10 High-Energy Indoor Cat Activities

  1. Cat tree – While many cats use the tree for cozy napping, cat trees can create an opportunity for exercise: from climbing to playing hide-and-seek in the stackable cubes, along with playing with all of the attachable feather and rope toys, a cat tree is an essential for indoor cats’ exercise needs.
  2. Mealtime challenge – Rather than feeding your cat his entire meal in a boring bowl, make a game of it. Leave small portions of his meals in a variety of hard-to-reach spots in the home. This is also a great way to slow down a cat who tends to eat too quickly.
  3. Fetch – Yes, fetch! Many cats really enjoy the game and will gladly return the toy to you after each successful catch. (Small, easy to grasp and carry toys work best).
  4. Empty boxes – Everyone knows how much cats adore cardboard. Create a mini obstacle course for your meow pal by adding a few empty boxes or paper bags to his play area for exploration and pouncing fun.
  5. Doorknob toy – While you are away from home, keep your cat entertained with a variety of toys that can be swatted and batted around. Just use thick string (extra-long, sturdy cotton shoestrings are good for this purpose) and tie a favorite toy to a doorknob.
  6. Laser pointer – The gold standard among cat toys, the laser pointer gives cat owners the chance to interact with their pet while encouraging high energy playtime. Simply point the mystery laser beam on a floor or wall and watch your cat go wild trying to catch it.
  7. Bird watching – Another great idea for indoor cats is to install a few window perches for your kitty. For additional mental enrichment, position your cat’s perch in front of a window with views of bird feeders. Watch those whiskers twitch as your cat imagines a fierce hunt.
  8. Catnip mice – Small catnip mice are especially fun on hard surfaces, like wood or tile floors. Keep a dozen of these on hand, hiding them beneath tables and other furniture for a challenging game of mouse pounce.
  9. New toys – If your kitty enjoys toys and is apt to play with them whether you are there or not, try keeping things interesting by swapping out old toys with new every few months.
  10. Play pal – If yours is an only child cat, maybe adding another cat companion to the mix will help keep both fur buddies entertained and exercised. Remember, though, a slow introduction is best – as well as a prompt checkup and vaccinations for your new pet
  • Cat pheromone: Spray cat pheromone (lightly!) on your cat’s bedding and furniture. One commonly used brand is Feliway; it’s a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, which is used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure. Another brand of feline pheromone that comes in a collar is NurtureCALM 24/7.
  • Cat furniture: Provide cat furniture for climbing and romping. You can buy ready-made cat trees and other furniture that range in cost from cheap to expensive, but you don’t have to go that route. Some cats are just as happy with cardboard boxes and paper bags to investigate and play in. There are many terrific websites with instructions for making your own cat furniture; simply do a search for “how to make cat furniture.”
  • Catnip: To treat your cat to fresh catnip, grow it yourself. Try catnip-filled toys, too.
  • Wheat grass: Grow wheat grass for your cat to chomp on. You can purchase pet wheat-grass kits either online or at pet supply stores.
  • Cat drinking fountain: Buy your cat a drinking fountain if she likes to drink running water from the faucet. (Drinkwell is one brand.)
  • Bird feeder: Place a bird feeder outside a window where your cat can watch the birds.
  • Feline window perch: To offer your cat a better view and a spot to sunbathe, buy a window perch (available at pet supply stores) or make one yourself.
  • Cat exercise wheel: Some cats even enjoy using exercise wheels; for more information, check out the Pet Wheel.

Allowing your cat to enjoy the outdoors safely

Give your indoor cat a chance to experience the great outdoors safely with the following ideas:

  • Walking a cat: To allow your cat to safely enjoy time outdoors, teach her to walk on lead wearing a harness (see “Walking the Cat”). You can buy harnesses made especially for cats at pet supply stores. Be careful to properly fit the harness so the cat doesn’t slip out of it. Train your cat inside your house to be relaxed in the harness and on the lead before adding outside adventures.
  • Catios and other cat enclosures: There are many other options for cats to spend time outdoors safely. Google “catios” or “cat enclosures” to get some ideas for structures you can purchase or build. Read “Catteries and Catios” for more info.
  • Cat stroller: Another option that works well for many cats is a pet stroller. Strollers can be found on many websites; simply do a search for “pet stroller.”

What is cattery or catio?

They are outdoor enclosures for cats. Cats love to spend time in the fresh air and watch birds, bugs, and other animals. A cattery/catio provides a way for a cat to enjoy the outdoors without danger of being attacked by another animal, struck by a car, lost or stolen. They can be made with a variety of materials and constructed in a range of shapes and sizes. They can be free-standing or attached to a house or garage, inexpensive or higher end, plain or fancy, bought or built.

What do I need to know about catteries and catios?

