Solutions for a bored, naughty cat
January 5, 2023 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Help me tame this wild beast

One of my two cats is young, energetic, curious, playful, intelligent, and very, very bored. This is, as it turns out, a toxic combination. Her main offense when she's REALLY bored is stalking her sister (literally the sweetest cat in the world), tackling her, and sitting on her face, much to her sister's dismay and disapproval--it leads to some swatting and hissing, though no full blown fights. She also steals items, digs through the trash, plays with her litter pellets, pounces on my hair and tries to eat it, and generally causes a path of mayhem and destruction wherever she goes. On one noteworthy occasion, my father found her inside of the toilet bowl pawing at the water with great interest. This past Christmas she would literally grab ornaments with both paws and pull them off the tree so she could bat them around the apartment like a lunatic. Sometimes, for no reason, she sticks her tail straight into the air, poofs it out like a raccoon tail, arches her back, and hops around like a frog. She knows her name and comes when called. She is SO smart and devious.

After several months of grasping at straws I finally seem to have found more of a rhythm with her. We have scheduled play times during the day where I try really hard to tire her out--she loves stalking, chasing, and jumping for anything on a string. The problem is, she is SO intelligent and bored so easily that she tires of toys quickly and we're back to square one. If I bought a new toy, say, once a week or so I MAY appease her more but I'm not trying to turn my little apartment into the cat aisle at Petsmart. I have string toys where you can hook different toys onto the end, though I probably need way more toys like that.

I've tried a puzzle feeder, which definitely interests her, but doesn't seem to tame the pure energy that has her tearing around the apartment careening off the walls. We've tried walks, which only seem to strike the fear of God into her. I'm moving into a more urban apartment soon and won't be able to walk her anymore anyway--there's way more traffic and I don't want to chance her getting away. I've tried those, uh, more robotic toys, whatever they're called--I had one that swung a little mouse around in a circle underneath this fabric thing, and a remote control mouse. She fully turned her nose up at them. Her great passions in life are anything on a string that makes noise, literal trash (her trash of choice right now is the cardboard tab from the cat food box, though she also has a passion for bottlecaps), and tormenting her poor sister. She also finds great joy in sticking both front paws in a box of tissues and digging frantically, shredding them. do I entertain her? Any recommendations for cat wands that have a LOT of interchangeable toys are very very welcome. I have the cat dancer, which she would chase like a mad woman until she one day decided she wanted nothing to do with it. ANY kind of enrichment would help. I am considering training her to do tricks, but it's hard because she's not a good eater and is generally not food motivated at all. What other enrichment or awesome toys are there?? Do I just need to wait this phase out? She has an evil look in her eyes and I'm not convinced she'll ever calm down.

(In case it's not clear, I LOVE this cat, she's actually incredibly sweet and loving, and I find her antics absolutely hilarious. I just want to, you know, be able to relax sometimes without my 8-pound fluff of terror sprinting through the apartment like a tornado on crack.)
posted by Amy93 to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have been there, and it ain’t fun.

Has she been tested for hyperthyroidism?
posted by jgirl at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2023

This is a situation that begs for clicker training. Cats love it, because it's intellectually challenging, trying to figure out what the human is getting at. Karen Pryor's book Clicker Training for Cats is good. Do a web search for videos, too.
posted by metonym at 6:26 PM on January 5, 2023 [3 favorites]

Those are both such cute cats! Love how furry & expressive they are.

I know she didn't like walks — it's not clear to me whether you walked her on a leash or whether you held her in a car carrier while you walked. Maybe try whichever one you didn't try before? I've never walked a cat, just basing this suggestion on this blog post about taking cats outside. That whole blog is excellent, and practically required reading for anyone interested in cats, animal welfare, disability, or ethics.

On preview, yeah, it's worth seeing if there are any medical issues behind this.
posted by spiderbeforesunset at 6:42 PM on January 5, 2023

On the toy front, it might help to put a toy that she's tired of somewhere that she can't get at it for a while. Then, in a month or two, you can bring it back. It might have more novelty that way. You could cycle thru the toys this way, adding new ones to the mix from time to time.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 6:49 PM on January 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

Clicker Training? Clicker training clicker. Training, clicker, training: clicker training.

Cl ickrt, rain i ng clickertr - aini ng! C lickert ra iningcl, ick, ertraining.
posted by amtho at 7:26 PM on January 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

I have a cat very much like yours. Smart, devious, possibly a chaos demon in feline form. I adore her. She LOVES these wands: Something about the stiff bristle toy and the wire thread just blows her mind. We have to hide it when we’re not actively playing with her. The toy tends to shed and fall apart, but the cardboard bit that’s left afterward is an even better toy. You can also hook things like a plastic ring from a milk jug on the end of the wire and those become very exciting as well. She will chase these until she’s panting.

