Cat Brain Games to Exercise Your Kitty's Intelligence

Updated June 22, 2017.

Cat Brain Games to Exercise Your Kitty's Intelligence

A cat brain is a very busy organ, always cleverly calculating something important to feline life.  Whether awake or asleep a cat brain is always turned on and processing.

In the wild, feline's keen minds are finely tuned for "survival".

Every day they prepare themselves for what they will face by sharpening their claws, practicing their skills, making the rounds to mark and protect their territory, reviewing strategies and scouting for prey as any great hunter does.  They are masters of "the chase".

Likewise, their natural stealth must be constantly schooled, so should they become the prey, they can outwit their predators in order to escape and hide until all danger has passed.

Though pet cats are similarly wired, the friendly environment in which they live does not adequately test their natural instincts.

Just like humans, cats can become bored, listless, mentally dull, and when stressed or frustrated, they will manufacture things to do or act out, usually in a negative way, begetting cat behavior problems.


Cats Need Things to do in Order to be Happy

They are extremely intelligent and thrive on conquering challenges.

Felines are delightfully inquisitive creatures driven to satisfy their curiosity.  When something new enters their territory, there's no doubt they are going to check it out and do something about it.


Cats Love Puzzles and Games!

To provide the best cat brain games, puzzles and activities, appeal to your kitty's wild side!

Cats patrol their territory, hunt, stalk, pounce and catch prey, and then play with it.

When their interest wains, cats kill their prey and eat it to satisfy their hunger.

Following each meal, they groom to perfection before settling into a sheltered place and a nice cat nap.

Part of their daily routine includes sunbathing and foraging for health building herbaceous plants.

Below are some stimulating and intriguing cat brain games optimizing what cats do every day.


Cat Brain Game:  Patrolling Territory

Cats are extremely territorial mammals.  Their need for cleanliness and orderliness, safety and security, domination and ownership are deeply ingrained in the feline psyche.

Territory is established by battling other critters for turf, and then boundaries are set by scratch-marking and scent-marking trunks of trees, large shrubs and other significant structures.

Routine patrolling, prowling and markings ensure boundaries continue to be observed by others.  Intruders are routed out and either exiled or eliminated.

While indoor cats have established territories where they reside, owners can enhance their experience by providing a specially designed outdoor space with feline needs in mind.

Think of this cat brain game as a naturalized patio for cats . . . cat + patio = catio.

Contact a contractor specializing in catio design or choose from a variety of do-it-yourself plans available online.

Incorporate exciting cat friendly design into interior décor with pet safe plantings, fascinating feline tree houses, innovative furniture, shelves and wall art.

Include places to hide and sleep, scratching and climbing posts, elevated platforms and cat runs.

Jackson Galaxy calls this kind of cat brain game, "Catification".

One of the most important territory patrolling activities is cat-watching.

Just as cats nap many hours of the day to recharge their energy for the next hunt, they spend several hours watching and noting everything happening in their territory.

Cats will choose a variety of favorite cat-watching locations ranging from high to low in elevation, sometimes out in the open, and often from a hidden vantage point.

Wherever they choose to rest and watch, there will be multiple routes of escape to avoid being ambushed by a maurander.

Outside, Dodger did his cat-watching in the middle of the lawn, from the top of stumps and from nests he made around the property in ferns and hedgerows.

Abby likes to perch from high places to do her cat-watching.  Outside she stretches out on enormous moss covered boulders.  Her favorite place to cat-watch is from the wide perch on top of her tall scratching post, located in front of a large window overlooking the front yard and nearby forest.

For this cat brain game consider dedicating a window that has a fine view of the outdoors for cat-watching.

Choose a west or south facing window where sunshine streams through for several hours per day to make the space double as a spot for kitty sunbathing.

Part of patrolling territory is taking note of new opportunities to expand territory, new hunting grounds, scouting for new signs of prey and new food sources.

Pet owners can enrich their cats' indoor territorial patrolling experience by featuring a cat brain game even humans enjoy, a scavenger hunt.

