How to Entertain & Play With Your Cat(s) in an Apartment

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For those that are short on time, these are all the methods to entertain your cat(s) and keep them engaged in an apartment:

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about owning cats, it’s that play/entertainment is as necessary as good food for the well-being of your cats, especially in small spaces such as apartments. It doesn’t matter the breed or gender. Cats have instinctual needs that they need to get filled. Cats that don’t get their instinctual fulfilled tend to develop problems, whether lethargy or overeating or behavioral lashing out to compensate for the lack of engagement indoors.

cats playing in an apartment.
Entertaining cats in an apartment isn’t hard. It just requires some creative thinking!

Unfortunately, it’s the trade-off that many cat owners make. The outside world is too dangerous for our cats, and it’s a proven fact that outdoor cats live much shorter lives than indoor cats. But of course, the indoors (especially in smaller living spaces like apartments) are much less stimulating than being outdoors.

So instead of a short, highly intense, and stimulating outdoor life, the average indoor cat has a much more long, drawn-out sedentary lifestyle – thus at the risk of health problems associated with obesity and inactivity. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. Cat butlers can choose to guide our cats and provide them with some of what they lack through some deliberate actions and strategies!

Use Interactive Toys & Activities During Your Cat’s Playtime

Not all cat toys and activities are created equal. Some activities are just more effective than others. Many cat owners will sometimes feel like whatever toy they buy for their cats seem to be forgotten about quite quickly. That’s because cats are smart and efficient hunters. They don’t move unless it’s worth it for them to move. Therefore, interactive toys & activities are the best to motivate and excite cats!

Infographic ranking the most effective indoor cat toys.
Infographic 1. Ranking the most effective cat toys to get cats to move and hunt. For more detailed comparisons between different cat products, click here!

The keyword is interactive. Interactive toys require cat owners to manipulate the toy to move for the cats to chase it. When using interactive toys, remember that prey never runs in a straight line. If we think about a cat’s natural prey, what do you think it is? Probably a mouse or a bird, or a squirrel. Basically, smaller creatures that can run, hide, fly and climb. They are always moving in a zig-zag motion, around things, under large objects, in corners, and away from the direct line of sight.

In my apartment, I think about my toy as a squirrel. Never really only flying around or always on the ground. It’s climbing and jumping off of things. It allows my cats to get the full range of motion, from running, sprinting, jumping, and climbing.

There are a few great interactive activities for cats:

  • Fetch
  • Chasing interactive cat fishing-pole toys
  • Chasing interactive cat feather wand toys

So the most effective toys are the toys that are about the size of a small rodent or bird and can allow you to mimic not only the physical attributes of these smaller animals (feathers, fur, color) but also mimic their movement. Any toy that is easily able to move erratically will interest cats.

Entertain Cats With Specialized Cat Towers/Furniture For Climbing

Indoors, what’s the one thing that cats are missing in terms of movement? Usually, climbing is the one thing that’s lacking for indoor cats. Outdoor cats do a lot of stalking, running, jumping, and of course, climbing.

Climbing comes naturally to cats as it’s an important survival skill. Cats on the outdoors climb to hunt birds, survey small rodents and ground-based prey from above, and climbing helps cats get away from predators.

Cat climbing on some cat suction cup furniture in an apartment.
Rosie is definitely the best climber in my apartment!

Many cat owners might have cat towers for this, but again, similar to toys, not all cat towers are made equal. Many of the average cat towers can’t really take an adult cat beating on it daily, nor is it stable enough for cats to do any proper climbing. Therefore, taking focus on more climbing specialized cat towers and cat furniture is important. I recommend these types of cat furniture and cat towers (for the full list of the cat furniture items I recommend, read my article, Best Furniture For Cats in Apartments!):

  • Floor-to-ceiling cat towers
  • Tall, sturdy scratching posts
  • Suction cup scratching poles

When thinking about how your cat is going to play, first think about how the “prey” is going to move across the apartment. Create a route where cats can perform as many different movements as possible, from running to jumping, crawling, burrowing, and climbing.

Some cats have different “domains” of play.

Cat owners will discover that their cat(s) might prefer ground play, burrowing, or reaching for things in the air. By having these different types of movements, cat owners are better able to choose things that are better able to cater to our cat’s needs.

In my multi-cat household, I play with all of my cats at the same time. They take turns chasing it when the prey is going around to their domain. Some wait around until the prey is climbing, and they’ll rush towards it and some.

Make Everyday Meals & Snacks More Engaging Using Food Puzzles

One thing that cats do multiple times a day that’s a pretty mindless act is eating. Putting their face in a bowl of food isn’t exactly how cats obtain their food in the wild. Cats are quite adept foragers, and unfortunately, they don’t really get a chance to do this in apartments as they are usually spoiled with their food on a plate or bowl (which is fine for rewards).

