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14 Ways to Provide Mental Stimulation for Cats (Vet-Approved)

Written by: Sophie Jeffares

Last Updated on June 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

white cat with the owner

14 Ways to Provide Mental Stimulation for Cats (Vet-Approved)

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are perceived as lazy creatures. It’s true that they enjoy lounging around and taking naps, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need mental stimulation too. A bored cat can become destructive or obese or develop other behavioral problems. That’s why it’s important to provide your feline friend with plenty of ways to keep them mentally stimulated.

In this article, we will discuss 14 different ways to do just that!

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The 14 Ways to Provide Mental Stimulation for Cats

1. Offer a Variety of Toys

You might think that your cat only needs one or two toys to keep them entertained, but that’s not the case. Cats get bored easily, so it’s important to offer a variety of different toys for them to play with. You can find a wide variety of cat toys at your local pet store. Be sure to rotate the toys every few weeks to keep things interesting for your feline friend.

Cats are natural hunters and love to stalk their prey. Toys encourage cats to engage in this type of behavior. There are a variety of toys on the market that allow cats to stalk and pounce on their prey. These types of toys are great for mental stimulation and can help keep your cat’s hunting instincts sharp.

Cat teasers and wands also give you a chance to interact with your cat, which creates an excellent opportunity for some bonding time. Plush mouse toys are also great playthings for your cat, as are crinkle balls and toys filled with catnip.

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2. Purchase a Laser Pointer

Many cats love to chase laser pointers, which provide them with both mental and physical stimulation. Laser pointers can help fulfill your cat’s hunting instincts, but it’s important that you use the laser pointer safely. For instance, avoid using it in a way that can cause injury to your cat, and never shine the laser directly into your cat’s eyes. Also, avoid shining the laser at a high point that may cause your cat to injure themself.

Do not overdo it with the laser, as cats will get frustrated due to not being able to “catch” the laser dot. Turning off the laser right while they pounce at it and tossing them a toy or a treat allows them to have a little well-deserved victory, preventing frustration.

Not all cats love the laser, and that’s ok. If your cat shows no interest, try a remote-controlled mouse toy. That’ll surely get your cat’s instincts going!

black cat playing with a laser pointer
Image By: M-Production, Shutterstock

3. Interact With Them

Another great way to provide mental stimulation for your cat is to interact with them daily. This can be done through playtime, grooming, or simply spending time talking to them. Cats love companionship and interacting with their humans on a regular basis will help keep them happy and mentally stimulated.


4. Teach Them New Tricks

You might not think that cats can be trained, but that’s not true! Cats are very intelligent creatures and can learn a variety of new tricks. Teaching your cat new tricks is a great way to provide mental stimulation and bonding time between you and your feline friend. There are loads of resources available online that can help you get started teaching your cat new tricks. This Vet-Approved Cat Training Guide is a great starting point.

man playing cat outdoor
Image By: Karpova, Shutterstock

5. Let Them Scratch

Cats love to scratch! It’s important to provide them with a scratching post or other type of scratching object to help satisfy this natural behavior. Not only will it save your furniture from being ruined, but it will also provide mental stimulation for your cat. Scratching is a great way for cats to stretch their muscles and relieve stress.

Please Note: Claws are very important to a cat’s welfare and quality of life. Declawing is strongly discouraged by the veterinary community.


6. Hang Shelving

In the wild, cats will climb trees to protect themselves from predators, and domesticated felines still engage in this activity, an instinct carried over from their ancestors. Being up high makes a cat feel safe and secure, and provides a place to retreat for peaceful snoozing. You can hang shelving on your walls for your cat to enjoy. Climbing up to the shelving will provide your cat exercise, and it will stimulate them mentally as well.

cat lying on cat shelf
Image By: ACCORIN, Shutterstock

7. Create an Obstacle Course

Cats are natural acrobats and love to jump and run. Creating an obstacle course in your home is a great way to provide mental stimulation and allow your cat to get some exercise. There are a number of different ways you can create an obstacle course for your cat. You can use furniture, boxes, or even purchase special cat obstacles from your local pet store.


8. Keep Your Paper Bags and Cardboard Boxes

Cats love to explore the inside of paper bags and cardboard boxes, and this provides a free and easy way to stimulate your cat. They love the crinkling sound of the paper, and odds are, your cat will spend hours batting and pawing the object. The crinkling sound also sparks a cat’s hunting instincts, as it may remind them of catching prey over crunchy leaves in the wild.

Cats love to hide and feel safe in small spaces. Giving them something to hide in, such as a cardboard box, paper bag, or tunnel, is a great way to provide mental stimulation and help them feel secure. However, ensure that your cat has an exit from the paper bag and discard it if your cat tries to ingest it. They may also find cardboard to be the best place for a nap.

tabby cat playing a ball toy in the paper bag
Image Credit: NATALIA61, Shutterstock

9. Use a Puzzle Feeder

Puzzle feeders are a great way to provide mental stimulation for your cat and help them stay active. Puzzle feeders challenge your cat to figure out how to get the food out of the toy. This is a great way to keep their minds sharp and their bodies active.

Puzzle feeders also slow down their eating to help manage appetite and gastrointestinal upset like reflux in some cats. When using these feeders as a source of mental stimulation, be careful not to overfeed your cat with treats!


