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Environmental Enrichment For Cats

How to help your indoor cat to be mentally stable 

While staying indoors is safer than being outdoors it does come with its own issues due to your cat being restricted and less able to display “normal” cat behaviours.  It is important to provide your cat with an outlet to play, hunt and relax. 

Indoor cats can be more prone to obesity and boredom.  Continued boredom and lack of stimulation can turn in to behavioural issues such as aggression.  Enhancing your cat’s environment and playing interactive games with your cat will help to combat this. 

 

Your cat’s environmental needs; 

  • Food puzzles 

  • High perch 

  • Hiding spots 

  • Something to scratch 

  • Toys – interactive games 

  • Outdoor enclosure, or room with a view. 

Cats are curious creatures and love to explore.  In the wild, they would spend the majority of their time awake looking for food.  You can simulate this by using inventive ways to hide food (see handout on puzzle feeders).  They also like to be up high, in nature they would do this to be able to observe the environment and sleep in safety.  You should also provide your cat with several resting spots that are relatively hidden. 

Scratching 

Cats have a need to scratch, it is a part of routine grooming and stretching.  Cats often have an individual preference for the material type and for the positioning of the scratching area.  For example, some cats prefer carpet, whereas others prefer natural rope.  Scratching areas can be round or flat and  are horizontal, vertical or sloped.   

How to play with your cat 

Cats love to stalk and chase so create games that help to simulate this.  It is important not to use your hands as the ‘toy’ as this can lead to behavioural issues.  Cats like novel or new things, so rotate your cat’s toys so that they think they are getting new toys every week.  If your cat has a favourite, leave this toy out all of the time.  You can also play hide and seek with toys.  You should try and play with your cat for a total of 15 minutes per day. 

 

Note:  Be careful when creating toys for your cats.  Objects such as rubber bands, hair bands, string, ribbon and plastic milk bottle rings can cause problems if they are eaten.  If using a soft toy, ensure the label states safe for children under 3 years of age. 

 

Some suggestions of how to play with your cat: 

Place a toy or ball under an upside-down washing basket and encourage them to bat at the toy or ball. 

Give your cat a ping pong ball or a training (plastic) golf ball – they are light and travel across the floor well when pushed.  You can also place the ball and cat in the bath tub and your cat will be entertained for hours!  Just remember to take the ball out of the bath before bed time as 2 o’clock in the morning is the favoured time to play. 

 

A fishing pole type toy is a fun way to allow your cat to chase, pounce and stalk an object.  A laser pointer works in a similar way – just be careful not to shine the light directly into your cats eyes.  It is important to allow your cat to “win” every now and then; otherwise they will quickly become bored of your game. 

As your cat ages, they can still play with toys, the game just needs to be adapted so that they can play while resting on their sides or on their back. 

 

Cats love boxes.  They love to hide, sleep, chew and scratch them.  Put a few holes in the box and use your fishing pole toy to encourage them to play. 

 

Some cats like to have soft toys and will carry them around with them.  A larger soft toy may become a target for cats to pounce on and “attack”. 

 

Did you know there are iPad games for cats?  Friskies® make a few fun ones.  Your cat should not damage your screen, but the game designer does say that they may damage screen protectors. 

Some cats don’t like playing and would prefer a grooming/touch session rather than a game.  Most cats prefer to be stroked on the head and neck, but find out what your cat prefers, trialling different brushes and combs as well. 

 

Outdoor access 

Provide your cat with an outdoor enclosure if possible.  You can get commercially made versions or you could make one yourself.  If an outdoor enclosure is not possible, due to cost, space, or renting; provide your cat with a perch in front of a window they can look out.  Cats also enjoy watching a fish tank. 

Some cats can be taken outside on harness and lead.  Unlike a dog, you cannot lead a cat, you allow the cat to explore. 

 

Take care with smells; 

Cats communicate through pheromones.  Strong smells on yourself or in your house can become confusing for your cat.  Avoid using air fresheners, strong perfumes and scented cleaning products wherever possible. 

 

Drinking water 

Cats prefer not to drink near where they eat.  They also prefer fresh or running water.  To encourage your cat to drink more water, there are commercially made water fountains. 

Decorative water fountains can be great to entertain your cat at well.  Strangely enough cats love to listen to the water moving, they like to watch the ripples and love when the light in the fountain creates moving shapes on the wall.