The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Bark + Boarding, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, Bark + Boarding offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.
By Lisa Stolaruk, Writer and Animal Enthusiast
Enhancing for your cat’s mental well-being is just as critical as providing for its physical welfare. Ensuring your cat’s mental and emotional needs are met helps to promote a more fulfilling life, fewer behavioral issues and encourages the two of you to forge a stronger bond.
Safe Play is Fun Play
Whatever types of enrichment you choose for your cat, make sure your cat plays safely. It’s well known that cats love strings. Yarn, ribbon, tinsel, thread, twine, shoelaces, rubber bands, hair ties and cords are all prime targets for a cat’s stalking, pouncing and thrashing instincts. Unfortunately, these are all very dangerous items for your cat to play with.
If you’ve ever had a cat lick you, you’re aware of how rough the feline tongue feels. The reason for this is that a cat’s tongue is covered with backwards-facing barbs. These barbs are useful when cats groom themselves, because they make pulling out loose fur much easier. In the wild, the barbs would also help pull meat from bones.
Due to the direction they face, the barbs on a cat’s tongue do not allow a cat to spit anything out once it is caught on the tongue. Items such as yarn or string are easily snagged on the barbs, and quickly swallowed. The result? A possible intestinal blockage requiring emergency surgery.
Self-play toys are those that your cat can play with on their own. Toys that encourage chasing and pouncing are typically the most enjoyable for cats. Some simple and inexpensive options are cardboard boxes, large paper bags (with the handles removed for safety) and crumpled-up pieces of paper.
Other commercial items to consider are Savvy Tabby Wild Time Catnip Mouse toys and Kong Incline Scratchers which are both sold at Bark + Boarding. Remember to observe your cat after you give it a new toy to make sure your cat is playing in a safe manner.
Interactive toys help strengthen the bond between you and your cat by letting you share fun and positive experiences. Both you and your cat can have a great time playing with wand-type toys with strings, feathers or fabric strips attached. A variety of wand toys are sold at Bark + Boarding including Neko Flies Wands and Savvy Tabby Tickle Teaser Wands.
Foraging toys (also called food puzzles, puzzle feeders and treat dispensers) help satisfy a cat’s instinct to search for food. A foraging toy is also a wonderful tool to use if your cat eats too quickly. You fill the toy with dry kibble or treats and the cat quickly learns to manipulate the toy to release the food, which slows the eating process.
You can also make your own food puzzles. There are numerous videos and articles on the internet which demonstrate how to make cat toys or puzzle toys. One of the easiest options is to “scatter feed”: simply toss your cat’s kibble on the floor and let it find and eat all the pieces. To provide more of a challenge, hide small piles of kibble around the house and let your cat search and “forage” for its meal.
Remember, safe play is fun play, and providing appropriate mental and physical stimulation for your cat will reward you both for many years to come.