There are a number of things to consider when building or buying a cattery or catio:

  • Although you can build a cattery that is low to the ground, cleaning and spending time in the cattery yourself will be much easier if the cattery is built to human height. Plus, most cats love being up high, so you can provide structures for your cat to climb and perch on.
  • If your cat enters the cattery through a window, the cattery will need to have a door to the outside so you can access it for cleaning, maintenance, and possible emergency care of your pet.
  • The cattery will need a top — not necessarily a roof, but something to keep the cats in and everything else out. Chain link, hardware cloth, or even strong shade cloth, securely attached to the sides, should suffice.
  • The cattery will need a firm base (hardware cloth at least) on the floor, to keep the right animals in and the wrong animals out.
  • Provide a litter box. This isn’t always necessary if the cat has access to a box in the house, but even so, many cats prefer to use the great outdoors. Even if your cat doesn’t consistently use the litter box, make sure one is available for him. The box will need to be sheltered, either with a hood or with some boards or shelves, so it doesn’t get wet in inclement weather.
  • Provide enough food and water. Again, you’ll need to shelter the food and water area. If you have ant or bug problems, look into bug-proof food dishes. If your cat spends a lot of time in her cattery, keep in mind that an outdoor cat needs more food to keep warm during chilly weather.
  • Allow for extremes in the weather. Make sure the cattery has a shady area so your kitty doesn’t get too hot in the summer. If your winters are cold, provide access to a heated room or garage; don’t leave your cat out in a stand-alone structure in very cold weather.
  • You can enrich the cattery environment by providing logs or posts for scratching. Hang bird feeders nearby (but not in the cattery), or plant a tray of grass for your kitty to frolic in. Be creative! You can make the cattery a nice place for your cat to hang out, and a pleasant place for you to visit.

Self-play toys for cats

Self-play toys are those that your cat can play with on her own. Toys that encourage chasing and pouncing are typically the most enjoyable for cats. Some simple and cheap options are cardboard boxes, large paper bags (with the handles removed for safety) and crumpled-up pieces of paper. Other options are catnip-filled toys, springs, and wall- or door-mounted toys. There are also several battery-operated toys on the market to provide your cat with plenty of entertainment when she’s alone. Remember to watch her for a while after you give her a new toy, to make sure she is playing safely with it.

Food puzzles

Foraging toys (also called food puzzles, puzzle feeders and treat dispensers) help satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for food. The basic principle is that you fill up the toy with dry kibble, wet food or treats, and the cat learns to manipulate the toy to release the food. Some toys are stationary, such as interactive puzzle feeders like the Trixie 5-in-1 Activity Center, and some are designed to move around, like the Kitty Kong. Other examples of purchased toys are Trixie Mad Scientist for Cats and Nina Ottosson cat puzzle toys. Another type of food-dispensing toy is Pavlov’s Cat, which releases dry food when a cat scratches the toy.

You can also make your own food puzzles. There are numerous videos and articles on the internet showing how to make DIY cat toys or puzzle toys. One of the easiest DIY options is to “scatter feed”: Simply toss your cat’s kibble on the floor and let her eat up all the pieces. To provide more of a challenge, hide small piles of her kibble around the house and let her search for her meal.

Interactive toys

Interactive toys help strengthen the bond between you and your cat by letting you share fun and positive experiences. Both you and your cat can have a great time playing with wand-type toys with strings, feathers and fabric strips attached. One popular product is the Cat Dancer, which can function as either a self-play or an interactive toy.

Some cats enjoy playing with laser pointers, chasing the point of light around the house. Make sure that your cat is eventually able to “catch” something while playing with the laser pointer; point it at a toy that your cat can then play with, so she doesn’t get too frustrated.

Low-cost (or no cost) items are often a cat’s preferred toys. Some suggestions are wadded-up paper, foil balls, string and plastic rings from milk jugs. Throw a variety of objects for your cat to see which ones she’s most interested in chasing.


Steps to walking a cat

Step 1. The first step is to buy a harness and leash. There are many different types of harnesses made especially for cats. Choose one that is simple and fast to put on, but that your cat will not be able to wiggle out of. An excellent harness is the Kitty Holster; it’s soft and lightweight, has wide Velcro closures and comes in several colors. If you want your cat to look especially stylish, the Kitty Holster company also sells a boutique line of handmade harnesses made of high-quality luxury fabrics.

At Best Friends, we also use Coastal Pet’s Size Right, which has a figure-eight configuration and only one buckle, and the Come with Me Kitty harness and bungee leash by Premier. All of these harnesses are available online or at pet supply stores.

Step 2. Next, you’ll want to get the cat accustomed to the harness. Leave the harness in your cat’s sleeping area for a few days so she can inspect it. Then, break down the steps necessary to put the harness on. Some of the steps might be these:

  • Slide the harness over her head.
  • Rest the harness on the back of her neck.
  • Adjust the belly straps.
  • Fasten the closures.

Reward her with treats after you perform each step, taking care to notice whether she’s showing signs of anxiety. Speak in a friendly voice and tell her that this is the beginning of a big adventure. If the cat gets too anxious, take the harness off and try again the next day. It will likely take several sessions for your cat to get comfortable with the harness. If she isn’t making progress, try consulting a behavior professional or look at alternatives, such as a cat stroller.

Step 3. Once she’s comfortable dressed in the harness, clip on the leash and let her walk around indoors. Again, use treats and a soothing voice to make it a positive experience. During this indoor trial run, make sure you adjust the harness properly to fit your cat; you don’t want it to be too tight or so loose that she can slip out of it.

Step 4. If your cat seems relaxed with indoor walks on lead, try it outdoors. For her first time outdoors, carry her outside and set her down in a safe and relatively quiet place, such as a fenced backyard. Make sure to leave the door open so she can retreat inside if she gets scared.

A cat on a leash

While your cat is on leash, let her go where she wants to go, but keep her well away from streets and traffic. Always keep the leash slack and don’t ever pull on it. If your cat is startled by something, try to keep the leash slack until you can reach her, to prevent her from wriggling out of the harness. Until she is comfortable with being outside and is used to the sounds and sights, we recommend bringing along a towel to protect yourself should the cat become distressed and need to be picked up and carried back inside.

Before long, though, your cat will probably look forward to walks. Many of the cats at Best Friends who started out timidly are now pros, and outdoor excursions are an exciting part of their day.