Cats don’t exactly wear their hearts on their sleeves. Famously hard to read, our feline friends tend to play it a little cooler than their canine counterparts.
However, there’s a difference between being reserved and being bored. As every cat parent knows, underneath that “aloof” outer shell is a unique, quirky, lovable personality – and when that starts to fade, it’s cause for concern.
If you think your cat is bored, it’s time to check in with your pet (and quite possibly, your vet).
Why Might Your Cat be Moping
Just like humans, cats get bored when they’re unable to pursue their interests. While many kitties will happily join you on the couch for a Netflix binge, this type of quality time doesn’t satisfy their wild side.
“Cats are natural athletes, and are born to run, jump, and hunt prey daily,” says Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian based in Colorado. “When they don't get to engage in these normal behaviors, they get bored.”
Signs of Boredom in Cats
How do you tell if children are bored? Easy: They’ll remind you, repeatedly, until they’re adequately entertained.
But cats are a different story. They can’t speak, and their bored behavior looks very different than ours. “Bored cats are stressed cats,” says Wooten. “This stress can manifest in behavioral problems.”
Common symptoms of boredom in cats include:
Destructive behavior (such as scratching furniture)
Eliminating outside the litter box
Aggression towards other pets
Increase or loss of appetite
Changes in sleeping patterns
In addition to behavioral issues, boredom can lead to medical problems in cats.
“Bored cats are more likely to turn to eating as a pastime, which can set them up for multiple health issues associated with obesity, including type 2 diabetes and early-onset osteoarthritis,” adds Wooten.
Is My Cat Sad? Depression in Cats
We know cats can experience boredom – but can things escalate to feline depression?
Well, yes and no.
Many bored cats certainly exhibit signs of depression – including lethargy, overeating, and social withdrawal – says Wooten. However, clinical depression is associated with complex emotional changes and is generally a diagnosis reserved for humans.
It’s important to note that a wide range of medical problems can also cause boredom and depression symptoms, says Wooten.
If you are concerned about any changes in your cat’s behavior or routine – whether relatively minor or extreme – contact your veterinarian. Once the cause is determined, you can begin to help your pet.
How to Help a Bored Cat
So, you’ve consulted your vet, and it turns out your mopey cat is, in fact, bored.
While boredom can lead to serious problems, the good news is that it’s easy (and fun!) to enrich your furry friend’s life and create a cat-friendly environment. Consider the following tips from Suzanne Denk, an animal enrichment specialist at Pittsburgh-based rescue Animal Friends.
Punch Up Playtime
Your cat has toys, of course. But are you actively playing with your cat? "It's so important to be interactive with your cat," says Denk. “A basket of cat toys may look fun, but from the cat’s point of view, the basket is full of dead prey!”
To combat boredom, play sessions should engage a cat’s predatory instincts and mimic a hunt in which your pet stalks, chases, and captures his “prey.” Denk recommends two tried-and-true standbys: wand toys and laser pointers.
Adorned with feathers, bells, and small stuffed animals, wand toys are an easy way to tap into your cat's inner hunter.
When moving the wand, think about the way small animals move:
dart it through the air like a bird
scurry it across the floor like a mouse
slither it slowly like a snake
Most cats can’t resist the allure of a darting laser pointer. The only downside? Without anything to truly “catch,” the hunt may feel unsatisfying. After your play session, offer your cat a mouse toy to bite and bat around.
If these don’t work, check out our article on how to play with your cat.
Spice Up Mealtime
Puzzle feeders are one of the easiest ways to engage your cat. These simple toys turn mealtime into playtime.
“Puzzle feeder balls allow a cat to hunt and work for his food, and challenge the cat mentally,” says Denk. “Cats are highly intelligent should have an opportunity to exercise their brains."
Cat-ify Your Home
In addition to play, cats also need stimulation around the home to avoid boredom. While cozy, your house lacks many of the savannah’s amenities. “Environmental enrichment is critical,” says Denk. “Cats need multiple places to jump, climb, and scratch.”
Cat trees, perches, and “cat shelves” encourage cats to leap, hide, and observe from above as they would in the wild. Meanwhile, quality scratching posts allow cats to exercise their natural need to claw (without sacrificing your furniture).
For additional environmental enrichment, Denk recommends adding an aquarium to your home, or a birdfeeder outside your cat’s favorite window.
Every pet parent wants their feline friend to be as happy and healthy as possible. While it might not be easy to tell what your cat is thinking, boredom has some telltale signs. By actively engaging your cat and providing enrichment opportunities, you can help him live his best life!