Cats have a strong natural instinct to hunt and engage in predatory behaviors for both mental stimulation and physical activity requirements. These behaviors take up a majority of their daily routines and consist of predatory sequences such as: locating, capturing (stalking, chasing, pouncing), killing, preparing and eating their prey. Cats that are indoor and are well fed still need to engage in these natural behaviors. Indoor cats can display these during play based activities with owners or other cats in their social group. If your indoor cat does not go outside to hunt naturally then it may be best to use feeding devices or training methods to actively engage your cat to acquire food. Without this natural stimulation in their daily life they may become obese and frustrated. This pent up energy can result in destructive behaviors or stress expressions such as overgrooming, anxiety, inflammatory diseases and misdirected aggression. Feline predatory behavior is natural and sometimes adorable.
To incorporate predatory sequences into your home you can mimic hunting behavior by hiding food in multiple locations or within toys and/or specialized feeders. This can be hiding all or part of your cat’s daily allowance in puzzle or enrichment toys around the house for them to find and engage with for their reward. Online you can find a variety of bowls or mice toys that can make your cat think creatively to be able to get the food out. These toys will engage them in using their hunting senses to track them down in hidden areas of your home. You may also use DIY versions of these toys using paper towel tubes or cardboard boxes with cut out spaces in them. A simple google search for ‘cat enrichment’ will help you to create different levels of intensity for your pet’s needs. If you train your cat with positive reinforcement you can teach them games such as ‘fetch’ and reward them with kibbles/protein source treats. You can also toss them down hallways to entice them to chase and capture the treat. Timed feeders are also a way to provide small frequent meals throughout the day to mimic a natural hunting schedule.
You can stimulate feline predatory behavior by providing engaging play sessions with wand toys that can mimic flying or ground prey. If you have a feather toy use big sweeping motions in the air to provoke your cat to track with their eyes and jump or dive for the capture. If you want to mimic ground mammals you can play using darting motions on the ground away from the cat engaging them to pounce and chase the ‘creature’. It is very important to ‘reward’ the cat during play by letting them win and capture their prey every now and then. You want to motivate them to work for it but not cause frustration or aggression. Use toys that can be easily manipulated by their mouth and paws (may need kitten size and weight based items) so that they can carry them or bat them around easier. Toys can also incorporate catnip or food and be made of mixed textures depending on what your cat prefers.
Some cats love oversized toys in which they can simultaneously bite and kick if they get hyperstimulated and need to release some pent up energy. Please always redirect their attention back to toys and avoid using hands or feet to play with your pets to prevent injury. In multi- cat households please have toys in multiple locations to avoid competition for resources- or invest in multiples of favorite toys. Each cat should also have their own play time with pet parents to make sure they have time and attention for themselves. Please keep in mind that any toys that have parts that could possibly cause injury or be ingested should only be used with supervision and taken away after playtime.