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Keeping cats purring and birds singing

March 20, 2024
Jess Williams

Keeping cats purring and birds singing

Hunting is a natural behaviour for cats, and as a nation of cat lovers we do have to accept that they are predators. After all, our ancestors did domesticate cats for their hunting prowess! We can, however, focus on redirecting our cats’ in-built predatory behaviours to more suitable outlets. This will minimise the impact that they have on local wildlife and keep them happy and healthy.


Whatever their age, cats love to play and it’s a great way to allow them to exhibit their natural hunting behaviour. Play doesn’t encourage cats to hunt more; on the contrary, it offers an alternative outlet for a behaviour that they will naturally want to display. Play has been shown to reduce predation as cats are able to exhibit their natural behaviours in a more wildlife-friendly way.

Different cats will prefer different styles of play, so it might take some trial and error to work out what your cat enjoys and how to get them engaged. Feather fishing rod/wand toys tend to be an enticing option, and you can move these in a variety of ways to mimic different prey. Try swishing it through the air like a bird or drag it fast across the floor like a mouse. Some cats will like the toy to ‘hide’ behind furniture or around corners, whereas others will want to chase it in a straight line. Spend some time working out what gets your cat interested. Bells or other noisy additions to toys can be off-putting, so try removing these to see if your cat prefers a quieter toy.

Making time to have a few play sessions with your cat each day can make a big difference to their overall wellbeing. Cats tend to prefer to play in short bursts, so you don’t need to clear your schedule, just five minutes is enough. Try some of these ideas to add more play into your cat’s day:

• Have a short play session while you make a cup of tea in the morning.

• Take advantage of advert breaks or engage your cat in a game just before you sit down to watch your favourite show.

• If you work from home, adding a couple of quick play sessions into your schedule is a refreshing way to take a screen break.

• Adding in some play when you get home from work can be a great way to unwind.

Be sure to let your cat catch the toy a few times when you play, and always end the game with your cat catching the toy, otherwise they could become frustrated. Laser or light toys should be avoided, as these can be incredibly frustrating for cats as they are never able to catch the dot. If you do really want to use a laser toy, then be sure to always finish the game on a physical toy so that your cat can catch something.

In addition to regular play sessions with you, providing a variety of toys for your cat will encourage them to play on their own as well. Have a selection of options such as kicker toys, ping pong balls, toys that crinkle and catnip toys that you keep stored away. Offer your cat a few toys at a time and switch them up every few days to help prevent your cat losing interest. Interactive toys such as balls on a track or motorised toys are another great option, and again offering these every few days will keep them interesting.

Puzzle feeding

Cats evolved to eat little and often, and in the wild they would hunt multiple times a day. Therefore, feeding smaller, more frequent meals better matches your cat’s natural behaviour rather than placing their daily allowance in a bowl. Using puzzle feeders that your cat must manipulate to release the food helps to mimic hunting behaviour and provide mental stimulation. Making these simple changes to the way your cat is fed provides them with another outlet for their natural desire to hunt and keeps them happier!

There are puzzle feeders you can buy, but you can also make your own. It can be as simple as feeding dry food from an open egg carton so that your cat has to scoop the biscuits out, or spooning wet food into an ice cube tray. If they’re used to eating from a bowl, it’s not unusual for them to be hesitant at first so be sure to start out with simple options to encourage them to give it a go and avoid any frustration. Once your cat has got the hang of working for their meals, you can gradually increase the difficulty to keep things fun and challenging. There are lots of DIY options such as making a pyramid of cardboard tubes to hide food in, so it’s a great opportunity to get any children in the household involved too.

Another way to make mealtimes more fun for you and your cat is to turn it into a game, either by hiding food in small portions around the room or house for your cat to hunt out, or by tossing their dry food biscuits down the hallway for them to chase. This is also a great opportunity to help them shed any extra weight they may be carrying!


Contrary to common belief, cats have a remarkable ability to learn. Tapping into their intelligence through training adds another fun way to interact with your cat and strengthens your bond with them. It also provides some great mental exercise, keeping their clever mind engaged and satisfied!

Keeping training sessions short and sweet is the golden rule. Aim for a couple of brief five-minute sessions each day and try to always end on a positive note, rather than continuing until your cat (or you!) starts to get frustrated or loses interest.

There are lots of things you can teach your cat, but a simple one to start with is training them to sit. You can find a guide on how to do this here. Once you and your cat have mastered a simple trick, you can progress onto more ambitious projects!

Understanding and embracing your cat's natural instincts, particularly their hunting behaviour, is key to ensuring they live a full and enriching life. By incorporating play, puzzle feeding and training into your cat’s routine you can not only strengthen your bond with them but also improve their mental and physical health.

Lastly, my favourite songbird is the starling, because of their incredible murmuration displays!

Jess Williams

Jess Williams is the regional behaviour office for East England for Cats Protection.

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