Your cat would be so much happier if you tried any of these 20 clever things, according to trainers

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ByChristina X. Wood
Originally Published: 

When your cat is unhappy, you will be unhappy. Our felines might be small, cute, and cuddly, but they can share their misery like nobody else. Screaming all night while you try to sleep? Been there. Creating a mess in your favorite part of the house to make a point? Any cat with a modicum of human-manipulation game has tried this. Scratching your favorite couch until it’s so shredded you can’t even get rid of it in the free section on Craigslist? Sigh. I have been there, too.

The solution is to keep that four-legged drama expert engaged. And to help you get there, we consulted cat experts, trainers, and veterinarians to help solve lots of the behavior problems cats come up with to express dissatisfaction. Because a happy cat takes you a step closer to a happy home. And your cat would be so much happier if you tried any of these 25 clever things, according to trainers.

If your cat is scratching, there are so many solutions for stopping that while your couch is still worth saving. And if it’s a relentless crier you’ve got, there are solutions for that, too — and they work. When the cat is peeing in places they shouldn’t, you have to get involved and fix it. And, often — according to the experts — the solution can be much simpler than you think. So read on, locate your feline overlord’s issue, and solve it.

1. This egg-shaped meal dispenser that engages the brain & slows down feeding

Give your cat a toy that rewards them for playing, according to Shonyae Johnson, a behavior expert at Operation Kindness, the leading lifesaving shelter in North Texas. She suggests “toys that can be filled with food or treats.” Playthings of this nature — like this egg-shaped toy that spills treats from holes — offer double benefits. “As your cat plays, they receive a reward when they move the toy in the right way,” says Johnson. “This encourages them to continue engaging. These toys are often made of durable materials, such as hard plastic or rubber that can be easily cleaned for the next play session.”

2. “Kicker” toys that bring out your cat’s natural hunting instincts

Larger kicker toys are another way to get your cat to engage and play, which will help them stay happier and healthier. They help kitties “to express their natural hunting behaviors,” says Johnson. “These are typically large — and made of materials and stuffing that are machine washable — compared to other cat toys, like mice or balls.” These encourage your cat to “tackle, grab, and ‘bunny kick’ during play.” This catnip-infused kicker from Petstages is a perfect playtime toy for your kitty because it’s sized for getting those kicks in, and has a ball track to keep it interesting.

3. The rainbow charmer lure that cats can’t resist

If you want to take your cat right into play-heaven, reach for this Cat Dancer wand, which has a strip of rainbow-colored felt you can make dance around for kitty to chase. “Cat Wands are a great toy to engage with your cat in prey-play,” says Johnson, “which is often their favorite kind of play! Wands are made by various brands and have lures such as feathers, shingles, or toys located at the end to keep your cat entertained. Some also have interchangeable lures to switch it up!”

Tip: Create a home that’s full of adventures

“One key to a happy, healthy cat in the home is enrichment,” says Johnson. Fill your house with cat trees, hiding places, and other activities that make your house a place a cat will enjoy. “Enrichment activities geared towards cats’ instinctive needs such as hiding, jumping, stalking, pouncing, and playing all provide fulfillment for their mental, physical, and emotional needs. A home that helps cats stay busy can reduce their desire to find undesirable ways to enrich themselves, such as scratching and clawing furniture.”

4. A snuffle mat that turns every meal into a brain puzzle for your little predator

Set this snuffle mat on the floor, fill it with treats or kibble, and watch the show while your pet enjoys hunting, locating, and snaring dinner. “Snuffle Mats or Balls are a foraging feast!” says Johnson. “They keep your cat’s nose busy.” This one is a great size for kitties, has a non-skid bottom so it stays put, and hides a meal’s worth of treats in its machine-washable, grass-like surface. “These come in a variety of sizes, patterns, and difficulty levels,” says Johnson. “And your cat must use their nose to dig through the materials and find each piece, which is a great brain working activity.”