Cats eating from the same large puzzle feeder.
I feed my cats 2 big meals a day, and they always go into a food puzzle!

Therefore, using cat puzzles is a great way to enrich something that they do every day. There are many different types of food puzzles, of course. For me, I recommend using food puzzles that are large for your cat’s regular meals and smaller food puzzles for snacktimes. Other than being a much more interesting way to obtain and eat their food, food puzzles also have various health and behavioral benefits!

In a 2016 study: Food Puzzles for Cats: Feeding for Physical and Emotional Wellbeing, the use of food puzzles was monitored with a select group of indoor cats from different home environments. The study highlighted that the use of food puzzles was great for:

  • Weight loss and maintaining a good weight!
  • Decreasing general negative or unwanted behaviors!
  • Decreasing in attention seeking and stress related behaviors!
For more strategies and additional tips on using cat puzzles to entertain your cat in an apartment, click here!

Use Cat Play-Environment Products To Enhance Play Times

Play environment products are things that our cats use to play inside of, on, or underneath. Usually, they come in the form of tunnels or burrowing mats. As the name implies, it allows our cats to burrow and do what cats do best, stalk prey. It’s another aspect of their natural being that makes cats, cats.

Simply throwing a toy inside one of these items can create such a sense of curiosity for the cats that it is enough to get them playing by themselves. It’s also great for multi-cat homes too! If one cat burrows, nearby cats will try to pounce and catch the one inside.

White cat plays on a ripple mat next to a tunnel. Examples of a play environment.
Cat tunnels and ripple mats are the perfect items to have in apartments. They’re great for playtime and easy to put away (since they’re foldable).

These cat environment products/toys are great to use in combination with interactive activities or to plop down when you’re busy or away! For example, right before going to work, I take one of these cat play-environments and let them play around with it when I’m away. When I get home, they fold up neatly and take up very little space to store. Perfect for apartments!

It enhances any activity with your cats since it’s super engaging and caters to a cat’s hunting drive! Looking at Infographic 1. above, it’s right in the sweet spot of cat toys’ effectiveness and cat owner effort scale.

Use Suction Cup Items to Allow Your Cats to Navigate The Apartment Quickly

Cat owners know that cats like high places, but they’ll actually navigate the room completely off the floor if they’re able to! Therefore, using suction cups perches/hammocks is a great way to let them access and navigate to different areas of the room. Most people think they can only be used on windows, but the suction cups can be stuck onto any glossy surface!

Suction cup catification done to entertain cats in an apartment.
There are so many different types of suction cup items. They’re secure and a lot of fun to use! My cats rarely stay on the ground for too long.

Other than windows, the surfaces that cat suction cup items can stick on include:

  • Refridgerators doors
  • Glossy cabinets/drawers/closets
  • Mirrors
  • Smooth tiled walls such as marble

Suction cup items/perches are really great cheap ways for catification and creating spaces that cats want to use. They’re handy for cat owners that are renting their apartment and can’t do any drilling or don’t want to do any damage to the walls!

Use Different Scents For Your Cats to Discover

When trying to entertain your cat in an apartment or smaller spaces, another important aspect of their engagement indoors is their sense of smell or olfaction. More specifically, olfaction is the perception of smells. Smells play an important role in both a cat’s sense of security and novelty.

Bengal cat discovering matatabi sticks in an apartment.
My Bengal cat loves matatabi sticks! It also corrects biting behavior too!

For example, most likely, your furniture around the apartment or home contains your cat’s smells from being on it all day or from rubbing their scent glands on them. It is a spatial reference tool that lets them know what is their space and what’s not. Therefore, if you removed all the furniture from your home, your cats would feel incredibly stressed even though it’s still the same space it was before!

It works the opposite way too! Foreign smells, different smells can cause feelings of novelty, curiosity, or even stress/fear (if it’s another animal or cat that they don’t know).

Therefore, using different cat-safe smells that can allow them to discover interesting scents is a good way to bring some novelty to an apartment. For example, the easiest and most common way is to have a bag of catnip that used cat toys can go into so it will coat the old toys in a new smell. It’s an easy way for cats to feel excitement for old toys again. Another great way to use scents is to have cat-friendly plants around for them to interact with!

There are a lot of different types of scented products and different types of catnip too! They’re a great tool for cat owners to use whenever you see your cats being a little bit restless!

Have Toys of Differing Textures, Sizes, and Types To Introduce Variety

Cats are inherently neophilic. This means that cats are entertained by and enjoy variety. This penetrates through all parts of their life. They enjoy variety in their foods, scents, and of course, even toys. So having a bunch of different toys that you know your cats will respond to so that you can rotate in and out is another tool that cat owners can use to increase an apartment cat’s engagement indoors!

