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The key ingredients for a happy & healthy cat

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Imagine life under house arrest, with only one type of food, and for entertainment nothing more than a small handful of DVDs that you've already seen multiple times. Now you're getting an idea of what your cat's life is like if you haven't changed her food or bought her any toys recently.

As any cat owner knows, cats are naturally curious and will devise all sorts of ways to entertain themselves. But the same home environment can get boring even to a cat. A bored cat can become stressed and just like a bored, stressed human become out of shape, act-out and even get depressed. Happily, your cat doesn't need much in the way of an entertainment center, and there are some steps you can take to make sure your cat is adequately stimulated without spending a lot of time or money.

1. Ensure an adequate quantity and variety of toys.

Cat toys don't have to be store-bought or fancy. Wadded up balls of paper, shoe laces (with supervision), paper bags, cardboard boxes and similar items all make good toys. Whatever toys you choose, make sure that they are free of string and other small parts that your cat can swallow and possibly choke on. Whenever possible, choose toys made from natural materials, preferably undyed or, at the very least, color fast. While some toys are safe to leave lying around for your cat, others should only be used under your supervision -- exercise some judgment. Don't worry if your cat doesn't initially appreciate a new toy offering -- it can take cats several days, weeks or even months to show interest in a new toy. If you find that your cat has lost interest in her old toys, put them away for a while. When you bring them out in a few months time, your cat will be able to discover them all over again.

Even just playing with your cat in a new part of the house can seem like a new activity. If your cat is used to you dragging that fishing pole across the bedroom, try the kitchen. The laser toy you usually point around the living room floor? Run it around the inside of the bathtub to give your cat an entirely new experience. And remember that from your cat's perspective the best toys of all are the ones they get to play with with you, so keep it interactive.

2. Give your cat a new point of view.

Cats are simple creatures, so any novelty is stimulating. Placing a new piece of furniture next to your cat's favorite window to vary the height from which she views the world is a good way to keep her entertained. Likewise, occasionally rearranging the furniture so that your cat has access to a different perch is a good and inexpensive way to create some variety in her life.

3. Periodically change your cat's diet.

A change in your cat's food doesn't have to (and, if fact, shouldn't) be dramatic. Even the new flavor of the same food can be a real treat for your friend. Remember -- just because your cat eats it doesn't mean she likes it and, in any event, your favorite food would get boring too if you never ate anything else. Be sure, however, that you don't change your cat's food all at once as doing so can cause severe gastric upset with unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea. Start by placing about three quarters of the old food and one quarter of the new food into your cat's bowl. Gradually increase the percentage of new food until over a course of ten days to two weeks your cat is eating nothing but the new food. Your cat will appreciate the change and you'll appreciate not having to clean up a smelly mess.

4. Give your cat a massage.

If your cat enjoys being scratched or having a belly rub, try stroking her in a different way than she is used to. You can scratch the spot on her back just in front of her tail, gently rub your hands up and down her spine, or just get a new brush, which will create a novel sensation and probably make her sit still longer for grooming. Your cat may look at you like you're crazy when you try something new, but if nothing else, she'll appreciate the increased attention and you may find that your cat likes something you didn't anticipate.

5. Give your cat an old blanket to hide under.

Cats like to make nests and to crawl under and on top of soft things, like your best cashmere sweater or that pile of laundry you just took out of the dryer. Giving your cat her own blanket that she can knead, lie on, or crawl under as she wishes, not only keeps her away from your clean and expensive clothes, it can be a lot of fun for her. Try draping the blanket or folding it in different ways so that your cat always has a new space to explore. If your cat is allowed on the bed you can try making a "cave" out of your pillows by stacking them up with some space in between and hanging your cat's blanket over the space to create a safe little hidey hole in which she can take a nap or escape from visitors.

With just a little thought you can make your cat's life more interesting, which will promote both her physical and emotional health. Isn't your best friend worth it?

Jackie Fuchs, LA Cat Care Examiner, June 14 2009


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