5. This roomy & easy-to-clean litter box for an improved bathroom environment

If your cat seems unhappy, try empathy. Would you be happy if you had to “go” in a foul-smelling, cramped, box that was full of someone else’s poo? “Many cats are very particular about the care and maintenance of their litter box,” explains Johnson. “It should be cleaned at least once a day and you should have one litter box per cat — plus one.”

Think, too, about the placement of the box and how using it will make your cat feel. “Place it in a quiet place away from loud appliances and heavy traffic. Your cat should not feel trapped when entering and exiting their litter box,” says Johnson. “Many cats don’t like covered litter boxes but may do just fine with a litter box that has extra high sides.” This big, open, and high-sided box is a great option because the tall sides minimize mess while giving plenty of vertical coverage.

Tip: Craft DIY cat toys that cost almost nothing

Want to indulge your cat with toys even when your budget is tight? Shonyae Johnson offers a terrific DIY toy hack. “Pipe Cleaner Springs & Swirls make a great cat toy and a fun activity!” They are easy to make. “Just bend and twist pipe cleaners into a variety of shapes such as springs or twist several of them together to create a swirl pattern. Due to the fuzzy material, they hold catnip and other herbs well for additional stimulation. All you need is pipe cleaners, catnip, or herbs.”

6. The chic wool cave cats love to hide inside

Cats love to hide in small spaces, so, “rather than always pulling your cat out from under the sofa or the bed, offer your cat a comfortable, consistent place to get away from it all,” suggests Steve Dale, cat expert, certified animal behavior consultant and Fear Free Certified Pet Professional. “Provide a sneaky hiding spot.” This wool cat cave hits the mark. It’s warm, cozy, and looks good in your house, so both you and your pet will love it.

7. This pet carrier that doubles as a warm & cozy private space at home

“The cat’s hiding spot can even be their cat carrier,” says Dale. And this soft-sided carrier is ideal because it has lots of ventilation, snugs away easily, and has a soft fleece bed in the base. “At Fear Free, we recommend pet owners leave carriers out in the home all the time,” says Dale.

“The carrier can become a fuzzy warm cave where pets can nap and that helps it become a positive place. Carriers with top openings, sides that collapse down, or bottoms that slide out work especially well.”

8. A tall scratching post for a good stretch & scratch

Dale suggests that you have at least three appropriate scratching outlets in the house to protect your furniture from your cat’s natural urge to scratch. “Scratching is a natural cat behavior that helps them feel less stressed,” he says. And, if you have more than one cat, it is particularly important to have plenty of options because they will get along better if they aren’t competing for this resource.

“Cats scratch for a variety of reasons,” says Dale, “but one benefit is to get a good stretch so make sure the post is sturdy and taller than the cat when they are standing on their hind legs. You do not want a wobbly post that can run the risk of falling on your pet. Most cats enjoy the feeling of a scratching post with sisal rope.” This tall scratcher with a big, non-tip base and a sisal-wrapped post with a toy at the top achieves these aims.

9. A scratcher mat for an on-the-floor option

To mix up available scratchable surfaces, Dale suggests “scratching posts, horizontal scratchers, ball scratchers, even scratchers that attach to the wall.” This cat scratcher mat is an easy way to add lots of options, all over the house. Just set one down wherever your cat likes to hang out, next to the litter box, at the front door, or anywhere. The anti-skid latex bottom keeps it in place wherever you put it and it comes in three colors and sizes.

10. This licking mat that makes every meal more challenging & fun

“This might surprise you,” says Dale, “but many animals prefer to work for their food — and cats are no exception! Cats are born with a drive for prey and, in the wild, they spend their time looking for food. This is called ‘contra freeloading,’ which means, ‘when offered a choice between provided food or food that requires effort to obtain, it prefers the food that requires effort.’ So make your cat work for their food because the typical indoor cat doesn't have to expend any energy to get their food from the bowl.”