It’s recommended to have different toys in:

  • Sizes – some of the bigger toys acts as kicker toys (toys that cats can wrestle with), the smaller ones are great for fetch and independent play.
  • Texture – a lot of cats will enjoy soft, rubbery textures so it’s easy to pick up with their mouths. Some cats might enjoy more rough, hard textures that’s similar to biting down on bones.
  • Types – feathery, furry, long, stubby, or even shiny! Cats are individuals and they have preferences on the “prey” they like to play with most.
  • Sounds – cats can have a drastic response to different sounds too! Most like rattly sounds, similar to how rodents or smaller animals run/walk.

For the complete, curated list of the best indoor cat toys, click here!

Invest in a Cat Wheel For Cats to Run/Sprint

Similar to climbing items, cats don’t really get a chance to run or sprint indoors. Cat wheels allow them to do this no matter what size of the apartment or indoor space you’re living in. On the outdoors, cats can cover huge distances as they can sprint up to almost 30 mph!

Cat wheels are another great passive item that cats can use whenever they have some pent-up energy. Cats trained on the cat wheel use it up to 3 hours throughout the day, on and off! For super active cat breeds such as the Bengal, Abyssinian, or even the Siamese – a cat wheel can tire them out so that cat owners can have a bit of downtime at the end of the day!

Russian Blue cat running on a cat wheel to entertain itself in an apartment.
Although Russian Blue cats are known to be more relaxed, through consistent training, Ash was able to use the cat wheel with no problems!

In my apartment, I have trained all 4 of my cats to run on the cat wheel. Even the more relaxed cat breeds such as the Russian Blue and the Scottish Straight!

Additionally, although cat wheels are large, aesthetically, they don’t look heavy or cramped in an apartment because it’s not a solid piece of furniture. For a complete guide on cat wheels and what cat wheel I recommend, read The Complete Cat Wheel Guide!

Have a Companion For Your Cat to Bond With

Since this is probably the most obvious point, I left this last but it’s still, having companion cat(s) are one of the best ways to enrich your cat’s life. Two cats or multiple cats are just better than one. Despite being known as aloof and independent, cats enjoy other cats’ company.

A Bengal cat and his domestic shorthair companion in an apartment.
Having more than one cat avoids single-kitten syndrome!

More than that, when they grow up with other cats, kittens are able to develop into much more well-rounded adult cats in terms of their behaviors and temperaments. The most difficult part of having multiple cats is, however, introducing them. Luckily, I have developed an easy-to-follow guide on introducing cats in apartments (or even studio apartments) where cat owners don’t have to do the traditional isolation methods; click here to see it!

Combine Some or All of the Above for the Best Results

Of course, using some or all of these methods together will provide the best enrichment and entertainment for any cat living in an apartment. Confident and well-adapted cats are always cats that have a variety of experiences. Therefore, taking the time to improve your cat’s lifestyle is crucial to living with cats indoors and especially in smaller spaces such as apartments and studio apartments.

When you’re thinking about things to do with your cats, go back to these two concepts: hunting and variety. The goal is to create a hunt but also to mix it up with different methods and ways to challenge your cats.

Other Frequently Asked Questions About Entertaining Cats in Apartments

Why Do Cats Need To Play and To Stay Engaged?

First, what’s the main instinctual need for a cat? It’s to kill something and eat it. As vulgar as it might sound, despite being domesticated, this instinctual need is still within your little feline right now. Even after thousands of years of being domesticated, big cats (such as tigers and lions) and house cats still share this trait.

For cats, ‘play’ means to let them hunt. Whatever situations or items we can use that simulate how real prey act in the wild or outdoors is how we should be playing with our cats, from using the right toys, to how the toy moves and how the environment might be set up for the hunt.

Hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom and sleep. This is the instinctual cycle of what many cat behaviorists and experts suggest drives your cat. When you play with your cats, whether with a wand toy or something else, you activate the wild part of your cat. Because of their drive to hunt, cats are going to try their hardest to try to chase, find, and catch that toy!

How Do Cats Like to Play? What’s The Play Process?

All healthy cats will play. The question is, how do they like to play? In what situation will they go crazy over and be interesting enough for them to get active?

Typically when I see someone playing with a cat or kitten, it’s a lot of holding out whatever it is in front of them, waving it back and forth. Cats will maybe bat at it but will quickly lose interest. Why is that? Well, it behaves nothing like actual prey would act outside in the wild.

Play Phase: Hunt, Catch, Kill

The first part of a playing phase is the hunt. Cats will chase around the toy or prey like a crazy Tasmanian devil. Depending on how you play and how well you simulate actual hunting through your movements, your cats will respond through their excitement. It’s up to you to create that excitement through the proper toys and movements as described above!

