Toy Guidelines for Senior Cats
Although your senior cat spends far less time playing and far more time lounging than he did in his youth, he still enjoys activities that stimulate his mind and body. Not only does he enjoy them — he needs them to keep mentally and physically fit. It's often too easy to assume an older cat is satisfied with a day of leisure, but that's not fair to your cat, who may just be waiting for you to entice him to play.
Choose the Right Toy
If your cat recognizes images of animals on the television screen, he may enjoy a video made for cats of birds and other wildlife. Otherwise, make sure he has access to a window with a bird feeder in front of it.
Chances are that the toys that have been his favorites as an adult will still be his favorites now. They might include remote-controlled battery mice, laser light toys, fishing pole toys, lightweight balls, feather toys, fur toys or catnip toys. But take care when playing with any toys that require a lot of jumping or twisting. Although they may lure your cat into doing so, we all know how we feel when we play weekend athlete once we get older. Many senior cats have arthritis and take longer to recover from injuries. If your senior cat isn't used to such activity, you need to keep the gymnastics to a minimum.
Consider these lower-activity toys:
- Paper bags: Just open one or more up and you have an instant cave and hiding place. Be sure the bag isn't where somebody could step on it, though.
- Cardboard boxes: Cut various openings into the sides and set some upside down and others right side up.
- Fleece pulls: Thick, soft pulls, such as the belt from a bathrobe, give cats something to chase and hold onto once they've caught it — and they're too big to be easily swallowed.
- Climbing toys: Cat trees should have a variety of shelves to enable your older cat to get down without having to leap any great distance. Make sure it can't topple over.
- Food dispensing toys: Fill a plastic "food puzzle" with treats or kibble, and let the cat roll it around to get the treats out.
Think Safe — and Fun
Be careful when using any toy with string, ribbon, yarn, or rubber bands, as they are potentially deadly if swallowed. Even a senior cat can swallow these accidentally because cats have tongues covered with rearward-facing barbs that make it hard for them to spit out string, yarn and similar things. Such long objects, if ingested, tend to travel lengthwise along the intestines. They can cause the intestine to scrunch up accordion-style, even turning in on itself just like a sock. This is a life-threatening medical condition that usually requires surgery to correct. You can play with such toys with your cat, but always put them away in a safe place once your playtime is over.
Ping pong or practice golf balls (the ones with holes in them) are a good size and weight for older cats. Place the balls in a captive area, such as in a bathtub, for maximum fun. Or put one in an empty tissue box so your cat can fish for it.
Catnip toys appeal to many cats to various extents, whereas others get no kick at all from them. About half of all cats are affected by catnip, so choose another option if your kitty seems unimpressed.
Senior cats don't play for as long as younger cats do, but try to play with your senior at least once a day. Acting young will help keep him feeling young!