Despite common misconceptions, we cat moms and dads know that our feline furbabies love spending time with us, just as much as we love spending time with them! And there's nothing like being apart to remind us just how precious that time together is.
So whether you’re getting ready to head out on a trip, returning from one, or just missing kitty's adorable mug when you're off at work, Oscar and I are here to offer some ideas on how to make the most of the time you spend at home with your cat friend.
Well, maybe not literally.
But all those stuffed mice and strings and electronic toys are really there to mimic the act of stalking, chasing, and catching prey. This is especially important for our indoor kitties, who need extra attention when it comes to mental stimulation and exercise. But don't just invest in some cool toys; get down on the floor with your cat friend and play with them!
The general rule out there seems to be that cats need at least 30 minutes of playtime a day. Because cats tend to operate in spurts and can lose interest quickly, I like to divide play/hunt time up throughout the day.
For example, Oscar and I have our first wrestling session in the morning when I'm getting ready for work. That's right, wrestling!
It starts with him stalking my hand as it scurries under the blankets and ends in an all-out wrestling match with my arm! Later we play when I get home and again in the evening as we watch our favorite TV show.
If you have an outdoor kitty, they may get plenty of stimulus and actual hunt time on their own, but they'll still want to play with you as a means of bonding. And don't let budgets get in the way of playtime: Some of Oscar's favorite toys are crumpled pieces of paper tossed around, a paper grocery bag to dive into, and an old towel wrapped around my arm for him to bite and kick at.
Here are some great playtime tips from The Spruce Pets, an award-winning site with over 3,000 articles geared toward happy pets of all kinds:
- If you have a kitten, use playtime to get them used to human hands and feet. You'll thank yourself later!
- For kittens, also opt for softer toys that they can bite into without hurting their teeth.
- Rotate toys and put toys away after playtime to avoid your cat getting bored with them.
- Try lowering the lights during playtime to simulate the dark, when cats typically hunt.
- End play sessions when your cat has "won" the game, or "caught" the prey, or just plain lost interest. Then give them a treat for their efforts!
Whatever route you take, try out different toys and different play times to see what your cat friend responds to best.
Some kitties have set mealtimes; others are what we call "free feeders" because food is always available to them. Regardless, mealtime—theirs and their humans'—is a great opportunity for bonding and positive reinforcement.
For example, when giving treats try letting your cat eat right from your hands. This may not work for everyone, especially if your cat is a bit overenthusiastic in his or her bite, but when it does work you'll feel the trust growing between the two of you.
At your dinner time, try pulling up a seat for kitty. Many cats love being part of the social setting of mealtime, regardless if they get the odd bite of chicken or not. Oscar sits with us at every dinner, either in a chair or in his kitty condo which is positioned close by at the dining room windows.
In fact, when we have friends and family over for a meal, he'll make a point of lounging in the top tier of his condo, watching us and listening in on the conversation, which inevitably comes round to the topic of him, as well it should!
Finally, believe it or not, the kitchen can be a surprisingly great setting to spend quality time with your cat friend. The reason being that cats experience so much of the world through their sense of smell!
According to a 2017 study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science and summarized in an article by News Corp Australia, scientists are discovering that a cat's sense of smell is even more complex than previously understood and even more sensitive than that of dogs!
It's one of a cat's preferred ways to relate to the world and to engage with you. They may not want to eat that key lime pie you're preparing, but if you give them the chance they're genuinely interested in how you're making it.
To see this in action, check out the wonderful YouTube channel Jun's Kitchen. Not only is Jun an amazing chef who will show you some awesome recipes—including cat sushi!—but he'll also demonstrate firsthand how he spends quality time with his cat friends, Kohaku, Poki, and Nagi, in his home kitchen, inviting them to smell ingredients as he uses them and to watch as he cooks.
You may have noticed that your kitty spends a lot of time licking and primping. In fact, cats can spend up to 50% of their waking time grooming.
They do it for multiple reasons, cleanliness being just one. It can help cool them down (since they only have sweat glands in their paws), it can relax them, and it can also be a means of building relationships, especially when they groom each other. This is another great time for us cat moms and dads to get in on the action.
Taking time to groom your cat not only helps them maintain a healthy, shiny coat of fur, but is a great opportunity to spend some time together. I like to comb Oscar when he's in his kitty condo.
I start with his face which gives him a chance to smell the comb and is one of his favorite places to be scratched. Then I give him a good combing all over—back, belly, legs and tail. Oscar is very clear on when he's had enough…usually after about five minutes…when grooming time evolves into a play session and the comb becomes his new prey.
There are all kinds of cat combs and brushes available at pet stores and online now. Invest in one that suits your budget and your cat's fur, then make it a daily ritual to give kitty a good brushing. And consider it a compliment when he or she starts licking you back. That means they're returning the affection!
Get outside together
Now before I go too far, I want to acknowledge those cat-moms and dads who are shouting, "But I have an indoor cat!" Let's address your concerns first. I understand them well because Oscar is also an indoor cat. Mostly.
We live on the corner of a busy street in town and I don't feel comfortable letting Oscar out to roam at will. However, we do have a decent backyard and I want to honor his natural cat tendencies by getting him outdoors when I can.
We started with a halter and leash until I could trust him not to climb fences or run away. We did try the front yard, as well, but he found it too frightening, which I respected. Now we hang out in the confines of the backyard most days, halter and leash-free, enjoying the greenery, wildlife and fresh air together.
But there's a lot to consider when deciding to let your cat friend outside for the first time and I encourage a good deal of research and a good understanding of your cat's personality first (as well as current shots and a microchip). If you're uneasy about going all the way, a "catio" can be a great option. And if your cat is just absolutely a homebody or you live in a much too urban area, no worries. A cracked window and a seat together beside it to bird/people watch can be just the thing. Then buy some cat grass to help bring the outdoors inside and just skip down to the next section!
If your cat does go outside, I'm going to encourage you to get out there with them, especially if they like to stay close to home lying in a sunny spot. Being outside with Oscar has probably enriched my life more than his, allowing me to slow down and see the world through his eyes.
Just hang out
Finally, the most important thing you can do with your cat friend: Just hang out!
According to a The Cut article citing a 2017 study done by researchers from Oregon State and Monmouth Universities and published in Behavioural Process, when presented with the choice of toys, food, scent, or human interaction, most cats in the study chose human interaction over the rest. How awesome is that?!
Sure, maybe it's because cats are clever enough to know that with human interaction usually comes toys and food, but I prefer to think it's because they truly love spending time with us.
Oscar's convinced me of it, frankly. When I get from work or being out, he always greets me with happy chirps and a twitchy tail, even when he's already been fed. And there's no denying the love on a weekend morning when his early-rising dad feeds him breakfast, but he still comes and head-butts me until I cuddle him.
And, of course, I feel the same about him! Oscar and I have many conversations (with him expressing a fair share of opinions), dances around the house (I always lead), and daily snuggle sessions, either on the sofa with a book or TV show or at bedtime.
Don't let the fact that your cat friend is snoozing on the bed in the other room fool you into thinking they're indifferent to your presence. They're glad you're home and up for more than you expect. Grab 'em and do something!
These are just a few ideas of how to spend quality time with your cat friend when you're home, and of course, some or none of the suggestions offered here may work for you and your kitty. After all, it isn't a misconception that cats are independent with distinct preferences, and we wouldn't be cat moms and dads if they were any different. We love them for it!
So just hang out and let them tell you how they want to spend time together. Just like with human relationships, it's quality time, patience, and genuine interest that foster lifelong bonds and trust. Finding out what your feline fur-baby enjoys doing with you when you're home is really half the fun!