Devout cat lover—had cats all my life. They all have their own unique personality, but the Maine Coon has definitely become my favourite.
Interactive Cat Feeders and Toys
Kittens love toys and are very playful, fun to watch, and a joy to play with. All too soon, however, your kittens are grown cats. Then, all they seem content in doing is sleeping, eating, and scratching your carpets and furniture.
Fortunately, you can keep your cats active into adulthood by making them work for their food. Rather than handing food to them on a plate, you can introduce interactive toys or activity centres (e.g., cat trees) into their leisure and meal times.
This article features one cat interactive toy and food dispenser—the feeder ball—and looks at other interactive toys and food and drink dispensers on the market. Hopefully your cat will enjoy one of these items and will use it to stay fit and young—just like the kittens they once were.
Note: All photos in this article were taken by me and my son.
Our Pet Subjects: Greebo and Dippy
We adopted Greebo and Dippy as kittens just a few years ago. They are brother and sister. Their father was of Maine Coon stock, the characteristics which Greebo has inherited—while his sister takes after her mother. So, Greebo has grown into a huge, gentle giant with a high degree of curiosity, thought and intelligence, while his sister is more like the typical moggy and easily distracted.
Greebo's size and weight have presented some amusing problems. Within a year, he became too big to get through the cat flap, so I had to replace it with a small dog flap. He became too big and heavy for the platform on one of their scratching posts, so I had to replace it with a bigger and stronger platform made from decking.
They love to sit on the decking in the evening and look out onto the back garden through the living room French doors. And not knowing his strength, he has a tendency to break their cat toys when he whacks them too hard.
This, unfortunately, included their interactive food distributor ball—one broke in half, so we got two replacements that have survived his battering albeit the dispenser regulators at the top have broken off with constant bashing but they still work and they still give our cats hours of fun while they feed.
The Interactive Feeder Balls Our Cats Love
What Our Cats Think of the Feeder Balls
They love them. Our cats love the feeder balls. We top them up once a day. They'll come in play with their food balls throughout the day. They have a few nibbles and then go back out or settle down on the settee or chair and have a snooze; and then they return later for a few more nibbles.
When we first had them as kittens, they would chase the balls around the room hoovering up any dispensed biscuits on the way, and Dippy still does. Greebo quickly learnt that if he just tapped it from side to side, he can sit in just one position and gently gets the biscuits out without much effort, which he usually does.
Occasionally, he'll do a smash and grab raid where he darts in gives the food ball a big whack, so it goes flying across the floor leaving a trail of biscuits, take a few of them on the run and on run back out to play for a while, leaving the rest of the trail of biscuits for Dippy, see photos.
If Dippy is not too hungry at the time then rather than cleaning up the floor first, next time he comes in for a nibble, he'll step over the biscuits on the floor and go back to gently tapping his food ball from side to side to get more biscuits out for eating.
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The food balls we use had a regulator at the top, a knob you turn to regulate the flow of biscuits from a trickle to a flow. With the way Greebo whacks these balls all the regulators have long since come off so provided there are still biscuits in the balls, he's guaranteed a reward almost every time he hits the ball; which I'm sure pleases him.
Treats Are Tastier From the Table
They prefer water in a dish, but they also love water from the pond and from dripping tap. Offer them milk in a dish and they're not usually that interested. However, put a mug of milk on a coffee table, and it's a treat they love.
Cats Love to Eat off of Our Plates
When we first had them as kittens they use to love trying to pinch our food off our plates as much as they enjoyed their food in their food bowls or cat biscuits, but they soon learnt that our food isn't as tasty to them as what we feed them. However, Dippy does have a fondness for vegetables and will sometimes help herself to any leftover veggies on our plate. They both also love cereal, especially cornflakes and Weetabix so when my wife has any for breakfast they both sit on either side of her and she spoon-feeds them while trying to have breakfast herself. And Greebo loves porridge provided I put some on the tray on my lap so he can sit on the sofa next to me eating it; if I leave any in the cereal bowl and put the bowl on the floor for him, then he's not interested.
"May I Have My Milk in a Mug, Please?"
It's the same with milk. If it's in a mug or on a coffee table and it's a treat; in a bowl on the floor and it's no fun. However, if we have milk in the evening and don't offer them any in a mug, they get most upset. In fact, as soon as we take the milk from the fridge and pour it into mugs both will come from wherever they are and follow you back into the living room anticipating their milky treat; or if they are already in the living room, wake up and wait by the coffee table.
