Cats are highly curious creatures, always intrigued by what is going on around them. But, when your cat spends all day inside with minimal enrichment, they can easily become bored, which can lead to health and behavior issues. Cats who lack ample environmental enrichment can become stressed, frustrated, and irritable, and may over-groom and pull out fur. They can also develop inappropriate elimination that can be triggered by feline idiopathic cystitis, a bladder condition linked to stress. However, by providing an assortment of environmental enrichment activities, furniture, and supplies, you can keep your feline friend entertained and in good health.
Offer your cat plenty of perches
As both a predator and prey species, cats need to know what is going on around them, and they like to survey their territory from a lofty height. While they can hear and smell unusual sounds and scents from outside, they also need to see them to feel fully safe, and placing perches around your home is the best way to fulfill this need.
The ideal perch is anything that provides your cat with a spot to lie, sit, sleep, or watch from above what’s happening below. Perches can attach to windowsills to overlook a birdbath or feeder, or they can be at the top of a climbing tower. Planting flowers and bushes in front of your cat’s favorite window will offer additional opportunities to watch birds, insects, and other wildlife, and keep your cat entertained for hours.
To encourage your cat to explore a new perch, place a tempting treat or catnip toy on top. This will help entice them to investigate a new location that may soon turn into their preferred perch.
Try an assortment of cat toys
Your cat’s wild ancestors had to hunt insects, birds, mice, and other small animals to survive, and likely filled their bellies with 10 to 20 morsels a day. Although your domesticated house cat is far removed from their hunting ancestors, they still have those instincts, and still feel the urge to stalk, pounce on, and “kill” their prey.
Toys that allow cats to practice their instinctual behavior make for a happy cat who is more physically fit. Toys that squeak, chirp, vibrate, swing, or swish call to their wild side and encourage them to play. Enticing toys for your cat may include:
- Mice — Mice are a top-featured cat toy because they are typically popular among most cats. Whether they’re furry, filled with catnip, or robotic, your cat is sure to enjoy batting around their prey before pouncing.
- Feathers — Feathers that dangle from the end of a wand or that cover a plush toy are best for cats who favor birds as their prey item. Drag the feathers along the ground or flick them in the air to encourage your cat to use their natural quickness and agility to stalk their prey, but monitor them to ensure they don’t bite off a feather or two.
- Cat Kongs — Kongs are rubber, hollow toys that can be filled with treats or food to provide a fun, tasty play session. Not only will your cat be drawn to the smell of the treats, but they’ll also feel like an accomplished hunter after catching their own meal.
Any toy that allows your cat to roll, pounce on, capture, sink their teeth into, carry, or chase can be a perfect plaything. Try various toys to determine your cat’s favorite play style and purchase toys that stimulate those interests.
Rotate your cat’s toys on a regular basis to ensure they remain interested, and to help determine which toys pique their curiosity most. Boring toys that your cat ignores should be removed from the rotation, to ensure your pet remains physically active and mentally stimulated.
Set up appropriate cat scratching areas
Scratching is a natural feline behavior, and provides numerous health and mental benefits. Cats scratch to stretch their muscles, shed old cuticles, sharpen their claws, and leave scent marks. Consider the following factors when choosing the right scratching post for your cat:
- Placement — Cats scratch to leave pheromone-laden scent markers to claim their territory, and typically scratch around sleeping areas and room entrances. Positioning scratching posts in these areas will allow your cat to stretch and mark their territory, and can deter them from inappropriately scratching your furniture.
- Scratching surface — Most cats prefer scratching posts made of rough material they can shred. Sisal is ideal for this purpose, and many cats enjoy sharpening their claws on this surface. They may also like to scratch carpet and cardboard, so try various materials.
- Position — Offer your cat vertical and horizontal scratching posts, since they stretch different muscles and provide alternative entertainment options. Ensure the scratching posts are long or tall enough for your cat to fully stretch for maximum enjoyment.
Without adequate environmental enrichment, your feline friend can suffer mentally and physically. Excessive hair loss, inappropriate elimination, and increased hiding can be signs your cat is lacking environmental enrichment. Contact our Southwest Vet team for advice, or make an appointment to check for any health issues.