Cat enrichment ideas? Difficulty level: special needs senior cats
May 13, 2022 1:44 PM   Subscribe

We have recently become perma-fosters for two lovely senior cats (14 and 20). They seem bored when we WFH during the day. Any ideas for what we can implement for them that will entertain them while we work? Especially on a budget? Cat-level snowflake details inside!

We were previously live-in catsitters and have looked after at least 65 cats but never confronted this issue before.

What they want most is for us to cuddle with them, but this is not an option during the work day. Both have some agility issues. I have tried setting up accessible seats for them in front of our windows that have a view, but haven't had uptake. They don't play with each other because...well, they don't like each other but were living together for so long that they get stressed when separated for long.

We cannot use food toys with them because they have very different restricted diets (kidney issues vs. weight loss).

We take breaks to play with them, but it's been hit or miss. Bouncy balls don't get interest (Mr. 20 chased the the very first time, but has not since). Ms. 14 will play with wand toys for a couple of minutes, Mr. 20 has no interest. Kickers are the only thing that has held their attention for more than 5 minutes, and I only pull them out once a day because I don't want the cats to get tired of them. Zero interest in Cat TV videos.

I want to make them happy and I feel like a horrible pet parent. I would appreciate any new ideas.
posted by rednikki to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Both my partner and I have inboxes lined with towels (and flavored with catnip) set up on our desks for the cats. Mine has a desk lamp pointed at it to warm the spot as a cat trap.
posted by telophase at 1:50 PM on May 13, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, as my cat aged, her interest in toys definitely waned. She made it to almost 19 and the last couple years her main forms of entertainment were napping, the occasional trip out to the patio, watching TV with me (snuggles, essentially), and mealtimes. I don't think you're a horrible pet parent, I just think as they age and develop health problems, they're just not as into toys and whatnot. I wouldn't feel like a bad pet parent. Giving them somewhere to be near you during the workday is a great idea.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:52 PM on May 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My own almost 20-yo cat let us know it was time this week. I got her a little barely-heated warming bed about a year ago and it made her so happy in her twilight. We put it in the highest spot she could get to and she loved surveying her domain from a warm perch.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:56 PM on May 13, 2022 [12 favorites]

Best answer: A cat with arthritis (I had one) might chase or jump in enthusiasm, then realize afterward that they really hurt / can't jump or chase again -- they don't necessarily make the connection "if I do this, I might pay for it later". So, you want to be careful with any activity that you don't lead them to take corners very sharply, jump up or (especially) down very far, or get pulled much because they're grasping onto something preylike.

That said, there are two things I know of that are almost guaranteed to be fun:

1) Clicker training for cats! You'll have to work with one cat at a time anyway, so you can use whatever kind of treat is healthy for whichever cat. They love it, it's very very mentally stimulating for them, and it's really fascinating for you. I used a very tiny book I got at our local library, but it's easy to find online. There are more resources now than there were, too.

2) "Snake" toys. The basic example of this is a shoelace slithered along on the floor. You'll have to experiment to find the best speed, distance from the cat, amplitude, etc. If the cat gets very engaged, it will be tempting to lead him or her to jump up chasing the toy; be careful about this and don't make them jump too high, or at least slowly increase the height.

But: just keep it on the floor for a while. It's almost impossible for even feral cats to resist.

Also: Never leave shoelaces, strings, or anything else a cat might swallow out between play times.
posted by amtho at 2:25 PM on May 13, 2022

Best answer: My 20 year old boy LOVED his heated cat bed the last few years of his life. His only activities were sleeping, walking around, getting confused, eating, and sleeping. I miss him.
posted by museum nerd at 2:31 PM on May 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: To be honest, the best thing I think I've done for my senior cats during this WFH transition was to set up a couple of warm sleeping spots near where I work. Depending on your cat's preference, these may be preferred lower to the ground, or higher up. Either way, they get their snoozing in, but are still "hanging out" with their human and therefore also much more likely to collect many random pets and scritches.
posted by cgg at 2:31 PM on May 13, 2022

I wonder if they might enjoy cuddles via a sling that you wear? You could cuddle them hands-free. Not sure how well it would work with your job, but maybe?
posted by hydra77 at 2:50 PM on May 13, 2022

Best answer: Thirding heated cat beds.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2022

DIY play mat for each cat made out of faux sheepskin or fleece. Get your base material, make slits in pairs an inch apart sprinkled across it, loop cord or string in half and pull loop through one slit, then thread the open ends of the cord through the matching slit and through the loop to lock it in place. Use the open ends of the cord to tie to an array of toys. Maybe some jingle balls, maybe the ends of a kicker toy, some catnip mice, strips of fur or feathers, etc. Depends on the cat and their interests, provide a variety, and keep the cords only long enough that the toys can go a cat arm’s length off the mat. Place these concoctions under a heat lamp or in the middle of a high traffic area where cats want to be or on a bed or couch. To wash (because older cats have accidents) you can pull the loop up and remove each toy and then toss the underlying material in the machine, and reassemble with different toys if you wish. Sometimes cats will not appear to want to play with these mats but want to just be there, with all their things. Good for blind or arthritic cats or cats needing to be near a person but distracted.
posted by Mizu at 4:55 PM on May 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Heated blankets or doughnut beds (particularly this one) made my older cats extremely happy all day long. They seem to help with their achy old bones.

I've had these cat pyramid ball roller toys for successive cats of all ages -- the older ones tend to lie on the rug and bat the balls around, while the young ones will run around the toy and chase the balls as they move.
posted by Orkney Vole at 1:58 AM on May 14, 2022

Best answer: I've had great success with this light up track ball toy: Catit Design Senses Super Roller Circuit Toy for Cats

And also, and I didn't expect this, a large gauzy curtain on the floor that acts as but like a see-through cat-carpet, which they like burrowing into or sliding on or just sleeping in.
posted by foxtongue at 6:53 AM on May 15, 2022

Response by poster: For anyone who comes upon this later: the solution was the Cat Dancer Cat Charmer. We should have thought of this earlier because many cats we have looked after have loved them.
posted by rednikki at 4:21 PM on July 3, 2022

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