Walk into any pet store, and you will find a lot of items that pass as toys for cats. Many of them are brightly colored, clearly meant for owners rather than cats. Some of them appear to be downright silly. What sorts of enrichment items are effective for cats, and suitable for the laboratory setting?
First, some basic cat behaviors; they like complex environments, elevated perches, soft sleeping surfaces, hiding spaces, and things to stalk and hunt. They are equally comfortable being either solitary creatures or part of a structured social group. Perches serve multiple functions; they allow cats to observe their environment in safety and provide a secure sleeping area. Since cats sleep a lot, roughly 65% of the day by some estimates, a soft pad or pillow added to a perch is irresistible. Scratching posts provide the opportunity to express natural behavior and allow cats to sharpen claws, shed old claws and stretch.
When selecting toys, bear in mind that cats like movement. The most interesting self play toys dispense treats or move. Cats will also chase light beams, reflected sunlight and anything else that catches their attention. Avoid static toys unless a person will be interacting with the cats. If catnip can be used, remember that cats will react to it for a short period of time and then ignore it, so use it strategically.
Videos developed for cats may work for individual cats, but real life movement is much more interesting. If there is a window, exploit nature with a bird feeder or bath and add a shelf or perch for the cats.
Change out enrichments and vary the locations of perches, scratching posts and other enrichments. Cats get bored, and bored cats may become aggressive to people and other cats. They may breed poorly, go off feed, and display self-injurious or repetitive behaviors.
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