Some ways to build this challenge into your pet’s life are to hide food so they have to hunt for it, use a food puzzle, or feed your pet with this fish-shaped licky mat that turns mealtime into a brain-engaging forage.

11. A laser light toy for exercise (& because cats love them so much)

“Don't forget the laser light!” says Dale. Because cats are huge fans. “The light moves unpredictably and appears to be a bug,” he says. “This activates their prey instinct and gives them something to chase and focus on, which can stimulate their brains and give them physical exercise.” This rechargeable laser toy with three color modes and five patterns is a great option.

“But remember to make the game something the cat can actually achieve,” says Dale. “Don't shine the light on the ceiling, for example. That will present a frustrating and exhausting challenge... One way to avoid frustration and sadness at never being able to catch the red dot is to give your cat a treat at the end of the session. Place it near the dot on the ground so they can feel happy and accomplished.”

Tip: The secret to a strong bond with your cat — respect their boundaries

“Consent is key!” says Dale. “We always ask people if we can pet their dogs. But what about cats? How do our cats feel about being petted and picked up? What about when a stranger — to them — does it? Or what about, for example, when your cat is snoozing or hiding and does not want to be disturbed?”

Dale encourages maintaining “your emotional bond with your pet by not forcing them to do anything they don't want to do. It will cause them to be upset, angry, and even aggressive. Watch their body language - ears, tails, specific noises — to determine if they are enjoying what’s happening or if they're ready for a game. This is especially true if kids are in the house! If your cat wants to be put down or not petted, respect their wishes.”

12. An engaging puzzle box to inspire the problem-solving mind of your cat

Stephen Quandt, feline behavior coordinator at Animal Care Centers of NYC, supporting member of IAABC, and founder of Cat Behavior Help, recommends that you “engage the problem-solving predator and hunter in your cat” by offering them an interactive activity like this fun puzzle box that’s loaded with hiding places for treats and sliding boxes so it constantly changes.

“Puzzle feeders with different levels of complexity engage your cat's inner hunter. Hunting is their job and their paycheck is food. For many cats, having a satisfying day means going to work and collecting that paycheck.” This puzzle feeder is one of the best, he says, with three levels of color-coded difficulty.

13. This automatic water fountain for a fresh & fun water source

“Cats love fresh water,” says Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian and consultant at Excited Cats. “But some need a little encouragement to drink enough of it.” To do that, she recommends offering your cat a water fountain, like this one with a circulating filtration system. “Cat water fountains filter a cat’s drinking water to make sure it’s clean and fresh,” she says. “They also provide a cat with a source of entertainment by giving them something to look at, listen to, and touch. Not only will most cats prefer the taste of fresh, clean water but they may also drink more out of curiosity.”

Bonk recommends a stainless steel fountain — specifically this one from Wonder Cat — over plastic because “plastic is easily damaged and can harbor bacteria.” The motor in this is quiet, and you can choose from three water movement styles to see which one engages your cat most. “You may choose a trickling noise or a quiet flow,” says Bonk, “depending on your cat’s preferences.”

14. This pheromone diffuser that helps calm stressed kitties

If your cat is scratching, crying, or making it known that they are not relaxed and comfortable, try plugging in this Feliway pheromone diffuser, a suggestion of Dr. Darcia Kostiuk, Senior Veterinarian for ORIJEN® and ACANA® pet foods. “It is a fantastic product to have in your home if your cat is anxious or if you have multiple cats that don’t always get along,” says Kostiuk. “The diffuser works to bring their anxiety levels down for happier kitties!”

15. A wall-mounted scratching station that’s easy to hang (& afford)

You can never have too many places for the kitty to scratch, especially if your furniture is especially appealing. This wall-mounted scratching pad is a simple way to build scratching places into your home anywhere without spending too much money. “Scratching posts and pads are a great asset for cats,” says Kostiuk. “Each cat has their preference for what kind of substrate they like to scratch and the preferred placement — upright, on the floor, at a slant, or against a wall. To keep your cat happy try several different types of posts or pads to see what your cat likes best.”

