Putting Catnip Toys in Food Bowl

An Enriched Indoor Life would Improve Kitten’s Well-Being


My daughter has a 6 month old Tonkinese kitten.  She brings any toy with catnip in it to her food bowl.  She has to clean them off.  She is doing her residency in anesthesia and leaving food out is necessary.  What can she do to stop this habit?


Dr. Nichol:

OK, let me get this straight. Your daughter brings any toy with catnip in it to her food bowl? Oh, brother. I did my residency in veterinary behavior medicine so I’ll address the cat’s antics but take a pass on your daughter’s.

This kitten considers her food bowl to be part of her private lair and has brought home a kill. There is no training her out of doing what is natural for her. And, besides, she has a little buzz going when it happens. Catnip provides stimulation. Removing it would be tantamount to confining this girl to a barren environment. Interestingly, only cats who are genetically predisposed to enjoy catnip will show an interest and, of course, entertain their overworked owners while making fools of themselves.

This is not to make light of olfactory (smell) stimulation for cats, who are wild animals we keep as pets in our human domiciles. When incarcerated indoors the kitties we love can suffer from a lack of natural behavioral opportunities. Their angst can be manifest by behavior disorders like aggression, house soiling, or over-grooming. Many of these frustrations are preventable and often manageable by providing a plethora of feline-specific indoor amusements.

In their recently published research on captive cats, Sebastiaan Bol, et al found that “Nearly all domestic cats responded positively to olfactory enrichment. Of the cats that did not respond to catnip, almost 75% did respond to silver vine and about one out of three to Tatarian honeysuckle.” You can buy these plants on the Internet and stuff them into cat toys.

While diversions like this can keep an active kitten occupied there are lots of other great structures that will set indoor cats up to engage in natural feline activities. Requiring them to extract their sustenance from food-dispensing toys and puzzles can bring out their inner scavenger. Climbing, hiding, and stalking are also important priorities. The full list of Feline Environmental Enrichments is on my web site, drjeffnichol.com.


Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). Questions on pet behavioral or physical concerns? For answers, Like my Facebook page at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.