A lot of the the funny little boredom stoppers you see on infomercials or in pet stores can do psychological damage to your cat and destroy its natural instincts — especially if it’s a house cat who gets out and gets lost.
“It’s perfectly natural to enjoy taking the boredom out of your cat’s life with toys and such, but toys that a cat can never catch, can eventually ruin a cat’s hunting instincts,” said veterinary pathologistDr. Shel Hartunis of the Center for Instinctive Animal Behavior and Analyses in Devonshire, UK.
“We are not permitted to mention the exact names of toys or products involved and risk litigation, but we can tell you that any toy where the cat attempts to catch or chase an unobtainable something, or is never able to physically pounce on and capture the toy prey is a bad toy.
“If the cat spends enough time chasing a laser beam that isn’t really there or chases a fake mouse around a transparent tube into which the cat can never reach, it will learn that hunting is just a tiring and useless pursuit. If your house cat happens to escape from the home and roam free to live in the wild, the odds are that it will not hunt because these toys will have taught it that hunting is a useless pursuit. The lost cat will try to save its strength by doing nothing and therefore will become easy prey for hawks, eagles and land predators like dogs or coyotes. Indoor cats who are let out nightly, might start to over-hunt and over-eat to compensate for the frustration wrought upon them by uncatchable toy prey.”
TheDamienZone recently saw an infomercial that advertised a product where a fake mouse runs around inside a little donut-shaped tube and no matter how hard your cat tries, it can’t catch the mouse. This toy also comes with a bonus laser pointer which makes it a doubly bad idea for your cat. There is a claw-scratching board atop the toy and this only re-inforces the cat’s frustration. The anxious cat is honing its claws on something it will never be able to clutch. That would drive any predatory animal to depression and anxiety.
“Predation without prey is a serious problem with cats who have had to adapt to a feral life,” said Dr. Hartunis. “If they don’t starve or fall victim to larger animals, they will eventually regain the hunting desire but in about 50% of the cases this instinctive behavior is too late in returning.”
Dr. Hartunis is very old school and he believes that the key to a mentally healthy cat is the time, effort and affection put forth by the owner.
“The old toys where you manipulate the end of a string with a fake mouse work the best,” added Hartunis. “Many of these infomercial products are designed to take the human end of cat play out of the picture. If you’re too busy to play with your cat for ten minutes a day, you shouldn’t have a cat or you should have toys that are out in the open able to tease your cat. Teasing without capture is the worst kind of play for a cat — especially a young one.”
TheDamienZone thinks that small squares of corrugated cardboard and canvas sacks of catnip are the best toys if you can’t be there all the time to keep your cat amused. When you do have time for your cat, the most fun a cat can have is chasing a rabbit-skinned toy or anything that you allow it to eventually catch. It also helps to give the cat an edible treat as a reward for catching the catnip lure.
According to Dr. Hurtunis’ summation; your cat has instincts that encourage it to chase and kill. If it chases things that it can never catch, it eventually loses interest in catching anything no matter how hungry it is and if your cat happens to end up in the wild, he or she will not be emotionally equipped to fend for itself.