and they prowl around waiting for it.)

We keep a designated chair and a basket full of blankets. They are welcome whenever anyone forms a lap. They have a variety of toys but don't spend a lot of time chasing things. Catnip and Greenies are occasional treats they both enjoy.

They are no longer welcome in our bedroom, but seem resigned to that at this point.

There is someone purring heavily on my lap as I write this.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 2:03 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Things cats like:

Food puzzles

Clicker training (get the book "Clicker Training for Cats" -- seriously, they LOVE it if you do it well. They will BEG for it.)

Other cats who can play with them much longer than you can

Freshly washed towels to sleep on

Shelves and other things to climb on (see Jackson Galaxy's book "Catification")

Treats that they have to work for

Being gradually leash trained (trained to tolerate the harness and leash) so that they can occasionally -- and with very clear boundaries -- go outside (my rule was that the cat always had to be carried outside -- he never walked through the door under his own power).

Safety and quiet. If you need to do something noisy, move the cat to a place she feels the safest.

Warning when something unpleasant is going to happen, like medication. Maybe you get a special towel out every time, or use a particular phrase or way of speaking. This way, she's not living a life where bad stuff happens randomly and unpredictably.
posted by amtho at 2:03 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I bought the cat a dozen live crickets once; let them all loose in the bathroom. Cat seemed to have a great time; crickets not so much.
posted by Afghan Stan at 2:07 PM on July 22, 2019 [20 favorites]

-Switch to a primarily wet food diet.
-Clean water always available, try out a fountain to see if she likes it.
[cats don't drink enough water on their own, so getting more moisture in her diet pays high dividends on quality of life]
-Brush her
-Many cats LOVE being outside, but it increases their risk of injury/death [plus they kill birds]. Keeping them indoors is best for their physical health, so we compromise and take ours out using a leash and harness several times a week so they can sniff around and explore.
posted by smokysunday at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2019

Lots of great advice in this thread!
Things enjoyed by cats I have known:
Being able to nibble on kitty grass
A roly-poly treat dispenser or some other way to hunt for food
Knowing exactly when food could be expected
Other kitty friends to play with (your mileage may vary)
Clean litter box every day (this seems like a no-brainer but I regret how long it took me to figure this out)
Things they're allowed to climb on & exercise their claws with
Private places they can hide
Warm things (my previous kitty loved a sun patch & cuddling up next to the radiator but didn't always love the heating pad maybe bc it was too hot or she couldn't regulate it by moving around)

Training is good for their little minds too. My hubby taught our previous kitty not to go up on tables & counters and I highly recommend this for all around safety, cleanliness, and chaos management.
posted by bleep at 2:14 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ah, another idea: if cost is no object and you're worried about outdoor life, people have made some seriously neat outdoor cat enclosures. The ones on this page are pretty elaborate, but they needn't be, provided that it's locked down enough to keep Felix in and other critters out, except for the occasional bonus bug snack.
posted by jquinby at 2:18 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

A collar with your contact info in case she goes walkabout + microchip if she doesn't have them.

+1 clicker training. Training your cat to get in a carrier on command is also an excellent safety measure.

Laser pointer. I have not met a cat who did not quickly develop the will to kill the red dot.

Da Bird is a popular wand toy, especially because it's part of a system that lets you change out the dangly thing for variety.

A friend got me a 20-pack of assorted toys off Amazon when I got my kitty, which was helpful for figuring out what she likes in a toy.

A different friend has a cat play rug that's two pieces of fabric with holes sewn together so there are little caves to stick paws/head in, and her playful cat loves it.
posted by momus_window at 2:39 PM on July 22, 2019

Cats love high perches. Does she have a cat tree or a high shelf from which to observe her realm? Bonus points if she can swat at passerby from her aerie.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:42 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Our cat, Pico, eats wet food; when we got him he'd been eating swanky wet cat food (Weruva chicken), and we never found one we liked better. Multiple times when we've fed him, people have asked what we're cooking that smells so good. He gets a lot of cat treats; we use Purebites chicken.

He has two heating pads; one, in the living room, is a human one; the other is a cat-specific one that is constantly on very low (like 85f ish) and only gets warm (to 100-110) if there's a weight on it; the heating is also only on half the pad. He seems to like the cat-specific one better, and it looks nicer. We also found that if we put that on a chair in our bedroom, if we let him sleep in our room, he'll sleep on that instead of walking on our heads all night.

He currently loses his mind over The Bug ("broken crayon" toy). Will play for over an hour (we timed it), drags it up to people if we leave it out, screams at you if you pick it up to put it away. Previous favorites included Da Bird and Cat Catcher, and peacock feathers. It's good to rotate toys for things to be new and fresh, so we got one of the cat toy subscription boxes. The toys are okay (the wands toys are a little short and hard to use, the smaller toys are hit and miss), but ... they're super cute, so I keep getting it.

We got this absurd thing called a ripple rug, which is two big pieces of carpet with holes and velcro. He's pretty into it if I rotate it in and out of toy circulation.

