Many people prefer cats over dogs for several reasons, one of which is the fact that they can be left alone for longer periods. “Cats are low-maintenance” and “cats hate people anyway,” so it should be OK to leave your feline companion at home the whole day or even over the weekend, right?
You might also think that since your cat sleeps an average of 15 hours each day, they don’t have time to be bored. But while it’s true that our feline friends are self-reliant and snooze a lot, they actually like company, even if they don’t show it. And yes, they do get bored!
Read on to find out if your cat lacks mental stimulation and what you can do to make sure they get enough of it.
Signs of Boredom in Cats
Although cats have a reputation for being independent, any feline who’s left alone for extended periods can feel lonely and bored. This becomes even more likely if they’re not given any kind of stimulation or environmental enrichment. Some signs that your cat may be bored include:
- Overgrooming. A bored cat may excessively groom themselves, sometimes to the point of creating bald patches in their fur. They may pull out their fur, bite at their skin, or repeatedly lick themselves. This leads to irritation, which causes the cat to continue to overgroom, creating a never-ending cycle.
- Overeating. It’s not just humans who overeat when they’re bored. If your cat is bored, they may eat more than normal as it gives them something to do. This can cause your cat to pack on the pounds, which will make them feel even worse.
- Lack of appetite. Conversely, some bored cats may do the opposite and choose to ignore their meals instead. Aside from food, they may also lose interest in other things that they normally enjoy.
- Destructive behavior. Scratching furniture, climbing curtains, knocking things over—a cat who destroys everything in their wake likely isn’t “out for revenge,” but is suffering from boredom.
- Litter box issues. If your cat stops using their litter box and starts doing their business in other parts of the house, then you may have a bored feline on your hands. Like children, cats can act out due to lack of stimulation.
It should be noted that the above behaviors can also be caused by medical issues, so it’s important to take your feline friend to the vet first to rule out any underlying conditions.
- Sleeping more than usual
- Moping around the house
- Fighting with other animals
- Excessive meowing
- Other repetitive behaviors
History of Boredom in Cats
All 37 species of the Felidae family, which includes lions, tigers, and the domestic kitty, are believed to have one common ancestor: a wild cat that lived in Asia about 10-12 million years ago. Evidence shows that feline domestication only began approximately 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, with the earliest true record of domestication being a cat who was buried with their human in Cyprus.
There were also a lot of farming communities around this time, and the development of grain stores brought an influx of house mice. This increase in rodents is thought to have attracted wild cats, bringing them closer to humans as they kept busy keeping the mouse population down.
But unlike dogs, most modern cats cannot really be considered domesticated, with the exception of pedigree felines. “Tame” would be a more accurate description. Because cats haven’t undergone any major changes during domestication, these four-legged critters whom we share our homes with have retained many of the traits and characteristics of their ancestors—ancestors who hunt on a daily basis both for fun and survival.
Our feline companions may be pampered and have adapted to living in houses, but they’re still wild at heart. So, it’s easy to see how a species that lives for the hunt can become bored in an indoor environment.
The Science of Boredom in Cats
Whether wild or domesticated, today’s cats are excellent hunters with keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing. In fact, they are the most highly developed carnivorous hunters among all mammals!
In other words, your feline companion is hardwired to work for their food. Stalking, chasing, and pouncing on prey—cats love that. However, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do those things in many households, plus food is usually just served in a bowl.
Studies have shown that boredom can lead to behavioral issues and emotional disorders in felines. Therefore, cats need mental stimulation for a happy, healthy life.
Training for Bored Cats
1. Introduce your cat to puzzle feeders.
Puzzle feeders allow your cat to “hunt” for their food, turning mealtimes into playtime. Puzzle feeders encourage your cat to think and figure out how to release the food, making them eat more slowly as well.
2. Scratching posts are a must.
Scratching is an important part of feline life. Cats scratch to keep their claws healthy, mark their territory, stretch their body, and release emotions. Place posts where your cat prefers to scratch. Most felines prefer sisal-covered scratching posts over carpeted ones.
3. Provide climbing and perching options.
Cats love being up high and climbing or jumping to elevated locations. Cat trees, condos, and shelves not only let your furry pal fulfill their instinctual needs but also offer opportunities to stay active and relieve stress. Place cat trees near windows so your cat can enjoy the view.
4. Toys, toys, toys!
Not all toys are created equal. Your cat should have toys for interactive playtime with you as well as toys for solo play. Interactive toys can be the fishing pole type that you wave around, cat ribbons or laser pointers. For solo toys, you can strategically place them around the house to make them more interesting to your cat. Rotate toys regularly too so your cat doesn’t get tired of them.
5. Put boxes to use.
Reusing cardboard boxes and paper bags is an inexpensive, but effective way to increase your cat’s daily physical activity. You can leave them out as is or turn them into DIY hiding places or tunnels.
How to React to a Bored Cat
Don’t get angry at your cat for following their natural instincts.
See things from their perspective. How would you feel if you were cooped up in the house all day with nothing to do?
Carve out time to play with your four-legged friend—at least two 15-minute sessions per day. A study found that the majority of felines prefer social interaction with humans over food and toys.
Safety Tips for Relieving Cat Boredom
For outdoor enrichment, consider training your cat to walk on a leash or building a catio so that they stay safe while enjoying the outside world.