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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Finding Your Cat's Inner... Prey Preference?

We're excited to pass on to you some fascinating and helpful information about your indoor cat, but first we must thank Sara Czukal, a young designer that Parental Unit had in her class last fall, for sharing her research with us. That class is designed to help industrial design students write their senior thesis, and the main idea of Sara's thesis was that indoor cats need some sort of external enrichment, likely provided by their owners, to have the most psychologically healthy lives. In fact, she argued that many common behavior problems could either be lessened or eliminated by making sure that your cat has enrichment that meets their instinctual needs. Check out Sara's blog here: http://www.czudesigns.blogspot.com

Sara had help shaping her thesis from an expert: Dr. Tony Buffington, who heads up the Indoor Pet Initiative at The Ohio State University's School of Veterinary Medicine. Check out their website, overflowing with useful information, here: indoorpet.osu.edu/  (By the way, this valuable resource started as the Indoor Cat Initiative, but quickly expanded to include other indoor pets.)

Here's a story that Sara wrote and sent to Parental Unit that illustrates the serendipitous discovery of her own cat's "prey preference". " Huh? What preference," you ask? We knew cats were persnickety, but now you're telling us that they even turn up their noses at certain types of "prey"? Well, yes, it turns out that not all cats are wild about mice. In short, "prey preference" (as paraphrased from the Indoor Pet Initiative website) is defined as the specific creatures that your cat prefers to hunt. For example, some cats do prefer to chase mice, while others may prefer to catch birds or bugs. "Identifying your cat's pray preference allows you to buy or make toys that your cat will be more likely to play with rather than ignore."

 Take it away, Sara!

I was in the kitchen making pasta, and my two cats were lounging on the living room floor.  I once heard that the best way to check if pasta was ready is to throw a noodle at your kitchen cabinet, if the noodle sticks then the pasta is done. I carefully picked a noodle out of the pot and tossed it against the nearest cabinet.  It hit the wooden cabinet and held there for about three seconds before it fell to the floor. I was just about to pick it up when suddenly my cat, Vinci, bolted into the kitchen and pounced on the piece of vermicelli lying on the floor.

With one dramatic swoop he captured the noodle and ran off with it. Down the hallway, across the living-room and back, he pranced with the noodle dangling lifelessly from his mouth. I watched the noodle dance as he pounced, tossed, nibbled and kicked it around my one bedroom apartment.  Meanwhile, my other cat and I stood in awe at Vinci's sudden rowdiness. I began to examine the play session more closely.

As the noodle flipped through the air it changed shapes.  It never landed the same way twice, and if tossed at just the right angle it would stick to the wall and wiggle down.  I could see how this "toy" would be so much fun for a cat, but had never expected it! I had purchased mouse after mouse and not once did Vinci show any interest.

I came to find  out that cats actually have a prey preference. Often times their preference is based on the diet they were fed by their mother as kittens, or by the types of prey they first  hunted. Most owners don't realize that for an indoor cat, playing is hunting.

By recognizing my cats interest in a particular toy, I have identified his prey preference. Now I can set up a situation in which he has access to this type of enrichment (whenever I'm hungry for pasta). I can also look for toys that have similar qualities. Now, when Vinci hears the clamoring of kitchen utensils, the sound of running water or the shaking of pasta inside a cardboard box he comes running. He begs not for the meat I may be browning or the chicken I'm sauteing but for the noodle! Because he doesn't get to play with this kind of toy every single day it's almost like a special treat. He never loses interest!

Felines need enrichment!  If your cat doesn't seem to get excited about the toys you provide for her then maybe you're not providing the right toys. 
The Indoor Pet Initiative has some great tips on finding your cat's prey preference.  You can read the full article here.

And remember even if they don't go for the toy - they'll 
love the box it came in! 

Well? Do you know your cat's prey preference? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. Sara is now gainfully employed and pursuing her passion as a pet toy designer at OurPets, an Ohio based company that creates a variety of pet products. (Her two cats are graciously serving as interns at the company). Stay tuned for a review of one of their products coming soon!


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