16. This cat condo with an array of climbing & sleeping options

“Cats love to climb to high places,” says Dr. Victoria Carmella, Director of Veterinary Scientific Affairs at Blue Buffalo. “So consider investing in — or making — a multi-purpose cat tree or kitty condo to provide your cat with some entertainment, a place to rest and play!” This cat tree tower with scratching posts is a terrific option since it offers several places to climb to, sleep on, hide in, and scratch. It comes in four colors — all of them soft and comfy — and anchors to the wall for safety.

Tip: A trick to a healthy — and trim — cat is to provide the proper diet

One way to make sure your cat stays healthy and happy is to feed them quality food. “Over half of cats in the US are overweight or obese,” says Carmella. “That can lead to many health conditions that decrease their quality of life. Enhance your cat’s health and happiness by feeding your cat a wholesome, complete, and balanced diet for their appropriate life stage to maintain an ideal weight,” she says.

17. A cozy bed with a view of the birds

Everyone needs a room with a view, even your cat, according to Jenna Stregowski, RVT and Pet Health & Behavior Editor at Daily Paws. “My cat stares out the window the way my family watches TV,” she says. “It provides hours of entertainment. To make the windows comfier, I love window perches like this window bed for cats.” It installs quickly and securely with suction cups, has a soft and removable pad that gives your cat a comfy rest, insulates to keep them warm, and removes easily for cleaning.

18. The cat toy that no bird-loving kitty can resist

“For cats, playing is a way to practice hunting,” says Stregowski. “Even cats who will never chase a real mouse need to engage in play so they can exercise their minds and bodies.” She recommends you make playing with your cat a regular activity. “When you play with your cat, you reinforce the emotional bond you share.” There are plenty of ways to do this but this Da Bird rod and feather toy is one of her favorites. “It’s so simple, but there’s something about the way it moves that seems to drive cats wild — in a good way,” she says.

19. This fragrance-free litter that cats & humans approve of

If your cat is making a smelly mess in your house, it’s probably because there’s something making them unhappy. The first step in handling this common problem, says Stregowski, is to “improve the litter area.” The problem could be caused by something else but always fix this first. “This is sometimes related to a health issue or stress but other times it’s simply because they don’t like the litter area. Cats can be very particular about their toileting habits, and I don’t blame them,” she says.

“Which would you prefer? A tiny, stinky port-a-potty, or a clean, spacious restroom?” Most cats prefer large, uncovered litter boxes placed in locations that don’t get too much traffic but also aren’t too far away from the main areas of the home,” she says. “They also prefer unscented cat litter that gets scooped regularly. Twice a day is best.” Stregowski’s favorite litter is this lightweight, clumping litter that’s unscented and produces very little dust.

20. These disposable litter boxes so you can keep things fresh more easily

Stregowski also recommends these Nature’s Miracle disposable litter boxes as a way to keep smells and messes to a minimum. “I use jumbo disposable recycled litter boxes and change them out monthly so the urine smell is not permeating a plastic litter box,” she says. This pack of two is affordable, made from recycled paper, biodegradable, and infused with baking soda to help neutralize smells.

Tip: The cat toys every cat loves best? New ones! (Also, shipping boxes.)

A bored cat is an unhappy — and destructive — cat, so be sure to “provide lots of variety for play and exploration,” says Stregowski. “Cats love new things, as long as they’re not too scary. So I keep a stash of cat toys in a cabinet and periodically swap out the toys. When the felt mousie is no longer exciting, I put it away and throw down a fuzzy ball. Every few weeks, I switch out a few toys with a new set. The old toys get put away for a future swap.”

But if you know cats, you know there’s one thing they love more than most other toys... Empty boxes! “Keep empty boxes around,” she says. “After I get a shipment, I leave the box out for a few days for playtime.”