We all have to go away sometimes, and for those of us who feel queasy about placing our cats in kennels – especially if we are going to be gone only a short time – leaving little Oliver at home is a practical option. Far from being the aloof and solitary creatures we think they are, cats are really very social. Whether your cat shows it or not, he depends on your presence and feels your absence when you are away.
To assuage any guilt you might feel, set things up ahead of time so that your cat can busy himself while you’re gone. Here are five things to try.
1. The Catbird Seat
Creating a special space for your cat can provide for hours of diversion. One of the best spaces is the window sill, where your cat can watch the world going by. Don’t have much of a sill? Buying or creating a window seat is as easy as drilling some holes, setting the anchors and attaching the shelf. Make it personal by adding a fluffy pillow or soft carpeting to the shelf. If the area outside of the window is yours to do with as you please, try adding a birdbath or feeder so that your cat has something to watch. Just make sure to keep the window closed when you’re away. A motivated cat can get through a screen in a scratch.
There are also ways to make it so that your cat can go outside while staying inside. Box style window seats that sit outside of the window - in much the same way as an air conditioner - can give your cat the feeling of the outdoors without ever meeting any of the dangers of the outdoors. This is another project that you can plan yourself, or buy pre-assembled.
2. A Fun Space
Even if you don’t have an entire room to devote to your cat, a space that is set up just for play can give your cat a place to retreat or spend some energy. A tall cat tree for climbing and scratching, especially the kind with hidden “caves,” will give your cat a spot other than your sofa to scratch and lounge on. If you don’t have space for a tree, you can create some places around the house where your cat can play. You can begin by hanging toys from different spots – like door knobs or over the door towel hooks – for your cat to bat around. A small open box that has been designated for cat toys will give him a place to find toys whenever he feels the desire to play.
Another fun use of space is to make use of vertical spaces. A series of shelves installed in a step-like pattern along a wall and ending with a perching shelf near the ceiling will satisfy both the need for physical activity through leaping and coordination, and your cat’s deep desire to watch from on high. Some cat parents even install high shelves (about a foot or two below the ceiling) that span the length of the room.
3. The Hunger Game
If your cat is keen on treats and snacks, a food puzzle toy can be a great way to keep him occupied and exercised at the same time. Typically ball-shaped with small holes all around to allow food to fall out when manipulated the right way, food puzzles are also great for stimulating your cat’s brain by encouraging problem solving. There are a lot of different versions of food puzzles; try more than one so that your cat will not get bored.
4. Curiosity Thrilled the Cat
There is a reason that cats are known for being curious. They will find the smallest, most hidden spaces to nap in and will peek in boxes and bags and closets just to see what can be discovered. These favorite spaces are a great place to hide little cat toys and cat treats for him to discover. Small furry mouse toys, feathered bird toys, catnip pouches, crinkly toys, food puzzles … use your imagination. Start with the spots your cat already loves, like under the bed, and add spots and new toys where your cat is likely to find them. Over time, your cat will start hunting for these hidden surprises.
Rotate the toys, keeping the box of small toys in a closed closet, so that your cat will not get bored. And don’t leave catnip out every time. It is thought by some experts that cats will become desensitized to catnip if they are constantly exposed to it. Bring out the catnip stuffed toys every few weeks to keep the discovery fresh.
5. Jazz the Place Up
It is widely believed that music can be as beneficial for animals as it is for humans. We’ll just assume it is. With that thought in mind, leaving the stereo on when you go away — or even when you leave for the work day — can be a great comfort for your cat. Leave the music at a reasonably low volume, and keep it sweet. Rock and pop music are not as welcoming to animals as jazz and classical music. But don’t just take our word for it. Try different types of music and observe whether your cat responds to one more than another. If there is no obvious response from your cat, you might keep it safe by sticking with soft jazz or classical. Piano and string are the most reliable for not producing jarring sounds.
Enriching your cat’s home environment with toys and visual distractions will probably end up being one of your greater ideas. Start now so that when the time comes for you to leave your cat for a few days, he already knows how to entertain himself.