Q: I have a male neutered 5-year-old cat that has a habit of putting his toys in his mouth and meowing. Sometimes, he will have one toy in his mouth and at the same time will push (nursing motion) on another one that is on the floor. Mostly it is just carrying one toy around the house.
Sometimes he will carry the toy down to our basement, or either down the hall toward our bedrooms when we are trying to sleep. He kept it up for so long one night I had to take away all his soft toys. Why does he do this? He has nothing physically wrong with him.
— N.R., Doylestown
A: It sounds like your kitty has a lot of fun playing with his toys.
First a few questions. Does your cat ingest any parts of these toys during this activity? If the answer is yes, you need to seek medical help as this is pica and may indicate an underlying medical condition.
When you interact with him does he engage with you or continue playing alone with the toy? If he is “in his own world” then I would also seek counsel with your veterinarian as that could indicate a seizure disorder.
Next, what do you normally do when he exhibits this behavior?
Finally, when you say he is healthy — does this indicate he has been to a veterinarian within the last six months and had a physical examination as well as blood testing (CBC, blood chemistry, T4 Level) performed?
This last question relates to the fact that animals, especially small predators like felines, hide disease well until it is progressed in the process.
OK, on to the problem. What is interesting is that you mention that he will appear to push on another toy as if he is attempting to nurse on it. If a kitten is weaned too young they can miss out on lots of important information and end up with some abnormal behavior.
I will often see orphaned cats or those weaned young nurse on toys, blankets or their human or feline housemates. This may play a component in your cat’s history.
An important fact is that cats are crepuscular, meaning they are more active during the dawn and dusk. Staying up late into the night tells me that your cat has a very large drive to play, beyond the normal 5-year-old cat. One of the disorders I make sure to rule out is hyperthyroidism in cats as this disease increases the cat’s activity. It should be ruled out in your cat if not yet done.
Also, animals are very resourceful which relates to the questions about how you interact with him when he does these behaviors. Cats learn (whether we are actively teaching them or not) how to gain our attention. Play is engaging by itself, but when we can get our human counterparts involved it’s even better. Since he will carry the toy down the hall toward the bedrooms during sleep time, it makes me worry about attention-seeking behaviors.
Finally, I cannot tell from a letter the type of vocalizations your cat is making so it is important information I am missing. In my consults, we will often obtain recordings so we can confirm if there is contact calling or other types of vocalizations going on.
That being said, what to do? I would first give your cat other things to do during the times of the day that you most strongly do not want to be bothered by this behavior. It sounds like that is the nighttime so I would add another feeding then with something he cannot resist.
Reduce the calories he eats earlier in the day to account for this meal. He does not need to gain weight, just not disturb you. Take a cardboard box (the shirt box types from department stores) and cut 1½-inch holes in the top and sides.
Place the kibble inside with the box away from the bedrooms and let him go to town using his feet to try and paw the kibble out by morning.
This will keep him busy for a good deal of time if he loves the food and will give you some peace. Also, if he has this toy and is meowing, do not give him attention. Instead wait until he is quiet, say his name to gain his attention and then give him the attention he wanted.
— Elizabeth S.M. Feltes, DVM, the Behavior Clinic;
Animal Behavior of Northeast Ohio, LLC
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or send me an email to email@example.com. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. I will forward your questions to the expert I think is best suited to answer your particular problem. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.