A friend gave us one of those 5 dollar suction-cup window seats, and he spends a lot of time in it. It hasn't fallen down in the 2 years it's been up. We also made sure it was possible for him to get on top of our tall furniture: bookcases, wardrobes, top of the canopy bed.

We live within walking distance of the vet (about a mile through a city), and so we don't use a normal cat carrier; we have a cat stroller. He hated the carrier when we used it, and yelled the whole time, and cowered; he's chill with the stroller. I like it, because my arms don't want to fall off from carrying him.
posted by you could feel the sky at 2:48 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

High places seem really important to most cats I've known. Somewhere they can go and survey their domain without worrying about those pesky humans who insist on poking them. We have a cat tree right now, and my parents had a stack of boxes next to a high bookshelf.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:53 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

As you can probably tell from the comments, different cats can have wildly different personalities and likes and dislikes.

For example, my cat is basically terrified of the outdoors and has not once even tried to go near the door when I'm coming in or going out. (She was living in a colony before I adopted her, so perhaps she's just decided she had enough of that life.) If I try to get her to play with a laser pointer, she gives me a "do you think I'm stupid?" look. She likes wet food but mostly won't touch it until after we've had playtime. As in literally, I set the wet food down, then she goes to her spot to wait for me to get a wand toy, then we play, and finally she'll go eat after. If I put treats too far away from her (say 6 feet instead of 3), she often won't come get them, even though she really likes treats! She is not into high places.

Anyway, she is a little cat and likes little toys she can easily catch and tote around in her mouth. Other than the Cat Dancer, examples include these "worms" and chew toys and the Kong refillable catnip toys (Amazon links). She loves to play with me with wand toys and the cat dancer (plain or modified with one of the little worms attached), but will also toss and bat around her small toys on her own. Bird/feather attachments are hit or miss; some days she's into it, some days not.

Getting a fountain was a great move. Having a little genie makes it super easy to clean the litter box daily. I have scratch pads in every room (Scratch Lounges are popular with most cats, and I also got one of those ridiculous adorable cardboard couches for her), as well as a tower with vertical scratching, and she uses them all. She loves when I sprinkle catnip on them. There are multiple comfy spots where she can doze in front of sunny windows. I put a comfy cat bed in a little cabinet she decided she owned. Brushing can be a nice bonding ritual. I have a Furminator and also a more gentle rubbery brush.

I agree with the suggestion to rotate toys, to keep them feeling more fresh and new. My cat also prefers variety in her food, so we rotate through multiple flavors.
posted by ktkt at 3:16 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Water fountain is great - they like moving water! - but please lord, change it daily and take the thing apart and wash all the components once a week. The filter and motor get slimy and gross and make the water quite unappetizing. (Also, change the filters regularly.)

It's expensive, so I dunno your budget, but my children are on a frozen raw food diet. (This kind.) Their coats are beautiful and shiny, they have lots of energy, their teeth and gums are healthy, they have zero problems with allergies/skin stuff/dander/etc., they stay nice and lean, and - oh yeah - their poo doesn't smell at all and it comes out in nice, easy-to-sift pods.

Supervised outside time has done wonders for their day-to-day happiness and entertainment, but it can be a slippery slope (mine now want it ALL THE TIME and that ain't happening). If you can do the leash/harness thing, awesome. I also sometimes walk them in a carrier around the block (one at a time) if I need the exercise too.

I find toys impossible to recommend because that is a personality thing above all.
posted by mykescipark at 3:38 PM on July 22, 2019

My cat likes a catnip banana, it's great to bite and kick and roll around with on occasion.

We got her a fountain; the fountain came in a printed box with instructions to cut out certain parts and make a puzzle box that she can fish treats out of. That was a big hit. The fountain has also been accepted.
posted by Hypatia at 3:44 PM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

My cat likes low places more than high, so I've placed some cushy carpet squares and cat beds under various tables or behind dressers so he can lurk in comfort. He also loooooves both his vertical and horizontal scratching posts, and getting a few extra for him seems to have spared my furniture.
posted by TwoStride at 4:07 PM on July 22, 2019

OMG yes the catnip banana! How did I forget that!

Not all cats are affected by catnip, but the texture of the banana is awesome even without the catnip effect.

You can also grow and dry your own catnip (look up how to harvest and dry herbs). It grows like a weed -- extremely easy -- and it's arguably better than what you can buy in the store. Which is good. Once the catnip banana has been chewed through and the catnip spilled everywhere, you'll need to stuff it with more catnip before sewing it back up.
posted by amtho at 4:09 PM on July 22, 2019

Our cats demand more play than 2x15m and get bored and cranky without it, but that probably varies cat-to-cat.

We built a catio on our apartment balcony that they can access via a window and they all enjoy being out there at various times of day; dusk seems to be a favorite time.

The Ripple Rug was a hit with 2 of 3 of ours, but they get bored with it if it's out the whole time. Rotating toys and environments seems key. Currently they're enjoying a flannel flat sheet draped over a cat tree: much caving and batting at things through it.

Tried a drinking fountain; they ignored it after the first week.