The photo above shows how much bigger Greebo is than his sister, having inherited the Maine Coon characteristics from his father. The photos show both Greebo and Dippy drinking their milk from mugs with both standing on the floor, but whereas Dippy is standing up straight with the mug in front of her Greebo, being that much bigger, is also stretching over the coffee table and still reaches the mug of milk comfortably.
Greebo: The Characteristics of a Maine Coon
Greebo, having the typical intelligence found in Maine Coons, can present amusing problems at times. Everything you do he's usually there watching with an intent expression of interest on his face and in his eyes. I've had cats all my life but I've never seen a cat before who shows an expression on his face like Greebo, amusing to see and which helps to improve communication and understanding across species between feline and Homosapien.
Smart and Expressive
You often get an impression from his expression of what's on his mind and can interact with him in a more meaningful way than is general with most cats; an example of this is that you can tell from his expression when he would like you to pour a mug of milk for him if you hold the milk bottle up for him to see. He's not keen on drinking milk if you pour it into a bowl or dish and put it on the floor but usually, he loves drinking milk from a mug placed on the coffee table.
Our first experience of Greebo's ability to work things out was when they were kittens. We would hear rustling in the kitchen and upon investigation, peeking around the corner in the kitchen Greebo. With his added weight, he would push down on the foot peddle to open the lid of the kitchen waste bin enough for Dippy to get in and retrieve some item of interest which they would then share.
Independent and Communicative
Our policy with pet cats is to let them out during the day and keep them in at night so that we can go to bed knowing they are safe; although all our pet cats until now have had to be enticed in on a night with food, after much calling. In contrast, both Greebo and Dippy come when called so we don't have to associate feeding with bedtime, allowing us to feed them at a more convenient time; and in recent months, both cats have taken it upon themselves to automatically come in when it gets dark (most nights) without even being called.
However, Greebo can let himself out when he really wants to, which fortunately isn't too often. When he was about a year old he worked out that he could open the cat flap by getting his claw in the control wheel on the side and pulling down, turning the wheel one quarter until it unlocked the cat flap; the four settings being fully closed, open for in only, open for out only and fully open.
To prevent this, I made a door from an old piece of 3.6mm plywood to the front of the cat flap secured in place with a bolt. However, after watching me many times open this new door last year Greebo learnt (after lots of practice) that if he can manage to lift and slide the bolt at the same time then he can let himself out. Lifting the bolt and then sliding it before it drops back down is a tricky manoeuvre for a cat so when he's determined it takes him about ten minutes to achieve his goal, which since last summer, he does about once or twice every six months. Otherwise, he just waits for us to get up and then asks to go out, or if we decide to have a lay-in on a morning he'll come and get us up. He can also open the back door from the inside when he wants to if we don't lock it—he's just tall enough to reach up and pull down on the door handle and with his weight already on the door, it just swings open.
Sneaky and Cunning
'Cat biscuits' is the other area of amusement. To keep food costs down we buy in bulk when there are genuine offers and store the surplus in the brick shed which is dry and cool or in the large chest deep freezer in the shed; in the long run, it saves a lot of money of food supplies. However, when we have a delivery if we leave the bag of cat biscuits in the kitchen while taking other foods down to the shed Greebo will seize the opportunity and rip open the side with his claws; he then sits back and lets Dippy have her feed before having his share.
Consequently, the stock of cat biscuits in the house is kept in a large square 'sweets tin' (the type of tin often kept and reused for storing home-baked cakes). However, when refilling their food dispenser balls Greebo is often their watching and if we put the tin on the floor he'll sit next to it and pull up hard under the lip of the lid with his claw until the lid pops off; then both he and his sister will help themselves to their reward.
Initially, we kept their tin of biscuits on a shelf, but Greebo would just jump up onto the shelf and help himself. So we then kept the tin a kitchen cupboard, but that didn't work for long either, as Greebo would just pull open the cupboard to get to the tin; even if we kept the biscuits in a wall cupboard in the kitchen he would get onto the kitchen worktop and open the wall cupboard from there. Therefore we've resorted to keeping the tin of cat biscuits securely locked away in a separate room where we keep the door closed. For a short while, after we stopped using the kitchen cupboards for keeping their biscuits, we'd come down on a morning to find all the kitchen cupboards open.
Other Interactive Cat Feeders and Toys
Once kittens become cats they quickly lose interest in new toys unless there is a reward such as food. So we keep most of their toys in a toy box for them and offer them out occasionally if they show a renewed interest but generally, they're more interested in new toys which all too often are the Christmas decorations at Christmas or empty cardboard boxes if we've had anything delivered.
