Games for Pets: The best FREE iPhone apps for cats; plus: tips for cats and apps

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Are your pets going stir crazy this winter? Are they often home alone? Introducing our new series on environmental enrichment, featuring easy things you can do to make your pet’s space more interesting and keep his mind and body active. Check back each week for a new post.

Bored cat? There’s an app for that: The New York Times recently listed popular iPhone and iPad apps for cats.

While I’m always looking for way to keep my cats busy (Toby the Terrible attacks my other cats and poops in inappropriate places when he’s bored), several of the free iPhone apps I downloaded were ignored by my own furry brood. However, I did find three that they liked.

Below are three popular free iPhone apps for cats (and two that are designed for people but appeal to cats), rated on a scale of one to five paws. Plus, after the jump: some tips for getting your cat interested in iPad or iPhone games.

Pocket Pond (also available for the iPad)
Rating: five paws

Ironically, the app my cats like best was made for people. It offers chirping birds, moving fish that react to your touch, buzzing dragonflies and lifelike water ripples and sounds whenever you touch the screen. Toby and our new adoptee, Wes, even prefer it to my real-life fish tanks!

Cat Toy
Rating: four paws

Cat Toy offers your cat’s choice of a moving spider, butterfly, mouse or laser pointer-type light, and includes sounds that react to his paw on the screen. The boy cats loved this one — Toby and Wes even enjoyed a game of Cat Toy together and cuteness was shared by all.

cat-game.jpgCat Game
Rating: three paws

Shown in the video above, this app features a bright light moving around your choice of backgrounds. When your cat taps the screen where the light appears, it vanishes. Although Toby loves laser pointers, this app didn’t engage him as much as some of the others, though he did enjoy watching as the light moved around the screen.

cat-squeaky-toy.jpgCat Squeaky Toy
Rating: two paws

Maybe because I spend too much time watching cute cat videos on Youtube, but my cats are totally uninterested in weird sounds, and this app features only those: You shake your phone and it emits squeaky-toy sounds, the jingle of a ball, bird chirps, etc. Still, some less-jaded cats could have fun with this app.

Cat Piano Jr. (also available for the iPad)
Rating: one paw

Basically a keyboard that delivers different cat meows when the keys are pressed, this is not specifically made for cats. However, it’s featured in several YouTube videos with cats reacting positively, so I decided to try it out. Unfortunately, the app wouldn’t play sound after I downloaded it and my cats just walked away.

After the jump: tips for getting your cat interested in iPad or iPhone games.

Having trouble getting your cat interested in iPad or iPhone apps? Based on my experiences with my own cats, plus additional research (watching more than my share of iPad/iPhone cat videos on YouTube), I’ve compiled some tips:

  1. Turn out the lights. I noticed that several of the videos on YouTube show cats playing in dark rooms, so I tried it — with immediate success. While my cats previously barely looked at the games, the lit screen in a dark room grabbed their attention and kept it.
  2. Cats like iPads better than iPhones. I don’t have an iPad so I can’t test this theory, but considering there are more than 4,800 “cat playing iPad” videos on YouTube and only about 1,900 “cat playing iPhone” clips, I’m assuming the bigger screen is better (though that’s not to say your cat won’t like an iPhone app just fine).
  3. Don’t leave you cat alone with it. Unless you want a broken screen when Kitty manages to knock it off the table, or teeth and claw marks when he decides to chew the sides, this is a toy that requires attentive supervision — for your cat’s safety as well as your mobile device’s.
  4. Show your cat how to play — and make it look fun! Play with the app on the floor in front of your cat. Touch the screen to make, say, a mouse squeak or a fish dart away. It took a while, but my cat Toby finally got the idea that pawing the screen in certain places made it more fun to watch.
  5. Let your cat go at his own pace. No one likes having something shoved in their face — including your cat. Whatever you do, do it slowly and nonchalantly. Don’t force your cat to play, and let him walk away if that’s what he chooses to do. Just try again later.

Today a cat’s world can be pretty boring. Enriching my cats’ environment is a must to avoid Toby the Terrible’s behavior issues — but I also do it because I want them to have fulfilling, stimulating lives. Letting them outside is a definite no (horrible things happen to indoor-outdoor cats on a very regular basis). So my only option is to make my home as engaging and interesting as possible.

How do you relieve your cat’s boredom? Tell us below.

You might also like:

Blog: Keep your cat out of trouble: Build a DIY cat-powered feeder

Article: Keeping Your Cat from Getting Bored

More about Toby: How battling cat poop & separation anxiety gave me a mission