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posted: 5/7/2014 1:24 PM

Making your feline work for food enhances its pounce drive

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  • Rikki, a 3-year-old female shorthair.

    Rikki, a 3-year-old female shorthair.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Puma, a 2-year-old female shorthair.

    Puma, a 2-year-old female shorthair.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Mary Hayashi

My felines have so many toys to stimulate their pounce drive and activity level to keep them fit, I am convinced the stockpile could be sold to a secondhand store for felines, if such a thing actually existed.

Leaving out toys for your felines to play alone or with each other is important, as well as interactive toys for you to play with them to keep them interested, engaged and fit.

If we do not provide this stimulation for our felines we are allowing them to become the sleeping lions of the household. They will become lazy and easily sleep 16-18 hours a day. Just be careful that the toys you leave accessible are safe for self-play. That means no wand or feather toys or dangling string or yarn.

Though playtime (solo or interactional) is important to keep your feline in good health and physical conditioning, it is not the end-all to avoid boredom with their routine.

Our felines are natural hunters, so think of how we feed them. We offer them a bowl of dry kibble or a plate of wet food, and perhaps some hand-held treats that they may not even have to sit for. My point here is that we have removed the hunt or the challenge to find food. You might characterize this easy retrieval of food as removing the pounce drive.

Is that not one of the instincts we so admire in our felines? We have removed their primal drive to chase, catch things and get more exercise.

You can get your feline's motor purring again by making food (main meal or treats) more interesting to get at. If you have a cabinet-foraging feline, you already know what I am eluding to. Your feline seeks what is inaccessible as a challenge, thereby finding mischief.

Let us try to inspire your feline to hunt or play hide-and-seek for his food. There are different techniques you can try to mimic this behavior. There are several food-dispensing toys on the market that can challenge your feline to find food. They require your pet to dig with a paw, tongue or head-tap to gain access to the food or treat.

You can also use low calorie treats to stimulate the behavior and exercise without adding calories.

If you are not sure if your feline will respond to these toys, try a scatter-test. I ask my felines to jump or pounce on a stepstool, appropriate table or extra counter space for their scattered treats. I firmly believe they enjoy working for their food.

The behaviors they demonstrate are very hunt-like, pounce-like and very kittenish. The show really gets entertaining when they bump heads or paws attempting to retrieve the same treat.

Feeding at more than one location will also inspire your feline to hunt and get exercise looking for food. I would even suggest not feeding the same treat or food at the various feeding station in your home. The different flavors will keep your feline on the move and on the hunt.

When we stimulate our felines' own natural instincts to hunt for food, we are enhancing their environment. We are also encouraging the basic traits and personalities we admire in them. In short, we are helping our felines stay happy and healthy, and perhaps lengthening the time we get to enjoy their company.

• The Buddy Foundation is a nonprofit (501c3), all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused and abandoned cats and dogs. For more information, call (847) 290-5806 or visit

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