How to Keep Your Cat Mentally Stimulated

Being a good cat parent is about more than just meeting your cat's most basic physiological needs. You can feed, water, and house your cat and still be fall short of Pet Parent of the Year by a wide margin. To truly excel as a pet owner, you must also make sure to meet your cat's mental needs. Don't be fooled, though—keeping a cat mentally stimulated can involve some very physical cat-ivities. Here's what you ned to know about keeping your feline friend mentally stimulated and emotionally healthy.

Why is mental stimulation important for cats?

Mental stimulation is a vital part of your cat's overall well-being and, honestly, it's not something your cat is going to go without, whether you decide to help make it a thing or not. Before you think, "Great, my cat has GOT this. I don't need to do anything," know that, when left to their own devices, cats can come up with some less-than-ideal ways to activate their brains. A cat that's desperate for mental stimulation will often start acting out and coming up with their own ways to engage their brains—like scratching and destroying furniture and hunting small animals.

What can you do to keep your cat mentally stimulated?

For the sake of your sofa, you should probably be proactive about your cat's mental well-being. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to mentally stimulate your cat and a lot of products on the market designed to make the process as easy as possible. Here are some common toys and tools you can turn to as well as actions you can take when you're home with your kitty.

Engage in interactive play:

Woman playing with cat at home
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When it comes down to it, nothing beats some interactive playtime with you. Try to set aside a little time every day to play with your cat. Moving a toy around and encouraging her to "hunt" it is a great way to get her brain going.

Turn mealtime into a brain game:

One of the best ways to work some daily mental exercise into your cat's routine is to integrate it with something she loves dearly—eating. Puzzle feeders are a great way to make mealtimes more mentally active. There are a lot of options available on the market, from simple balls that dispense kibble when swatted to elaborate, interactive mats.

If you prefer to go DIY, simple household objects like paper bags and empty toilet paper rolls can be used to create simple, affordable puzzle feeders.

Teach her some tricks:

Dogs get most of the attention when it comes to learning tricks, but cats are trainable too. Dedicating some time to training will definitely stimulate your cat's mind and yours too.

Invest in cats trees and shelves:

Cute scottish fold cat resting on a cat tree
credit: kiszon pascal/Moment/GettyImages

This is another great way to save your furniture from kitty claws. Cats love to climb and jump and they're going to indulge in those instincts whether you're prepared for it or not. If you invest in cat trees and shelves with their attractive scratching posts and soft surfaces, your cat is less likely to leap from your sofa or scratch at your door.

How can you keep your cat stimulated when you're away?

But what if you're the kind of cat parent who isn't home all the time? Are there good ways to keep your cat's brain working hard when you're not home, you wonder? The answer: yes. There are lots of ways. Here are some of the best and most hands-off ways to keep your cat mentally stimulated if you're away all day.

Buy a window shelf and leave the curtains open:

Closeup picture of a cute kitten looking through the window
credit: Mariia Skovpen/iStock/GettyImages

An open window is like a great television show for a cat. Buy a window seat for a window with a great view (anywhere near a tree or where the cat is likely to see birds and other animals is idea) and leave the curtains open. If you want to be a truly stellar pet parent, consider installing a bird feeder outside the window to attract the live entertainment your cat craves. You'll go to work and you cat can windowsill and chill.

Get your cat some actual TV to watch:

Yep. This is a real thing. TV is a great babysitter for kids and for pets too. If you don't have a window with a good view available or can't set up a window seat (or just don't want to leave your curtains open all day while you're at work), you can turn on the actual TV for your cat. There are DVDs for cats, as well as streaming channels dedicated to content for them. The future truly is now.

Set up a game of hide-and-seek:

Just because you're gone all day, doesn't mean you can't be involved in your cat's day of play. Before you leave for work, hide some of her favorite treats and toys around the house. Throughout the day, she can search for them and keep her brain going strong.

Get your cat a friend:

Two cute kittens playing and fighting on the carpet
credit: Valentyna Gupalo/iStock/GettyImages

If all else fails, you can also considering growing your family by adopting a sibling for your cat. Having another feline friend around during the day will give your cat a built-in way to play and stay stimulated.

How much exercise and playtime does a cat need?

Cats, as we know, are the cousins of Big Cats like lions, and they share their larger relatives' high metabolisms (which explains how they're all able to nap so much and not immediately die of obesity). Kittens need more physical play than older cats and they'll let you know it. Even when your cat gets older, though, it's a good practice to plan a few 10-15 minute play sessions a day, just to keep her active.

While there's no exact science to knowing how much physical exercise any given cat needs in a day, some says 30 minutes a day is a good starting point and suggest increasing or decreasing based on your cat's needs and activity level.