Place 5 or 6 pieces of kibble or treats throughout the house in different places each day for your cat to find when on patrol.  At the end of the day, relocate any pieces the kitty didn't find.  Frequently change up location of treats.


Cat Brain Game:  Foraging

While patrolling territory in the wild, felines supplement their diet by foraging for highly nutritious greens and medicinal herbs.  

An assortment of green grasses provides natural odor control.  Cats love rolling in and dragging themselves along patches of green grass.  

They graze and nip at grass in a playful way, yet these greens are an important natural digestive aid and hairball remedy.

Other greens are tonics and medicines essential for long-term health and well-being.

Farm and country cats who are allowed to prowl outdoors, can easily locate what they crave in weed patches and hedgerows.

However, cats restricted to living indoors miss the greens vital to vibrant health.

Fill planting beds or trays with non-GMO organic cat grass (wheat, oat, crabgrass, goose grass and perhaps some alfalfa).  Plan the dimensions large enough to allow cats to roll and nap in.

Locate the planting in an area of dappled shade, somewhere near a kitty's favorite sunbathing spot.

Plant an herb garden in cat friendly pots filled with the herbaceous plants kitties love:  Catnip (cat mint), Cat Thyme, Rosemary, Peppermint, Chamomile and Lemongrass.

Include other cat friendly houseplants, such as Boston Fern or Sword Fern.

Outdoors, create a landscape filled kitty medicinals:  herbs, cultivated weeds, select brambles, flowers, fruits, vegetables and trees.  Consult, The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat, by Juliette de Baïrcli Levy, for planting ideas and usage.


Cat Brain Game:  Hunting

For cats, it's all about the hunt; it is instinctual.

Making cats work for their food plays into the brain game naturally wired inside their heads.

Toys designed to mimic ground and flying prey enrich cats' hunting skills and give indoor pets some much needed exercise.

Each cat has its favorite prey; take note of this when purchasing prey-like toys.

Such toys should be relatively life-like and infused with real catnip as an attractant.  Some cats are attracted to squeaky toys, while others shun them.

Dodger's favorite live prey was small Cottontail rabbits.  Once he brought home a chipmunk!

Toys imitating feline hunters' pawing behavior provide a rich problem solving experience cats find irresistible.

Homemade Pawing ToyHomemade Pawing Toy

A homemade cat brain game can easily be constructed from paper towel or toilet paper rolls secured inside a small shoe box lid. Kitties retrieve kibble or treats from the paper tubes.

Both Abby and Dodger enjoy reaching into holes in the ground and swiping at prey; these include holes in mouse colonies and mole holes.

Cats go crazy over peek-a-boo boxes.

Make a do-it-yourself peek-a-book box.  Save an empty Kleenex™ box and pop some treats or catnip infused balls inside.

Abby's favorite digger toy

This is Abby's favorite digger toy.

Inside the box we put a catnip infused felt mouse toy, a plastic ball with a built in noise-maker and a milk carton ring, her prize. She loves batting at the box, wrestling it and digging around inside to get the milk carton ring out so we can throw it and play catch with her.


Brain Game:  Chasing and Stalking

No hunt is satisfying unless there is prey to stalk and cats like to do so from an advantage point . . . hunkered low behind tall grasses, camouflaged by shrubbery or from behind a stump or tree trunk.

Humans perceive this behavior as playing a game of hide-and seek, fun, but not to a kitty if it's the prey.

For indoor cats to fully enjoy a stalking game they need some screening.  Furniture, draperies, walls, just about anything of structure will do.

Abby's favorite boxAbby's favorite box

Consider adding different dimensions to create new stalking solutions for indoor cats.  

Abby's favorite is a long piece of crinkled brown paper strewn in different shapes where she can hide inside paper walls or inside paper coils.  When we add different sizes of cardboard boxes, she really gets excited.

The indoor stalking scenario is set . . . now for the prey.

