Is This Why Kitty Annoys You or Vocalizes All Night?

bored kitty

Story at-a-glance -

  • House cats tend to lie around quite a bit, yawning and napping, but often it’s not because they’re tired or content, it’s because they’re just plain bored
  • Boredom in kitties tends to show itself in the form of odd or undesirable behaviors such as attention-seeking, vocalizing and tail chasing
  • Bored cats respond well to environmental enrichment and interactive toys that bring out their hunting instincts
  • Hunting for their meals is a great boredom-buster for cats; you can use food puzzles and also hide bowls of food around the house
  • Many behavior problems in cats tend to disappear once they’re getting adequate physical and mental stimulation

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Many pet parents assume, when they see their cat lounging, yawning and napping the days (and nights) away, that she’s relaxed and content. The truth is, she may be extremely bored, and boredom isn’t a healthy emotional state for kitties.

“Boredom is not the trivial annoyance it is sometimes dismissed as,” writes Charlotte C. Burn, Ph.D., of the Royal Veterinary College in an essay published in the journal Animal Behaviour. “Animal boredom is biologically plausible: animals avoid monotony and seek stimulation.”1

Since I know all of you reading here today strive to give your cats the best life possible, it’s important not to ignore their need for physical activity and mental stimulation.

Signs Mr. Whiskers Is Bored Out of His Mind

Boredom is especially a problem for pets who are left alone for long periods of time. Felines aren’t designed to be sedentary for many hours every day, and unlike us, they can’t read, watch TV or do a crossword puzzle to stimulate their minds. Signs your cat could be bored typically involve negative behaviors including:

  • Excessive attention-seeking behavior (being intentionally annoying)
  • Repeatedly knocking items off tables, counters, dressers or bookshelves
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Tail chasing (theirs) or ankle chasing (yours)
  • General rowdiness or wild behavior

If your kitty is engaging in one or more of these behaviors, it’s a good bet he’s in need of more mental stimulation.

The Best Hedge Against Boredom: Daily Exercise and Playtime

Like dogs, cats who are well-exercised every day typically don’t suffer from boredom. As a cat parent, it’s important to realize you’re dealing with a captive animal. Domesticated kitties remain closer to their wild nature than most dogs do. Of course, cats living indoors are much safer and generally healthier than cats who live part or all of their lives outside, but it's far from a natural situation for them.

There are many things you can do to enrich your kitty's environment, and one of them is to set aside time for a few short play sessions each day. Discover what type of cat toys she responds to and engage her with them. Use toys that encourage stretching, reaching, jumping and running. Feline behaviorist Dr. Marci Koski has some great advice for cat parents whose kitties have grown bored with interactive toys.

“Younger cats tend to get bored less easily,” she explains. “Cats who are young and still kittenish will play with almost anything. Older cats who’ve been around the block a few times and know how to hunt and play with their toys do tend to get bored more easily.

I recommend having a number of different lures and wand toys in your toolbox. There’s a wand toy that I really like called Neko Flies. I like their lures. They’re like little bugs. There’s one called the Kattipede that my cats just go nuts over. It’s a little centipede thing with little legs.

Laser pointers are good for wearing cats out, but there’s nothing for them to bite on at the end. They’re good for exercise. Also, you can use wand toys that are like snakes, like a long ribbon of fleece. It’s good to rotate toys occasion­ally. And you can always marinate the lures in catnip to give them a little boost.”

This type of activity is both physically and mentally stimulating. Your cat is answering her natural drive to hunt and pounce, and getting good aerobic exercise in the bargain.

If you're lucky enough to have a safe, fully enclosed outdoor area that contains your cat and keeps other critters out, your kitty will probably really enjoy being outside in good weather. You could also consider leash training to provide some additional sensory stimulation.

Hunting for Food Is a Natural Boredom-Buster

Your cat, while (mostly) domesticated, has maintained much of his natural drive to engage in the same behaviors as his counterparts in the wild, including hunting for food. Because our pets don’t have the freedom they would in the wild, it’s up to us to give them opportunities to practice those natural instincts. A great way to do that is to have your kitty “hunt” for his food.

Try separating his daily portion of food into three to five small meals fed throughout the day in a variety of puzzle toys or indoor hunting feeder mice. If you work outside the home, you can give him two or three food-stuffed toys before you leave the house, then a couple at dinnertime and one at bedtime.

This will encourage your cat to “hunt” and eat on a schedule similar to his wild cousins, and as an added bonus, he might just sleep through the night thanks to the puzzle toy you give him at bedtime. 

Another way to have your cat hunt for food is by hiding his food bowls in various locations around the house. Start with one bowl in his usual spot, and then place additional bowls in other areas where he is sure to find them. You can also do this with puzzle toys. If you have more than one cat in your home and they don’t (or shouldn’t) eat the same food, you’ll obviously need to keep them in separate areas of the house and insure they can’t get access to food that isn’t meant for them.

Remember: Your Cat Is Much More Than a Possession

Though legally we “own” our animal companions, it's a mistake to view them as just another possession. It’s important to understand and acknowledge your kitty’s need for exercise, mental and physical stimulation, playtime, and meaningful interaction with human family members.

Cats are sentient beings. Unlike your car or your couch, your kitty is a conscious, living creature with feelings. And she has species-specific lifestyle requirements that include a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet, exercise, social interaction and health care.

Many of the cats with behavior problems veterinarians see in their practices show dramatic improvement when their treatment protocol consists of regular, daily sessions of aerobic exercise. Many pet owners who try this “therapy” are amazed at the difference just a little daily physical activity makes in their kitty’s behavior.