10. Install a Cat Tree

Cat trees are a great way to provide mental and physical stimulation for your cat. Cat trees offer a place for cats to climb, jump, and scratch. They also provide a safe place for them to perch and watch the world go by. Some even come with a hammock for your cat to take a snooze on after playing. Just please keep in mind that cats that are recovering from a surgery and are under post-operative care should not be allowed on trees.

When choosing a cat tree, it’s best to consider your cat’s age and activity levels. A younger cat will do well with a taller tree, while a senior cat may not be able to climb the tree as well as a younger feline can.

Two cats in a cat tree with scratching post
Image Credit by: RomeoEbaloo, Pixabay

11. Give Them a View

Indoor cats love to watch the world outside, and providing a window perch will allow your cat to watch birds, squirrels, and other wildlife in the safety of the home. Window perches also help relieve stress and anxiety for cats, providing a safe and secure place to hang out. After watching all the action, your cat can take a snooze.

Window perches are an excellent way to provide your cat with mental and physical stimulation while you’re away at work; however, for your cat’s safety, ensure blind cords are out of reach from your cat to avoid possible injury. Also, please ensure the window isn’t directly in strong sunlight, as cats can get sunburned. Exposure to high amounts of sunlight can also be a risk factor for some cancers in cats. Cats with sparse or no hair, such as the Sphynx, can easily burn in the sun.


12. Build a Catio

A catio is a great way to provide mental stimulation and allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors safely. A catio is a fenced-in area that allows cats to enjoy the outdoors without the dangers of cars, other animals, and humans. It’s a great way to allow your cat, to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells. Catios provide much enrichment, and you can provide one whether you have a home, apartment, or even an apartment in a high-rise building.

You can purchase a catio kit, build one yourself, or hire a professional to build one for you. You can even convert your small apartment balcony to a cat-safe outdoor space. Ensure that the catio has plenty of safe shady areas for your cat and is escape-proof.

black and white cat playing inside the catio
Image Credit: SariMe, Shutterstock

13. Take Them for Walks

You can also take your cat for walks! This is a great way to provide stimulation and allow them to get some fresh air (if they don’t mind a leash). You can take your cat for walks in various ways; you can purchase a harness and leash, or you can use a stroller.

Teaching your cat to walk on a leash is another excellent opportunity to bond with your cat, and it gives your cat a chance to roam safely outdoors without the risk of becoming injured, lost, or worse. Taking a walk with your cat will stimulate your feline and give them a chance to release extra energy, take in some sunshine, and feel the grass underneath their paws—not to mention, it will provide exercise in a safe, controlled environment.

Cats that don’t enjoy these walks or don’t appreciate a leash or stroller can be offered a cat wheel or treadmill so that they can exercise and walk indoors if needed.

Black tabby Maine Coon with harness
Image Credit: DenisNata, Shutterstock

14. Give Them a Friend

Cats are social creatures and some cats may love to interact with other cats. If you have the space, adopting another cat is a great way to provide mental stimulation for your cat, depending on your cat’s personality and demeanor.

If you are unsure whether your cat will tolerate another in the home, consider fostering cats from rescues and shelters. This way, you can help a cat in need and see if your cat will benefit from another feline friend without the commitment.

IMPORTANT

As a health precaution, always quarantine a new pet away from your existing fur kid for a period of at least 2 weeks. During this time, ensure that you don’t share bowls, litter boxes, toys, beds, and other tools (for example: nail clippers) between the two individuals. Thoroughly wash your hands before and after you interact with each cat.

The new addition to your family might be harboring an illness that could spread to your existing fur baby if you rush an introduction. A period of at least 2 weeks allows each cat to familiarize themselves with the other’s scent, while also giving you ample time to observe the newcomer to see if they develop signs of an illness.

Ensure that your veterinarian gives your new addition a thorough checkup before attempting a physical introduction with your existing pet. It is ideal to have potential newcomers checked by your vet both at the start and end of their quarantine period.

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Why Is Keeping Your Cat Mentally Stimulated Important?

Mental stimulation is important for cats because it helps them stay active and sharp as they age. It also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Cats that are bored or stressed are more likely to develop behavioral problems, such as:

  • Excessive grooming
  • Aggression
  • Spraying
  • Destroying furniture
  • Compulsive eating

Providing mental stimulation for your cat is easy and can be done with a few simple toys and activities. By providing mental stimulation for your cat, you can help them live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

cat hissing
Image By: yvonneschmu, Pixabay

Do Indoor Cats Get Depressed?

Cats are natural predators, and, as a result, they love to explore their surroundings. When they are kept inside all the time, some cats can become bored and depressed. Welfare recommendations in some parts of the world do advocate for allowing cats to roam outdoors (under supervision). Many owners keep their cats indoors to protect them from the dangers of the outdoors, but this does not mean that they should be deprived of mental stimulation.

Indoor cats need extra care to ensure they are properly enriched. This means providing them with a variety of toys, climbing structures, perches, and hiding places. It is also important to give them plenty of attention and spend time playing with them every day. Your cat’s enrichment needs will depend on their individual needs and personalities.

A lack of mental stimulation can lead to depression in cats. Signs of depression in cats include a loss of appetite, lethargy, and hiding. If you think your cat may be depressed, talk to your veterinarian. They can help you create a plan to provide mental stimulation and help your cat feel better.

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Final Thoughts

Mental stimulation is important for cats of all ages. It helps them stay active and sharp, reduces stress and anxiety, and can help prevent behavioral problems. You can provide mental stimulation for your cat in so many different and fun ways! By taking the time to do so, you can help your cat live a longer, happier, and healthier life.


Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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