We also have some ball-on-track towers; those are sporadically popular, but suddenly become extremely compelling when we drape a piece of brown packing paper over them. We bought a roll for just that purpose and it’s been a great investment. Drag a wand toy over the paper, and she practically combusts.

(We also eventually got her a kitten, but that’s the nuclear option.)
posted by kite at 7:27 PM on January 5, 2023 [4 favorites]

I've found i can get much more unpredictable prey vibes from using fishing line instead of whatever string comes on most toys. Think fly fishing, waving it in the air and everthing.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:33 PM on January 5, 2023

Perhaps she needs the Evil Red Dot of Evil in her life. (My two certainly perked up when I picked up a laser pointer at the hardware store on a whim.) There are laser cat toys that work on their own for fifteen minutes or so at a time.
posted by humbug at 7:37 PM on January 5, 2023 [4 favorites]

^^^ Throw a treat or two when you are Using the Evil Red Dot, so she doesn't catch on that its just a spot of light.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:46 PM on January 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

Is there any way you could give her a window to something interesting outside, like a bird feeder? Failing that, have you tried videos on the TV specifically made for cats?

If she's at all food motivated and eats dry food you can try putting her kibble into a kibble ball.
posted by foxfirefey at 11:42 PM on January 5, 2023

Oh--and when playing with string toys I've had great luck rekindling interest when I have it make noise outside of immediate sight, or inside a box, anything that makes mine feel like it's a small rodent trapped or escaping.
posted by foxfirefey at 11:44 PM on January 5, 2023

As she likes water, i might try filling either the bath tub, shower or sink with some water (maybe 5-6 cm deep) and float a toy. In the bathroom, not a basin somewhere so splashes are not a problem.

what excites my cat the most is a piece of string on a stick, and pushing the stick underneath the pillows on the couch, like a prey hiding. She will actually sit there and guard/watch this prey for a while, concentrated and waiting for it to emerge or burrowing with her paws until i slowly pull it Out for her to pounce on. This game can go on for as long as i occasionally move the stick (a thin bamboo rod).
posted by 15L06 at 3:21 AM on January 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

Nothing better than a properly wielded laser to get rid of pure energy. However, she will sprint for a few minutes until exhausted and then expect you to start it up again 10 minutes later, rinse and repeat. Also, she will bug you specifically for laser play every night and you WILL get bored, so it is best done while on the Internet or watching TV. Make sure laser only happens in the evening at a scheduled time so she doesn't lose interest in other play. Proceed at your own risk.

It's also fun to give a cat rides in a large floor basket, tilting it around. Throw her on the bed once in a while. Pick her up and carry her from window to window. If she's under the bed or couch, walk slowly or stand there like a doofus staring into space until she pounces at your ankles. Let her wrestle with your well-sleeved arm (quit playing the second she gets too aggressive so she will learn.)

Make sure she has a good cat tree or something tall to look down at the world from. If she ignores the cat tree, lead her to play on it with a wand or string.

Walk briskly around your apartment trailing something. Even chase her a little.

Make sure she has an unobstructed window view. If your apartment has a quiet hall, let her out in it while supervising her, leaving your door open so she feels safe and can dash back in. Any change of scenery can help.
posted by serena15221 at 6:32 AM on January 6, 2023

Any chance she might learn to play fetch? I wish I could tell you how to teach it, but my youngest cat is also really energetic and smart and figured out by herself that if she brings back a toy I throw for her, I will throw it again. She will play fetch for an hour or more and has gotten really good at bringing the toy back all the way to me (not dropping it halfway, which happened a lot at first).

Her favorite toy to do this with are these simple plastic springs because they bounce around a lot when I toss them. Whenever she wants to play she'll start yelling at me with a very specific "let's play fetch" meow.
posted by misskaz at 7:30 AM on January 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

This is a three foot long piece of wire with some rolled up cardboard on it, and it is the best $2.26 you will ever spend.

Our cat (also a little demon) loves this thing, and usually tires of simpler toys after a few minutes. He plays with this for literal hours. The wire makes it so that when he pounces on one of the cardboard things, the other end moves. The cardboard things can slide up and down the wire, too. He likes it.
posted by papayaninja at 8:35 AM on January 6, 2023 [3 favorites]

A hearty second for papayaninja's recommendation above. It is the only toy of my late cat's that I kept after he died because he FUCKIN' LOVED that thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on January 6, 2023

Yeah, those things are the greatest cat toys ever devised.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:53 AM on January 6, 2023

This is a three foot long piece of wire with some rolled up cardboard on it, and it is the best $2.26 you will ever spend.

