Cat Enrichment

Cat Enrichment

Cats make great companions for humans. Cats have a reputation for being aloof, often indifferent to people, and low-maintenance, but according to veterinary behavioral medicine experts, cats need much more than a litter box and food. They have diverse care requirements to satisfy their complex, unique personalities and need different types of stimulation and interaction during the day to keep them occupied and active. In particular, cats need activities that foster normal cat behaviors, such as hunting, exploring, and climbing. Misunderstanding the social needs of cats often results in a dull life.

Is Your Cat Bored?

Prolonged boredom can have serious consequences that range from destructive behavior to psychological stress and depression, so it is important for pet parents to be able to recognize signs of boredom in cats, including:

  • Excessive shedding
  • Scratching furniture
  • Excessive grooming
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Pacing
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Becoming reclusive
  • Aggressiveness with both people and other pets
  • Eliminating outside of the litter box
  • Disinterest or excessive interest in food

These signs can be cries for attention and can also signal a need to release pent-up energy. Adding cat enrichment activities to your cat’s daily routine can help reduce these types of stress behaviors and keep boredom at bay.

Enrichment to Make Your Cat Happier

Cat enrichment is the practice of providing domestic cats with an environment that encourages natural behaviors, like hunting and foraging, while at the same time encouraging play and creativity. Enrichment comes in many different forms and simple adjustments in your home can make your cat’s life more fulfilling.

There are a number of great ways to enrich your cat’s life.

  • Provide a variety of toys. Toys are a great way to keep your cat physically and mentally active. If your cat is alone for most of the day, provide him with “self-play” toys, such as food puzzles and catnip-filled toys that will keep him busy while you’re gone. Domestic cats are excellent at spotting, tracking, and pouncing, and they have developed a distinct vision for movement. When you’re home, set aside time to play every day and incorporate interactive toys, like wand-type toys and laser pointers.
  • Provide objects for your cat to explore, such as boxes and paper bags. A dripping water tap can provide hours of fun, and an aquarium with real fish or even a bowl of fake fish that move around can fascinate your cat.
  • Cat scratching posts will satisfy your cat’s need to scratch and give him a chance to stretch his muscles and keep his nails healthy, as well as save your furniture.
  • Utilize vertical space. Add upright structures like cat trees, cat stairs, and elevated window perches to encourage a cat’s natural climbing movements and behaviors in the wild.
  • The great outdoors. Safe access to the outdoors is important for cat well-being. Whether it’s as simple as a screened window perch where your cat can easily sit and watch (and smell) the world go by, or as elaborate as building an outdoor enclosure (a “Catio”). Place bird and squirrel feeders or a bird bath outside windows. You can consider teaching your cat to walk on a leash with a harness, or tether your cat to a tie-out stake in the yard. Enabling your cat to interact with the natural world will increase her daily happiness.
  • Virtual outdoors. There are “cat videos” available that feature birds and small rodents that some cats enjoy.
  • Food and edible enrichment is a way for cats to engage in their natural predatory behaviors. Rather than feeding your cat in the same location, hide kibble around the house so she has to search for her meal. Puzzle feeders and treat dispensers help satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for food. Cats also enjoy eating catnip, wheat grass, lemon grass, mint, and parsley (perhaps plant a small potted garden for your feline).
  • Training your cat can provide a great mental and physical workout. Cats are very smart and really good at solving problems. Just like dogs, they can learn a number of useful behaviors and fun tricks, like sit, come when called, and shake, through positive reinforcement. To learn how to get started, check out Training Your Cat.

Experiment with different types of enrichment to see what your cat enjoys. Check online for more enrichment ideas.

Meeting your cat’s mental and emotional needs helps her to lead a fulfilling life and have fewer behavior issues, and also allows you to strengthen your relationship.