Note kitty's favorite prey and choose catnip infused toys accordingly.

Prey toys on rods give a more realistic stalk and chase experience when the faux prey is moved in a way to imitate its behavior in nature . . . and cats love it!

Abby likes birds and insects.

Dodger prefered rodents and other ground prey.

For cats that love a good chase, a hand-held laser works well.

Be sure to reward kitty with a treat when it catches the beam otherwise it will become frustrated when the virtual pounce leaves nothing to satisfy its natural instinct to eat following a stalk-chase-pounce-play sequence.

A tease with an automatic laser device can be fun for a short time; again, give an edible reward to satisfy kitty.

At certain times of the day, cat eyes dilate, fur tips raise excitedly, whiskers twitch, paws flex and cats wind up, and then cut loose, tearing through the house or yard like a crazed animal, especially when there's a full moon phase.

When their blood runs hot, indoor cats love the challenge of an obstacle course.  Use a lure to coax kitty over, under and around existing furnishings.

To enhance the experience use cardboard boxes to create tunnels filled with corners, dead ends, and escape hatches, or purchase specially designed packable pet tunnels.


Brain Game:  Pouncing

There's nothing like a good rollicking pounce!

These can be epic feats of airborne antics and creative contortions much like those of Olympic Games gymnasts and high divers.

I've seen Abby take a running leap high into the air, stretch out as long as she can and snag flying insects with a single claw.

She's been known to launch herself across a room about 4 feet off the floor, curl up in mid-air like a basketball and hurl herself into a box filled with brown paper.  It's her grandest pounce, always finished off with a gleeful trill.

Outdoors, Abby has mastered stalking birds on the ground, but she fails at pouncing fleeting things.  Training with the feathered Catty Whack would help develop the skill she needs for a success bird pounce. 

Abby's pouncing prey of choice are real live mice.  She has mastered the pouncing technique Arctic Foxes use, clearing the ground several feet from their prey and in a perfect arch, nose-dive into a hole in the snow to catch prey.

Abby has adjusted this pounce to lead with her front paws, just in front of her delicate nose.  It's a beautiful, almost artful pounce we enjoy watching.

It's not a pounce taught to her by Dodger, who prefered to sneak up on his prey from behind.

For indoor cats, imitating a wildcat's pounce is an imaginative mind game they love to play.


Brain Game:  Playing and Killing

Part of the natural sequence of fending for themselves in the wild, is cats' instinctive need to play with their prey prior to killing and eating it.

Play is a mind game, predator against prey, and an assertion of dominance . . . a kitty, "I win". 

Cats will nip, paw, claw, wrestle, tumble, roll and toss in the air their living prey during playtime.

Between sessions of play, cats will rest and watch their prey squirm as they secure it in place by holding it by the tail or ear with a paw or claw.

Indoor kitties go to their favorite catnip toy to enjoy this kind of playtime.

Abby's favorite is a red wool felt Kitty Hootch mouse filled with a rather potent strain of organic catnip.  It was Dodger's favorite, too.  For over 10 years, this mouse has met the play needs of both cats and remains the all-time favorite in our cat toy collection.

When cats are ready to play again, they will often go through a pretend hunt, pounce and catch game with trembling prey.

It's a stimulating cat brain game easily imitated with indoor cats by introducing a catnip infused kicker toy.

Playing is also a self-reward for a hunt well done.  Once in a while, Dodger would share his prize catch with us, so proud was he of his major accomplishment.

Abby on occasion will share about an exciting mouse hunt, hiding her catch deep in her maw when she comes inside for the night, and then releasing it to run through the house.  Her escapade creates quite the upset as we dive to catch a terrified mouse streaking through the house!

At some point, cats tire of playing games, perhaps grow almost irritated with their prey and go for the kill.  It's like "kicker" play only more brutal, a down and out fight at times.

This is when we break out the heavy leather welding gloves so we don't get hurt by razor sharp claws and piercing teeth when Abby loses control and decides it's time for an all-out wrestle.  She can cut lose and do a properly satisfying "kill" when we wear these gloves during indoor playtime.


