Like most cat owners, you’ve done everything you can to give your cat the best life possible. You provide high-quality food, a clean litter box, veterinary care, and lots of love and affection. But, does your cat seem truly happy or just kinda bored?
Here’s what you need to know about feline enrichment and how it can make a real difference in your cat’s quality of life.
Why Cats Need Environmental Enrichment
Much like all domesticated animals, indoor cats need more than just food, a place to sleep, and a clean litter box to have a happy life. Environmental enrichment is extremely important for all animals in captivity, and that includes our feline family members. But, when you think about it, our homes are made to suit our happiness and comfort, but they’re not exactly an ideal environment for cats.
According to experts at Bond Vet clinic in Brooklyn, when a cat’s environmental needs aren’t being met, they often become anxious, stressed, or just plain bored. Although some cats don’t show it outwardly, many develop health and behavioral issues due to boredom and stress, including:
- Excessive isolation or hiding
- Keeping their owners awake all night
- Destroying furniture
- Compulsive grooming which can lead to hairballs
- Eating too fast and vomiting afterward
- Overeating and obesity
For some cats, environmental stress and anxiety can also lead to litter box issues such as going to the bathroom outside the litter box. Studies also show that environmental stress can lead to urinary tract issues, such as urinary tract infections and bladder stones.
Your Cat’s Instinctual Need to Stalk and Hunt
Providing your cat with an enriching environment that fulfills his instinctual needs is crucial for his mental and physical health. All cats, even indoor cats, are born with a natural drive to stalk, hunt, and roam.
You’ve probably noticed that your cat has extremely sharp senses, such as his ability to move his ears independently to pinpoint sounds with precision accuracy. Or, his amazing vision, even in the dark. And, there’s no question they have an incredible sense of smell… All you have to do is pull out one of their favorite treats and watch them come running from the other end of the house.
Their physical abilities are pretty amazing, too. They can jump up to seven times their height and walk without being heard. They’re super flexible and can change directions on a dime. Even more impressive, their whiskers help them navigate in the dark. With their stealth, speed, and other amazing abilities, it’s clear that they are designed to stalk and hunt prey.
Now, imagine having all of those incredible abilities and not being able to use them. Most indoor cats are sedentary. They eat and sleep for most of the day, but they were actually made to be on the move.
9 Ways to Provide an Enriching Environment for Your Indoor Cat
1. Give him his own space.
By nature, cats are both prey and predator. Being exposed and having no place to get away or hide leaves them feeling stressed and vulnerable. Make sure your indoor cat has cozy places of his own where he can tuck away, such as a cozy enclosed bed, a cat tree, or shelves he can perch and nap on.
2. Provide separate resources for multiple cats.
In general, cats prefer avoidance over conflict. They also get along better when they don’t have to share. Make sure there are plenty of litter boxes, resting places, food and water dishes, and scratching posts in different areas of your home.
3. Fulfill his hunting and stalking instincts safely.
In nature, cats hunt up to 20 times during a single day and night. Most of their waking hours are spent hunting, so eating from a bowl just doesn’t provide the same fulfillment. They’re meant to eat several small meals during the day, rather than stuffing themselves twice a day. They also prefer to hunt alone, rather than in a group. Providing them with cat puzzle feeders, interactive toys, and feeding balls that dispense food a little at a time provides a challenge and helps fulfill this instinctual need.
4. Play with your cat.
Cat’s can benefit from at least 15 minutes of playtime with their favorite human every day. Tossing his toys so he can stalk and catch his “prey” is a great way to fulfill his prey drive. At the end of your play session, be sure to provide some treats to complete his natural stalking, hunting, and catching cycle.
5. Respect your cat’s sense of smell.
Cats use their strong sense of smell to hunt for food. They are often sensitive to certain smells, especially citrus scents. Respect their sense of smell by avoiding the use of strong scents in their living space.
6. Encourage your cat to forage.
Hiding little treats or bits of food around your home will encourage your cat to forage. It also provides mental stimulation and satisfies your cat’s never-ending sense of curiosity and exploration.
7. Provide companionship.
If you are away from home all day and you only have one cat, consider adopting another one to provide companionship and stimulation. Although cats do like to have their own space sometimes, they also get lonely and like having someone to snuggle and play with when you’re not home. If you’re unsure how it will work out, talk to your local animal shelter about fostering a cat as a trial run. If it works out, in most cases you can adopt the cat formally and make him a permanent member of the family.
8. Provide vertical spaces.
Cats gravitate toward high places, so make sure there are several elevated areas for your kitty to hang out throughout your home. A cat tree with a hiding spot or two is a great choice if you have room for one. Perches, ledges, or even shelves where he can get up high and are also great options.
9. Consider an ongoing source of entertainment.
Many cats love to just sit and look out the window for hours at a time if there’s something to watch. Create an exciting view for your kitty by putting a bird feeder or birdbath near the window and provide a perch for him to lay on. A fish tank full of colorful fish also offers a great source of entertainment, just make sure your cat can’t knock it over to gain access to the fish in some way.
Now that you know what feline enrichment is all about, get creative and come up with your own ideas for stimulating your cat’s environment. It could be something as simple as moving his bed around, so he has a different view each day. Or, you could go all out and teach him to walk on a leash for some supervised outdoor adventures. The options are virtually endless!
Guest article written by Nicole McCray