Environmental Enrichment is Very Important for Indoor Cats!
There are many ways to make adjustments in your cat’s environment that can help keep your cat healthy and mentally active. Natural behaviors such as scratching, chewing and elimination may become problematic without an appropriate indoor environmental outlet for these behaviors.
We have suggestions to help you enrich your cat’s environment:
Create a physical environment that keeps your cat free from fear and distress and ensures a reasonable level of certainty, consistency and predictability. Your cat should feel some control over a predictable daily routine. Indoor cats need unrestricted access to resting areas where stressors such as loud noises, dogs, other cats, or small children are minimized. Cats also need perching options throughout the household that are safe from people and other animals.
An enriched indoor environment allows your cat to express their natural behaviors including scratching, chewing and playing. Cats tend to scratch on prominent vertical objects in areas where they spend much of their time and scratch more often when stretching after periods of rest or sleep. Place scratching posts in frequently visited areas of the home and near your cat’s preferred resting places. A variety of cat-safe plants and grasses placed around your cat’s environment should eliminate undesirable chewing. Toxic plants should be removed from the household or kept in a secure room to which the cat does not have access.
Cat play behaviors are closely related to your cat’s natural predatory sequence of stalking, chasing, pouncing and biting. Examples of appropriate toys include wand toys, battery-operated self-propelling toys that mimic prey, balls inside a box or bathtub, catnip filled toys and light beam pointer games. (Light beam pointer games should always be followed by the presentation of a treat or toy to reward the cat for the extensive “hunt” and to prevent frustration. Use your imagination! Play hide and seek, hide and let your cat find you. Or play tag—they will quickly catch on to the game of “finding you”. Playing with your cat will keep your cat as active—mentally and physically—as possible. Rotate toys every few days to maintain novelty and interest.
Your cat’s diet probably satisfies its nutrient needs, but may not satisfy your cat’s normal hunting (exploratory) behaviors. A cat with free access to food removes any opportunity for cats to express their natural predatory instincts and most cats will hunt for food when given the option. Provide your cat with opportunities to hunt for his or her food to increase your cat’s mental and physical activity. Puzzle toys, which are designed specifically to release dry food or treats when physical manipulated by cats or hollow toys that can be stuffed with wet food, work well to satisfy your cat’s hunting instincts and increase your cat’s mental and physical stimulation. Fresh water should always be available for your cat. You may wish to consider a drinking water fountain for your cat.
Another important aspect of your cat’s environment is appropriate litter box options. Normal feline elimination involves a sequence of behaviors, inducing pre-elimination digging, elimination posturing and post-elimination digging and covering. Large, open boxes, such as plastic storage containers, provide distinct spaces for these normal behaviors. Covered litter boxes may trap odors and prevent cats from having a safe vantage point for the approach of other animals during elimination, making them a less desirable option for many cats. Litter boxes should be located in a safe, quiet area to ensure that the cat’s route to and from the box cannot be blocked by another animal and away from machinery that could start unexpectedly and disrupt your cat’s normal elimination behavior sequence. Litter boxes should also be located away from food and water bows. In multi-cat households, a box should be provided for each cat plus one additional box, out of sight of each other. Litter boxes should be scooped daily and the contents fully emptied at least weekly.
The entire staff at Westchester Veterinary Center and Cat Clinic is here to help you and your cat through every life stage. Please contact us if you have any questions about your cat’s environment or keeping your cat mentally and physically healthy.