(This is the same toy as the Cat Dancer mentioned in the OP. Our cats love it, it is awesome- but the cat in question has grown bored with it.)

You might try getting a little bit of real valerian oil to dab on toys once the initial thrill is gone. Our cats love it.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:22 PM on January 6, 2023

The simple plastic springs that misskaz recommends are a HUGE hit with our restless and curious young one. I never would have thought of them as being a highly effective cat toy, but Mira found one in a kitty gift box and it immediately became her favorite thing. If I see her getting restless I can give her one and she will play by herself with it for an hour. This may very well be a this-cat-specific thing, but I would give it a try if you haven't ever.

(I've noticed, too, that red springs seem to hold her interest longer than green or yellow--I don't know if that's because of cat vision differences or what, but that may also be something else to consider with yours.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:49 PM on January 6, 2023

This is the same toy as the Cat Dancer mentioned in the OP.

Ah, sorry I didn't know the brand name. I imagine you've tried this, then, but just in case, if you've only tried using it attached to something or stuck to a wall, you could try just throwing it on the ground so both sides are loose.
posted by papayaninja at 5:05 PM on January 6, 2023

Things that have helped with my active cat:
- rotating toys so he doesn't get bored of them, although the laser has had the most sticking power
- figuring out how to operate the string toy or laser in a sufficiently "realistic" way to keep his attention (unfortunately this requires me to give it my full attention, so no waving it around while I look at my phone)
- trying to play for at least a few minutes every time he drags a toy to me/comes up and meows
- when he's being a butthead but won't engage with a toy, sometimes he likes to go on what I call a sniffing tour, which is when I carry him around and let him sniff stuff he can't normally reach, like light switches
posted by umwelt at 5:59 PM on January 6, 2023 [2 favorites]

A big hit with Mr Alfonso and especially Miss Berry has been an interactive cat laser toy that comes on every few hours and provides fun red dot times even when the humans are stupidly busy with other non-cat things (like work). The one we bought is no longer on sale at Amazon but a search for "interactive cat laser toy" turned up multiple options in the $20-$30 range. This is not a complete solution, but can work as a part of a plan including other distractions (and I'm also taking notes for dealing with my kitties).
posted by gentlyepigrams at 6:29 PM on January 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the suggestions! Her favorite toy on this earth is a completely random orange reflective fish at the end of a string that makes a very slight clicking noise when I swing it around. She is OBSESSED with it, will leap feet into the air to catch fishy, and has not tired of it nearly as much as her other toys. She LOVED the cat dancer for a long time but is finally bored of it and won't sprint around or jump to chase it. Her current obsession, of all things, is a knitting needle that she stole from a box of things I was going to donate to goodwill. I think she is fully fascinated by anything reflective.

Strangely, she WILL chase the laser... a bit... but even gets bored with that relatively quickly and will lie in a corner watching it while her sister chases it full speed ahead all over the room. She is also highly uninterested in cat TV, another thing that is like literal drugs for her sweet sister--she can watch TV for hours. She is a VERY picky cat by nature--she's a picky eater and often only eats a small amount of dinner, which could be a whole other question, but she is also highly particular about which toy she actually wants to play with and her interests change by the day, sometimes by the hour. I will definitely look into clicker training. If nothing else, I would love to have a fluffy gray cat that can do party tricks.

Thanks again for the suggestions!
posted by Amy93 at 7:46 PM on January 6, 2023

Response by poster: Oh, and fetch! Yes, ANYTHING I throw she will chase, but she absolutely would not be caught dead bringing it back to me, so I end of getting as much of a workout as she does (unwelcome). Any tips on actually teaching her to, you know, bring back the toy would be highly appreciated. Maybe I can use the clicker? I don't know.
posted by Amy93 at 7:50 PM on January 6, 2023

She needs you to use your brain to match her brain, it sounds like.

Try devising cat puzzles of increasing levels of difficulty. I'd put either treats or paw-grippable pompoms or whatever little thing she loves into various boxes (that are distinguishable from boxes you want to keep), with the boxes having holes of various sizes and locations, lids that are easier or harder to open, etc., so that she has just the right amount of challenge in getting the toy/treat out.

You can also maybe teach her hide-and-seek - start by hiding her favorite thing in a place that she can kind of see and get to, then make it a little harder to find, etc. -- this will only work if she reliably wants the thing enough to go after it, though!
posted by amtho at 10:33 PM on January 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

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