Felines need to move to boost their cardiovascular health and to prevent weight gain, says Ray Ramirez, doctor of veterinary medicine at Lakeview Veterinary Clinic, East Peoria, IL.
“Probably the biggest benefit is the more active they are, the healthier they are. The main concern is diabetes. Not every overweight cat becomes diabetic but all of our diabetic cats are overweight to start with.”
Cats who play games and exercise are also stimulated mentally, he says.
“They are more alert, more responsive to their owners and enjoy being at home.”
But make sure you don’t push your old cat too much, says Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant and author of Naughty No More, published January 2011.
“Make sure you’re working within the cat’s limitations,” she says. “If it has arthritis, for example, don’t have it jump.”
Cats typically do one of two things, says Ramirez: They lie around or are out in the wild hunting for food and escaping from predators. Ramirez mentions this because these behaviors are essential to bear in mind when thinking up games for your older pet to play.
“Cats have bursts of energy then lie around,” he says, so consider these games:
Games for Older Cats: Amaze Her, With Laser
Use laser pointers to encourage your kitty to move. Travel the beam across the floor (being careful not to shine it into her eyes because it can damage them) and watch her run and jump to catch it.
“Even if they’ve not done it before, most cats pick up on this pretty quickly,” Ramirez says. “We’re tying into that natural instinct of hunting behavior.”
You can move the laser across the floor and up on chairs, scratching posts, etc. so there are different levels of stimulation.
Games for Older Cats: From The Toybox
Buy or make feather toys or stuffed mice with catnip on the end of a pole or string. Many cats really love to chase these. “Move the toy on different levels and get your kids involved. You can also do this without the pole, Ramirez says, just throwing the toy for the cat to fetch.
Games for Older Cats: Treasure Hunts
Any cat can do treasure hunts, says Krieger. Instead of putting food in bowls, hide it around the house and at different levels—on the floor or higher up in cat trees or scratchers. You can even hide food in interactive toys.
Games for Older Cats: Window Treatments
Put a bird feeder outside your cat’s favorite window. “It can be very stimulating because there’s constant activity,” he says. Cats may also bat at the window, but are unlikely to do more than that if they’re elderly.
Be aware, however, says Krieger, that bird feeders can sometimes cause your pet to become frustrated and stressed because he can’t reach the birds.
These feeders may also attract other animals, such as cats, rats, other predators and squirrels.
Games for Older Cats: Clicker Training
Clicker training is physically and mentally stimulating for cats.
It is a method of communication between a cat and its owner, through which the latter uses a small device that clicks when an animal performs correctly. Using this, you can encourage your cat to move.
This also strengthens the bond between owner and cat, Krieger says.
It’s important to have games like these scheduled into your cat’s day so he comes to expect it, and also to ensure continuity. Build up gradually too, so you don’t overdo it for your senior pet, Ramirez cautions. Begin gently and build up to a minimum of three minutes a day.
Remember, cats like bursts of activity, unlike dogs who can keep going and going.
Will you try playing any of these games with your older cat? Do you have any game ideas of your own? Share in a comment!