5 Ways to Win at Cat Parenting

Go from having a perfectly content kitty to an incredibly happy one.
By: John Plichter
Bonding with cat

Wanting to provide a rich, fulfilling life for your cat may seem like a no-brainer, but many owners draw blanks when looking to make the leap from “content cat” to “happy cat.” So, how can you make sure your cat is living her life to the fullest?

Here are five ways to win the cat parenting game:

Spice Up Playtime

In case you can’t tell by their demeanor, cats can get bored quickly and need novel experiences. Rather than using the same mouse-on-a-string toy during playtime, consider adding a new scent to the game to spice things up.

“People forget that cats require olfactory enrichment in their lives,” says Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant. “Try using herbs other than catnip like valerian root, dried honeysuckle or silver vine, which is the Japanese version of catnip.”

Any old, soft toy your cat has lost interest in can be revived using this method. Simply combine the toy and herbs in a sandwich bag and shake gently or let sit for an extra dose of spice. Then, remove the newly-scented toy from the bag and let your cat have at it.

“Be sure to put the toys away when your cat is done playing with them,” says Johnson. “When their toys are left out for them, it tends to become stagnant.”

Make Dinner a Hunt

Your cat might be the snuggliest cuddler in the world, making it easy to forget that she’s a natural predator. Cats in the wild typically enjoy many small meals throughout the day, whereas domesticated cats are made to comply in a human world where eating from a bowl at designated intervals is norm. Allowing your cat to forage for treats and meals creates a more fulfilling and natural experience. Johnson recommends trying food puzzles for meals.

“We control everything for them, including when they eat, which creates additional stress,” says Johnson. “Hiding food puzzles around the house is a much better alternative for general wellbeing.”

Beginners can start with an easy puzzle that has openings so they can see and smell what’s inside then gradually work their way up to something more difficult. Increasing the difficulty of the puzzle also makes it more rewarding since cats can get bored with puzzles that are too easy, says Johnson.

Teach Her Tricks

Aside from being entertaining, teaching your cat a new trick can help her strengthen muscles and receive much-needed exercise.

“Cats are built for speed and stealth, and proper exercise can help reduce stress levels,” says Johnson. “Teaching them tricks like running obstacle courses is not only very fun and rewarding, but great for their overall wellbeing.”

Try starting off simple, like placing a treat at the end of a tunnel, and gradually increase the difficulty with time. Premade cat gyms are available or you can get creative and try making your own.

Spend Quality Time Together

Contrary to popular belief, cats do indeed crave companionship from time to time. Helping them feel secure and encouraging them to be social is essential to their happiness, and doing something as simple as talking to your cat can be constructive, says certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger.

“Everybody benefits from socializing, both owners and cats,” Krieger says. “Talking to your cat works both ways and helps establish a positive relationship.”

While you might also want to shower your cat with affection, Krieger advises avoiding any sort of forced socialization as that can create more stress.

“Instead, simply throw them treats when they’re around and show them they’re in a safe environment,” she says.

Give Her a New Perspective

Ever notice how cats like to hang out on top of refrigerators? The reason is simple—it’s the highest perch in the house. While the fridge is fun, the more vertical space you can provide, the happier your cat will be.

“Cats are very territorial and enjoy being able to survey the area. [Providing vertical space] can make them feel more safe and provides security,” says Krieger.

If possible, you might also consider letting extra-curious cats explore the outdoors, says Krieger. Enclosed “catios” provide fresh air and bird-watching opportunities, and some cats might even enjoy a walk in a stroller or on a leash.