I met a cat in her early twenties last week. I couldn’t believe it. Even more impressive, Buttercup looked healthy and was completely aware of what was going on. She had that curious feline gleam in her eye; it was apparent that Buttercup was still mentally sharp.
Thanks to modern veterinarian care, cats have a longer lifespan than they used to. In fact, more and more cats are reaching the ages of middle teens all the way through to the early twenties, like Buttercup. When I look into our eight-year-old cat’s eyes, my heart melts. Like most responsible pet owners, we would do anything to keep this little guy healthy and happy, and hope that we have at least ten more good years with him.
But there’s more to it than just keeping your pet physically well. Older cats run the risk of developing feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) — the feline equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease — if their brains aren’t stimulated enough. The best advice is to start at a young age; it’s essential to keep your cat’s brain active and sharp well before feline cognitive dysfunction has a chance to take hold. The best thing you can do is begin training your cat’s brain early. Studies show that you can slow the advancement of mental deterioration by ensuring your feline friend is physically active and mentally stimulated throughout her life, starting in kittenhood.
With this in mind, here are a few easy tips for keeping your cat’s brain mentally sharp well into her twilight years.
Encourage Play Time
Cats appreciate routine, so it’s important to build play time into their daily schedule at a young age. By doing so, you’re increasing the chances that your cat will stay active as she moves into her golden years. Play doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply rolling a wadded ball of tinfoil on the floor so your cat can chase it and bat it around is sufficient. Other easy, inexpensive things cats love to play with include socks stuffed with catnip or feathers they can try to swipe from you.
Work on basic training exercises, the same way you would with a dog. Start with a simple “come” command. An effective way to teach this is by calling your cat’s name every time you pop the top on her wet food. When she comes running, lured by the sound she recognizes, reward her with a treat. After a while, your cat will associate her name with a treat and learn to come when she is called.
Another way to stimulate thinking is to set up a kitty obstacle course in your living room. Put empty boxes, paper bags, balls of twine, cat trees, toys or whatever else you have in close proximity to one another and place your cat right in the middle of it all. The goal is to create an environment where your cat can exercise her feline hunting instincts as well as climb around and explore.
Keep Your Cat Physically Healthy
As with humans, a cat’s mind and body are integrally connected. You can help your pet stay mentally sharp and maintain a healthy weight by encouraging physical activity. When cats become overweight they tend to avoid any kind of physical exertion, instead choosing to lounge around all day. If you don’t intercede, the inertia may become cyclical, and your cat can fall into a mental and physical stupor.
A simple way to encourage movement and problem solving is to place your cat’s food at the top of a set of stairs (if you have them) so she has to climb the stairs for her meal. You can further make your cat “work” for her food by turning mealtime into a brain-teasing exercise. Break her food into small portions and encourage her to hunt for the hidden treasure, which is her meal. Hide small servings of CANIDAE PURE cat food in different spots at varying heights throughout your house, so she has to find the food in order to eat.
By keeping your cat entertained and mentally sharp, you’ll do more than increase the quantity of years she’ll have with you. You’ll do something better – you’ll increase the quality of those years, too!
Top photo by Gangster Car Drive
Bottom photo by Pete Markham
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell