Cat treats are more than just delicious. They’re also a great way to bond with your cat, provide motivation during training, reinforce good behaviors and encourage healthy, stimulating exercise through play. But not all cat treats are equal. The same treat that made your cat purr like a Prius a few weeks ago may leave her as silent as the Great Sphinx of Giza today.
Play around with these six expert tips to step up your cat treats game. You’ll prevent boredom and provide enriching fun for your four-legged friend.
Provide Plenty of Variety
Cats are big fans of science. In fact, inventor Nikola Tesla’s interest in electricity is believed to have been inspired by the sparks generated from stroking his cat’s coat. And while electricity is best left to the experts, you and your cat can conduct your own experiment with different types of treats to determine which are the best cat treats for your kitty.
“I would select treats that are appealing to both a cat’s sense of smell and his/her preference for texture,” says Wendy Kelly, an applied animal behaviorist and owner of Pet Peeves Animal Training Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. “From the perspective of your cat, some treats may smell good but lack the right texture. Some treats are crunchy outside and soft inside, some are soft throughout and some are simply crunchy.”
Offer your cat different types, flavors, formats and textures to figure out which type or types she likes the most, she says. For a crunchy treat, you might want to try Greenies salmon flavor dental treats. For a soft treat, serve up Fancy Feast Purely natural treats, which are flaky meat morsels. To meet in the middle, try Temptations Tasty Chicken Flavor treats, which have a crunchy outer shell with a soft, meaty center.
If your cat seems overwhelmed or starts gobbling them all down at once, reduce the number of choices and test just a few at a time. Watch your cat’s response and use the process of elimination to narrow her choices down to her favorites. Reserve the ones she can’t wait to gobble down for her favorite cat treat toys.
Use Smelly Treats for Play
If your cat just sniffs at the treats and doesn’t eat them, don’t be discouraged, says Liv Hagen, behavior modification and rehabilitation manager at the Animal Humane Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Treats can still be a fun and novel object for a cat, even if they don’t want to eat them,” she said. “The different smells can be very enriching for your cat, and she might prefer to playfully push the treat around or rub her head on it instead of eating it.”
Give the Treat of Playing Together
Cats who don’t want to eat the treat may be asking for a different type of treat: your attention. If you’re lucky enough to live with a cat who values your attention that much, shower her with treats. Literally.
“Try tossing treats across the floor for your cat to chase and mouth,” Hagen says. “It can be great interactive play. And small, chase-able, edible objects ignite a cat’s natural hunting instincts.”
Appeal to Their Pirate Instincts with a Treat Treasure Hunt
When it comes to finding treasure, no pet does it better than cats. In fact, cats we commonly found on pirate ships, as well as other seafaring vessels, to catch mice and maybe even bring good luck. What better way to add some yo-ho-ho to your ho-hum treat time than with a treat treasure hunt?
“Cats are hunters, so they’re hardwired to work for food,” says Kelly. “Create treasure hunts by hiding treats in various places, or put some treats in a puzzle feeder and stash them around your cat’s area.”
Coax Your Cat Through an Agility Course with Treats
You also can try a little agility, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat behavior expert and founder of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants’ cat division. Start with something simple by using treats to coax your cat through a paper bag tunnel or a hoop.
“You can build from there,” she says. “If playtime has become hum-drum, then it’s time to re-evaluate your toy selection and maybe break out a little catnip to liven things up.”
Along with a tasty treat, like the Feline Natural Lamb Healthy Bites freeze-dried cat treats, nothing livens up treat time like laser beams and other toys that tap into your cat’s instinctive hunting and simulate prey.
“Cats like items that are challenging to catch,” Kelly says. “A challenge that simulates hunting prey is just downright fun for your cat.”
Make Treat Time Interactive
Even the best hunters enjoy a surprise now and again. If your treat time has become too predictable, try interactive cat toys that randomly dispense treats.
The KONG Active treat dispenser, for example, is a cat treat ball designed to keep your cat on the run as she bats it around to retrieve the treats inside.
Or try the Temptations Snacky Mouse cat treat toy, a bottom-weighted wobble toy that rewards treats for play. Up the ante by making the game more challenging with the PetSafe Funkitty Egg-Cersizer cat toy. It has three openings that can be tightened or loosened depending on your cat’s level of play.
You also can make your own interactive cat toys from an empty toilet paper tube and some scraps of paper. Start by putting a few treats in the tube and increase the challenge as your cat improves by stuffing the ends of the tube with paper. Or try making this DIY lime slice double-catnip toy to add a little zest to playtime.
Whether you buy or make them, the best interactive cat toys can be adjusted so your cat understands the game and doesn’t get frustrated, Hagen says.
“You always want them to experience success in their play,” she says, “so they stay excited and interested.”