Cat Brain Game:  Eating

For felines, the best reward is eating following a ripping kill.

They enjoy a little food play now and then, so a cleverly configured feeding device can be an appealing cat brain game for indoor kitties.

Like all wild animals, cats are programmed to work for their food.  It's part of the cat brain game.  So, building on this basic experience use specially designed dishes for kibble.

To optimize feline health, consider a raw food diet and wild-crafted nutrition.

Most wild animals prefer running water to drink from, bubbling springs and tripping streams.  Domesticated cats are no different. It's healthier hydration.

Though most indoor cats abhor bathing in a tub of water, they love pawing and playing in small streams, like from a running faucet.  To them, it's an intriguing cat brain game.

We love the aesthetic design and practical function of PetSafe Drinkwell.

In the above photo, note the attractive planter filled with catnip tucked into the corner of the room.  The trickle of running water and greenery are artful additions to any interior design, one both humans and cats can enjoy.


Cat Brain Game:  Grooming

Cats are fastidious about cleanliness, especially about their personal hygiene.

After each meal, cats meticulously groom their coats to spread sebum across their fur and skin, a natural waterproofing and protectant, and to arrange hairs just so for insulation.

Grooming reduces hairballs, stimulates circulation and is good for feline health.

Petting time is part of grooming and is a great way to spend quality time with pet cats.

At least once a week use a fine-toothed metal comb and a rubber or natural bristled brush to remove debris and loose hairs. Stroke fur in the direction it grows and fluff it a bit.

Be sure to gently groom in kitty's favorite spots, behind the ears, back of the neck, along the rump near the base of the tail, chest or tummy.  Follow kitty's lead when it comes to grooming.

Dodger had a favorite natural bristle brush with a cat face drawn on the back in green permanent marker.  We'd hold up the brush with the cat face showing, call his name and he would come running.  His favorite time of the day was grooming time with his favorite brush.  

For 15 to 30 minutes a day, he couldn't get enough hard stroking all over his body, and then when he was done, he'd attack the brush and play with it like a kicker toy for a few minutes before bolting for the door to go outside for the rest of the day.


Cat Brain Game:  Sunbathing

Cats love cozy comforts when they nap, seeking places that are warm and secure.  There's nothing better than a block of sunshine and soft warm ground upon which to lie to make droopy eyelids close and for kitty to fall fast asleep.

As the world turns, many cats awaken just enough to dig a claw in and drag themselves along with the shifting sunlight, only to fall asleep again until the sun fades away for the day.

During sunny warm seasons of the year cats can soak up as much sunshine as they need to recharge their physical and emotional batteries.

However, in regions where storms rule during the winter season, cats, like people, can suffer from the cold dark days.  They are not immune to "Seasonal Affective Disorder" (SAD) and can succumb to malaise, depression, apathy, excessive sleepiness and lethargy.

Light up their life and reenergize them using a specially designed lightbox.  Make a date with your furry loved one for quality spa time and indulge in light therapy that's good for both of you.

Then, when kitty is ready for a proper nap, spoil it by turning the heat on a soft thermal cat bed.  Choose one similar to kitty's fur coloring.  In the wild, cats nest where they are camouflaged.

Abby uses any excuse she can to nudge me from my soft chocolate brown chair where she settles in to nap on a pre-warmed spot, her tortoiseshell fur blending in so well she is easily overlooked when we search for her.


Best Cat Brain Games Ever!

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For Abby, the best cat brain game ever is free.

Give her a cardboard box, just about any size will do, with some crinkled brown packing paper and she is in cat heaven!

Her next most loved freebie is a heavy duty brown paper grocery bag.

Other freebie favorites include curling ribbon, "milk rings" (the sealing tabs found on waxed milk cartons and blue Bic pen caps.

Like we do with Abby, take a cue from your beloved feline to develop a personalized collection of its best cat brain games ever!


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