They all enjoy being brushed which also feels like nice human/cat bonding time; we use a Kong knobbly brush which Jake in particular seems to really like the feel of on the back of his skull / nape of his neck.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:11 PM on July 22, 2019

My cats love a covered, cave-like cat bed to snuggle in. It gives them a place to feel protected and cozy.
posted by Lycaste at 4:43 PM on July 22, 2019

I asked this question a while back and while it was aimed at end of life comfort and quality of life, there might be some good ideas there for you.

That said, I have three cats and each of them likes different things; I make sure to have soft fuzzy blankets for one, full bird feeders for another, and belly rubs plus a particular brand of chicken treat (Liv a Littles) for the third. They each like a different kind of toy. It’s great to gather ideas but you may need to just experiment!
posted by Stacey at 4:58 PM on July 22, 2019

BOXES. Cats are notorious for loving to lay in boxes. Right now my cat is squished into a shoe box despite there being a soft cozy bed five feet away. Basically I scatter any boxes I receive (from packages and the like) on the floor for awhile to see if she takes to them. For larger boxes, she enjoys sitting on top of it unopened or sitting inside of it on its side like a fort, more than she does laying inside it. She seems to like to be able to peek out partially.
posted by unannihilated at 7:01 PM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

My two very different cats go bananas for this electronic toy. No other toy has provided such lasting entertainment. Other toys they like are tiny and crinkly, the more like little bugs the better. Putting them up high and letting the cats chase them and knock them down is a big hit when they aren't playing on their own.

When I have a cardboard box I spray the inside with catnip and let them play in it for a few days before I recycle it. Tiny boxes, huge boxes, flattened boxes, all good. Paper bags too.

They each have a soft folded blanket on furniture where they prefer to sleep. I refold these with the furry side in every day or two, and wash when I'm out of clean sides. One cat is a lap cat and is low-key miserable and annoying any time she's not in a lap, so I try to make a lap available. When it's not, I bust out the favorite toy to distract her. I like having her in my lap more when she's brushed and has her claws clipped, so that's incentive to groom her.

They both like being groomed with a nubbly silicone glove much more than with any kind of brush.

One cat LOVES being fed tiny bits of fresh-picked lettuce. She expects this each time I go out on the patio and will squeak with anticipation when I get close to the door. The other one meows at the lettuce but won't eat it. Never know til you try.
posted by a moisturizing whip at 7:11 PM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best case is a feline partner in crime that they get along with. But those are tough boots to fill.
posted by ovvl at 8:09 PM on July 22, 2019

Putting toys away between play times keeps them fresh and interesting, and reduces the chance of the cat injuring herself by getting tangled in a cord or choking on a small part.
Really, though, it makes play time way more fun.
posted by amtho at 8:21 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

IKEA sells a LURVIG pet tunnel for under $10. Imagine those pop up hampers but about 4 feet long and a foot in diameter. Ours love it and they play in it both together and alone. It folds away easily.
posted by soelo at 9:14 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Give the cat what it wants, but I know what it needs: periodic teeth cleaning. Really. It's pricy, and the cat will hate you, but if you and your cat are in for the long haul, please do it.
posted by Chriswill44 at 10:35 PM on July 22, 2019

Our galaxy brain pet solution was one of the suction cup window seats... with a pressure-activated heat pad on it. The whole thing ran us like $50. It is our cat's favorite place in the house and she would definitely happily give up either one of us to maintain the window seat in its current condition.
posted by peppercorn at 10:37 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Veterinarian Lisa Pierson has some food articles on cat nutrition, litter boxes, prevention of medical issues, etc at It was her posts, more than anybody else's, that made me decide to avoid dry food. Her posts have a lot of detailed information in them - but the most important message is that ANY wet food you feed your cat will be better for it than ANY dry food.
posted by rongorongo at 12:22 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Plush fish toys like these are quite popular around these parts. Certainly one of the more beloved toys. My cats love to hug them tight (Fish, you're the only one who understands me) and then kick them with their hind legs (Fish, now it's time for you to die) and the fish are none the worse for wear after two years.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:02 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

One cat LOVES being fed tiny bits of fresh-picked lettuce.

Ooh, yes, one -- and only one -- of ours likes a nibble or two of spinach when we make salads.

They all love their cat grass to the point at which we have to hide and ration it to prevent them wolfing down too much and urking it back up. We grow it from seed, much cheaper than buying pots from the pet store; sold as "cat grass" seed on Amazon but it's really just wheat.

The other thing we try to do for them, as they're indoor cats, is bring in things from outside for them to smell and investigate. Acorns; leaves; twigs; flowers; feathers. A box of dry leaves in fall.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:50 AM on July 23, 2019

Cat porch, so she can be outside, but not Outside?

Laser pointer (get one that takes AAA batteries)
Mine liked to scratch on layered corrugated cardboard on edge (i think it was actually the center of the Turboscratcher seen in the first comment) even though they were declawed
A place to hide (could be as simple as a box)
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:10 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

My cats love this $5 Self Groomer that attaches to the wall.
posted by Gortuk at 10:31 AM on July 23, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! So far I've gotten her the banana thing and I'm easing her into outdoor walks (w/ a harness). I'm also slowly looking into the other answers, including the water fountain.
posted by typify at 10:31 AM on August 5, 2019

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