Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
Playing with our cats is one of the best ways to keep them stimulated and happy. But sometimes we don’t have time to play as much as they — or we — would like. Enter cat apps.
While turning on your phone and firing up an app might at first feel like putting your child in front of a television, cat lovers have had great luck getting their cats to engage with these programs.
Given the right app and the right cats, some cats can entertain and stimulate themselves for significant amounts of time — and even create great works of art. Most of these interactive cat apps are free or inexpensive. If your cat takes to the apps, he’ll have a great time playing, and you’ll have a great time watching.
I tried these apps on my own six enterprising (but not very tech-savvy) cats.
Cat Toy gives you menu choices of Itsy, a small, moving spider; Flutter, a butterfly; Zapper, a laser dot; and Squeak, a mouse. There’s a strange chewing noise when the mouse goes off the screen for a moment.
Adorable 10-month-old Dylan is the love of Samantha Wilde’s life. Samantha, who lives in England, said that Dylan wakes up at 5 a.m. His humans help him settle down by turning the iPad on and letting him play with the Cat Toy app.
“He is an indoor kitty, so it keeps him entertained,” Samantha said. “He gets so very excited with the app that he has even managed to swipe onto Facetime, and ended up Facetiming my boss!”
Dylan’s favorites are the laser dot, butterfly, and the mouse. He loves to chase that mouse, Samantha said, and “he makes it perfectly clear when he wants the iPad, normally rolling around onto it, purring.”
Apple App Store, free
JitterBug has no sound, but it features different kinds and colors of bugs that move across the screen. Five rounds provide a lot of variety, and the fifth round is pretty difficult, even for a human. (Bugs constantly appear across the screen.)
Your cat ramps up his score by tapping on and eliminating as many bugs as possible.
Apple App Store or Games for Cats, free
This game has five backgrounds and gives you a moving rat that makes squeaking sounds; laser pointer, a red dot that moves all around; and raven, a black bird that flies around, lands, and caws.
Michele Rizzo-Berg of New York and her husband rescued a “stray, 8-month-old beauty” named Jani. Michele said that since Jani has come into their lives, “she’s brought so much joy to us and to her big cat brother, Sixx. Jani is so active, and Sixx, who is 7, barely wants to play with her.”
Michele looked into apps to keep Jani stimulated when her humans were unable to give the kitten uninterrupted attention. Jani is crazy for the Cat Toys 3D app and will play with it as long as it’s accessible.
Apple App Store and Android, $0.99-$1.99
This cool game makes bubbling noises and features moving fish on the screen. Three levels offer varying difficulty, and your cat scores each time he taps on a fish with his paw. Once tapped, the fish disappears. Level three could keep your cat really busy.
Michelle Plain of New York downloaded the app onto her phone so her three fur babies could amuse themselves.
“Onyx and Luna don’t understand the game and quickly lose interest; however, Liam loves it and will … head-butt my phone so he can play,” Michelle said. “He’s getting pretty good at getting all the fish.”
Liam has mastered this game, and Michelle plans to look for more games to stimulate her very smart cat.
Apple App Store and Android, free
Much like the other apps, Cat alone features several levels. It offers a laser pointer, ladybug, finger, fly, butterfly, and cockroach. Each graphic has an associated sound. Cat Alone 2 is its sequel, with new stages and more sound.
Pamela Sanderson of Florida said that Cat Alone 1 and 2 are her cat Jaspurr’s favorite apps; he especially loves the mouse and butterflies that squeak when touched. When Pamela saw that Jaspurr was interested in her Galaxy S4 smartphone, she bought her rescue kitty an off-brand tablet of his own. She changes the apps frequently to keep Jaspurr interested.
Apple App Store and Android, free-$0.99
This one won, without question, as far as getting a reaction from every one of my cats. However, I’m not sure it’s a brain stretcher. The cats will sit up and listen to this one, though, and then reactions vary.
This app features buttons that make enticing cat sounds when pushed. It also has a recording button for you to push and say something. When you stop, the app translates back what you said with a bunch of yowls and howls. (There’s a disclaimer that the app is not translating from human to cat. Go figure!)
My cats’ reactions were mixed. A few fled the room, the rest sat up on alert, one talked back, one howled. While learning about this game, I read the app description that says “If your pet displays signs of distress or aggression, discontinue use immediately.” I agree. That said, I also read that someone uses this app to call a cat to come inside. So, your cat’s reaction depends on his personality and his tolerance for these (pretty real) noises.
Apple App Store and Android, free
My cats had never seen an app before, and I have no doubt that an iPad screen would have been more appealing than my iPhone. Still, we made some interesting discoveries. Sound and moving visuals were more appealing to my cats than just a visual. The squeaking mouse in Cat Toy was a hit, and the bubbling sounds in Cat Fishing 2 seemed to catch some interest from my kitties.
I was so hoping for cute occurrences where my cats would swipe at the screen with a paw, but that didn’t happen often.
Are my cats alone in their mostly indifferent reactions to cat apps? Marci Kladnik, cat writer and president of the Cat Writers’ Association, has five apps and four cats. She said, “Only one kitty showed enough interest to play with the fish and bugs on my iPad. My granddaughter had more fun with the apps than my cats did.” Perhaps my cats need more time with these new toys. We shall see.
Cat behaviorist Rita Reimers says, “I think the best way to attract cats to an app or video is to use a larger screen, like an iPad or computer vs. a cellphone.” The cat app will need to have quick movements to catch cats’ eyes, triggering their hunting drive, which will motivate the cats to interact with it. Almost anything that shows any type of exaggerated movements will catch a cat’s eye and keep him amused.
Even a screen saver that looks like a fish tank, with moving fish, works well with Rita’s cats, who bat at the screen in an attempt to catch the fish. Rita said her cats also enjoy watching workout videos and sometimes bat at moving people on the screen.
“Most cats have short attention spans,” she said, “so if you get him to interact with an app for about five minutes, that’s actually pretty good.”
About the author: Catherine Holm is a regular writer for Catster.com and the author of thecat fantasy novel the Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats, and two short story collections. She writes, teaches yoga, and plays outside in northern Vermont, where she lives with her husband and six wonderful indoor cats.