You’ve given your cat an abundance of litter boxes, scratching posts, and toys. You’ve added sensory enrichment to your cat’s life through cat TV, cat music, catnip, and a water fountain. You’ve even managed to train your cat to respond to its name, get down, and leave it. Now what? Consider these Do-It-Yourself brain games for cats to take cat enrichment to the next level! In this article, you’ll find numerous ideas on how to entertain your cat.
Entertain Your Cat with Food Games
Food games should mimic the cat’s natural hunting sequence: hunt, stalk, pounce, kill, and eat.” By doing so, food games will challenge your cat’s brain, sharpen her instincts, and keep her entertained. Not only are food games great cat food enrichment ideas, but they also get cats up and moving, which is good for their bodies and physical health.
The easiest way to create a food game that will entertain your cat is by moving or hiding your cat’s food bowl in different areas of your house. You could also toss kibble for your cat to chase or hide kibble under furniture or other things for your cat to find.
Rather than hiding or throwing your cat’s food, you could try your hand at making food puzzles, which are rapidly gaining popularity. Most cat owners have at least heard of them, even if they have yet to try them with their own cats. According to cat expert Ingrid Johnson, “The advantage of food-based foraging toys is that they come with built-in rewards. Making [cats] work for their meals is one of the most overlooked ways for enrichment.”
One of the most common ways to create a food puzzle is using a toilet paper roll, paper towel roll, or cardboard box. Simply poke holes into a roll or box, deposit a few pieces of kibble or treats inside, and then seal any large openings to make it more challenging for your cat to get the reward.
In addition to using paper rolls and boxes, there are plenty of other objects to use for food puzzles like egg cartons, ice cube trays, tennis balls, water bottles, Tupperware, and even a toothbrush case. You could also combine several of these onto a flat piece of cardboard to create a treat board. Your imagination is the limit!
One of my favorite examples of a food puzzle is Paw Piñata Play, which is when you make small holes in a paper bag and then fill the bag with small treats.
The most challenging food puzzle I’ve seen is a game called Guess the Cup, which you might have heard of. It doesn’t require your cat to move, but it will test your cat’s focus. To play, place a piece of kibble under one of two cups in front of your cat. Then move the two cups around and see if your cat can guess which cup the kibble is under. If your cat is successful, add a third and even a fourth cup.
Don’t forget that you might need to teach your cat how to use a food puzzle. Do this by showing your cat the treats and then having your cat watch you drop treats into the puzzle. If your cat is food-motivated, your cat will probably paw at the puzzle. If treats don’t immediately fall out, you might need to help your cat with his or her foraging efforts. This is especially true of the more challenging games such as Guess the Cup. Once your cat has experienced success with food games, your cat will be more likely to enjoy them.
Entertain Your Cat with Water Games
Many cats are fascinated by water and will appreciate having a variety of ways to have fun with water. Given that cats are known for not drinking enough, a side benefit is that these games might encourage them to drink more water.
The easiest way to let cats play with water is to run water from the tap and let them bat their paws in it. By doing this, they’ll clean their paws and likely lick their paws too, which of course means they’ll drink more water.
Cat expert Tori Peterson says you can take this a step further by training your cat to clean their paws on cue. “Every time they put their paw in water, praise them and toss them a treat! Eventually they will realize they are rewarded each time they engage with the water. Once they start putting their paw in the water when you turn the faucet on, you can say a cue, such as ‘Wash paws!’ When they do it, praise and reward.”
Another way to provide cats an opportunity for fun with water is to give them a few ice cubes to bat around like hockey pucks. If you have multiple cats, they might even bat ice cubes at each other and turn it into a team sport. In my experience, kittens will find this most fascinating, while adult cats might need encouragement. My husband and I got our grown cats to play only after we slid ice cubes back and forth to each other.
Alternatively, you could put ice cubes in a bowl of water. According to Peterson, “Some cats will bat them around for a while and walk away, others play until the ice magically disappears.” For extra cat enrichment, you could freeze chicken or tuna juice to make the cubes smell or taste great.
The most elaborate example I found of a water game involved filling up a sink with water, then putting marbles at the bottom and ping pong balls at the top. Your cat will have to move these balls out of the way to get to the marbles on the bottom. A couple of ways to increase the difficulty and entertainment for your cat is to add children’s bath toys and/or battery powered robotic fish toys.
Entertain Your Cat with Obstacle Courses
Cats can benefit from obstacle courses by making use of their senses and skills. Cats have excellent visual focus and accuracy, strong sprinting and jumping abilities, and adept problem-solving skills. You can help develop and fine-tune your cat’s skills by creating an obstacle course.
The easiest way to create an obstacle course is to place cushions and pillows throughout a room for your cat to tunnel through along with boxes and chairs for your cat to jump over. For more variety, you could add tunnels, hula hoops, blankets, and pool noodles.
If you want to get fancier, you can teach your cat agility. This sport has been popular for decades with dogs and is now gaining attention among cat owners who’ve been stuck at home more during the pandemic. Not only does agility utilize a cat’s natural physical skills, but it encourages cat parents to be active as well. Due to it being a team sport, the activity also strengthens the bond between cat parents and their cats.
It’s important to start small when teaching agility. Teach one obstacle at a time and only move on when your cat has mastered the current obstacle. It’s also best to only create an entire course when your cat is adept at all obstacles. Once your cat has gotten used to running a specific course, change the course and encourage your cat to think differently.
You can create an agility course using chairs for jumps, paper bags (with the bottom and handles removed) for tunnels, and water bottles for weaves. Another option to improve your cat’s enrichment is to move your furniture around to make what was old, new again. Make sure to watch for your cat’s reaction, just in case they don’t take to the change well.
And if you’re feeling really creative, you can set up an intricate obstacle course with playing cards or dominoes for your cat to move around without knocking them over. These games test the sure-footedness of cats and their abilities to sneak and to maneuver their bodies through tight obstacles.
What brain games have you tried with your cat? Do you think your cat would enjoy food games, water games, or obstacle courses more?
About the Author: Allison Hunter-Frederick is a cat behavior consultant, cat therapy handler, and pet education blogger. Her articles have been published in local and national publications, as well as on her blog, Lincoln Pet Culture. Through her business, Allison Helps Cats LLC, she uses a research-based, positive reinforcement teaching approach to help cat owners improve their relationships with their cats all from the comfort of their home.