Infographic about a cat's energy cycle.
Infographic 2. Cat energy cycle. Knowing the cat’s energy cycle will better prepare cat owners to anticipate their cat’s behaviors.

Our job is to let them chase it for about 80% of the time, and for the other 20%, you actually let them catch it. It’s no fun to chase continuously over a thing that you cannot actually catch.

You’ll know if the hunt is a successful one when he starts to carry his prize to his corner of the room (he’ll also growl at other cats if they come near his catch). He’ll bat it around a bit and maybe give it a couple of small bites. Cat’s usually like to play and torture their prey before they actually kill it. There are probably many reasons, but some of them might include tiring out their prey or being cautious cause if the prey is not dead, it could fight back in its last moments.

A good play session for an adult cat is about 20-30 minutes. Cats play and hunt in short spurts – therefore, super long play sessions aren’t necessary!

Wind Down Phase: Eat and Groom

After a good hunt, it’s time to reward your ferocious feline with their favorite snacks or one of their meals. There’s nothing more satisfying for a cat to eat after a good hunting session. In the wild, they catch their food, but indoors, it’s good to get into the habit of having to play to eat. It reinforces this more active lifestyle and allows them to be even more confident next play session.

As they eat and become full, they clean and groom themselves, and usually, it’s off to sleep after that. In this way, a cat is quite predictable. They manage their energy very well and eat and sleep after a big energy expenditure such as play.

As a result, it’s easy for us to guide their behaviors and energy levels to best suit our lifestyles! I discuss some of the best times and schedules to play with your cats in this article!

Do Cats Get Bored in Apartments?

Cats can definitely get bored if there is not enough direct stimulation or environmental enrichment available for them. Cat boredom can lead to a lot of issues that can affect your cats physically and mentally. Also, boredom is not an obvious issue and can go unnoticed for a long time.

Ensuring your cat has a proper routine and an engaging environment is something that all cat owners should strive to implement or improve. For more information about cat boredom in apartments, click here to read my full article!

How Do You Keep Your Cat Entertained When I’m At Work?

For me, specifically, when I’m at work, I like to take out the collapsible tunnels for the cats to mess around in. Also, cats will have full access to the cat wheel, so if they want to walk or run, they’re able to. Of course, since my apartment is a multi-cat apartment, my cats always interact with each other throughout the day.

When I get home from work, it’s an easy task of just putting away the tunnel (since it’s collapsible, it folds up neatly and quickly) and locking up the cat wheel in case I want some quiet.

How Do You Keep Your Cat Entertained When I’m on Vacation or Gone for Long Periods of Time?

Similar to the above, putting out more passive cat toys and products is a good way to let them explore and keep them preoccupied. Because the longer cats are distracted with something, the less they realize that you’re gone.

For small toys, don’t leave them all over the floor. Put them in different positions and places so that they can discover as they roam around the room. Putting snacks around the room will also have the same effect—basically anything to distract them and get their mind engaged while you’re away.

There is a maximum amount of time that you can leave your cats alone, and it’s quite dependent on your cat’s age. Click here to find out how long exactly you can leave your cats alone!

What Are Things to Avoid When Playing With Your Cat(s)?

While lasers have their uses for certain situations (such as wheel training), it’s one of the toys I would avoid using on a daily basis. While it still allows the cats to hunt, it doesn’t provide them the physical satisfaction of catching it and biting it. They have to feel the toy or prey in their paws.

The other type of toy I would avoid for adult cats is static toys that just sit there for the cats to do something. For example, ball track toys require the cat to hit it (they’re okay for kittens, though). It’s interesting for about 2 minutes, and the cats quickly move on from it.

How to Entertain Your Cat(s): Conclusion

In conclusion, playing with our cats can involve so many things, and it can be such an incredible tool. It not only provides indoor cats with the enrichment that they need in apartments but can solve a lot of issues for your cats in terms of unwanted behaviors.

We can create a more fulfilling lifestyle for our cats by choosing the proper toys and getting into the correct mindset when playing with our cats! Remember to hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, and sleep!

monsieurtn

With a science background and years of experience including learning, observing, and training cats - increasing our beloved feline's welfare and wellbeing is the priority and passion.

2 thoughts on “How to Entertain & Play With Your Cat(s) in an Apartment

  1. Thank you so much for your advice on cats in small spaces. I have to move into Extra care housing here in the UK. It will be very small, lounge/ dinner, with open plan kitchen of off it, bedroom and bathroom. I have been very worried and concerned about Bette and Daisy, sister British Blue one long hair, one short, moving from this bungalow with its 5 separate rooms, to a small basically 3 small rooms.

    I play with them as you indicate, and always have.

    Thank you once again.

    Kind Regards Deborah Butler

    1. Thanks! Then you are doing great! Even with a small place – we can create a pretty great environment for them if we are willing to put in the effort!

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