Keeping Your Cat Entertained
However, one activity centre has proven to maintain interest is the platform on the top of their scratching post. They do use the scratching post rather than the carpet, which is good, and they love sitting on the platform on a night from where they look out onto the back garden through the French doors, especially when a hedgehog wanders up the path or foxes decide to play in the garden. And while sitting on their platform they occasionally give one of the dangly balls a quick tap or two with their palls; Greebo occasionally pulling one-off which I then have to tie back up. I had to replace the original platform with decking making it bigger and stronger to accommodate Greebo's weight and size which is typical of Maine Coon.
Video of Our Cats Playing on Their Cat Tree: Interactive Playtime
While we were having quality time with our cats (20 minutes of interactive play with them), I took the opportunity to film their fun time with dangly things on sticks on their cat tree; as shown in the highlights below.
Our Cat Tree
Since writing the above article on 'Other Interactive Cat Feeders and Toys' to keep your cat entertained we've been watching an American series on TV about a 'cat therapist' who successfully cures cats and their owners of bad habits; in the series 'Cat Trees' and cat play toys on sticks feature prominently so we've since treated our cats to a cat tree (to replace the cat scratching posts) and a couple of cat play toys on sticks.
The Cats Play Station and Scratching Post
Choosing cat play toys on sticks was easy as anything dangly on a stick is fair game to a cat; and they love them, as shown in the photos below it's a winner and is sure to bring back the kitten in your cat.
Whereas searching the web to find a suitable cat tree for the room and more importantly strong enough to support our Maine Coon was more of a challenge. Therefore we were pleased when we found a cat tree with good reviews including a positive review from a Maine Coon owner who as a satisfied customer just commented that it does wobble a bit under his weight; on the strength of her comment, and the photos of the cat tree in the advert, we ordered one.
Based on the comment from the satisfied pet cat owner who after buying one stated that it does wobble a bit under the weight of her Maine Coon cat I was expecting to have to strengthen the cat tree like I had to do with the platform on top of our existing cat's scratching post; as explained in the above article.
Unboxing the Cat Tree
However, on arrival, the boxed and packaged cat tree was quite heavy, which was a good sign that it would probably be quite substantial and not flimsy. Then once I'd opened the box down in my DIY workshop shed I was even more pleasantly surprised to see the quality of design and build and was reassured that once assembled it would probably be quite sturdy. And I was not disappointed, once assembled with all the bolts being fully tightened, I could see it was sturdy and on trying to carry it back to the house it was heavy; I was glad once I got it into the living room.
Two Happy Kitties
And our cats love it, as you can see from the photos above and below. Both love to sit on the top platform and look out the French doors onto our back garden. Greebo, who takes after his Maine Coon father is a bit big for it and it does wobble a little but the cat tree is sturdy and well-built and importantly has a good centre of gravity so it doesn't wobble unsteadily but rather more like the slight movement typical of a real tree in the back garden; therefore I'm satisfied I'll not need to strengthen it in any way. However, I'll keep the old cat scratching posts in the shed for now so that in the future, with a bit of DIY ingenuity, I've got the option to use parts from the old scratching posts to add to and extend our new cat tree.
Dippy (Greebo's sister) takes after her mother, so she's a normal-sized cat and fits the cat tree well. She likes clambering down from platform to platform on the cat tree. Greebo, being much bigger and heavier, is contented just sitting on one or other of the platforms from where he can survey his domain before having a catnap on top of the sofa or in his favourite chair.
Greebo and Dippy on Their Cat Tree
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Your Views and Comments on Pet Toys
anonymous on December 18, 2012:
This is so entertaining, I could almost see Greebo's antics and Dippy seems to be an innocent partner in crime. I guess I hadn't thought of the special things to consider with a very heavy, large cat with great strength. We always gave out pets new toys for Christmas and birthdays. Cats seem happiest with simple things like a box, a ball of foil, a bag and of course, Christmas ornaments. I like the idea of feeding balls for cats to have a little challenge and fun. Done with such fun!
anonymous on December 18, 2012:
I just favor the blue dispenser "Tricky Treat Ball" out of all the Cat interactive feeder toys. Thanks for sharing.
cmadden on December 17, 2012:
We have a cat that opens cupboards as well - though he sometimes can't figure out how to push his way out afterwards! We have a house full of toys, but don't use the feeder toys. I love how Greebo has worked things out, and shares with Dippy! Great lens.