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Environmental Enrichment for Cats

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Environmental Enrichment for Cats ASPCA Pet Health Insurance _ low angle view of a blue tabby maine coon kitten looking down from scratching post platform

All cats should be kept indoors to help them stay safe and healthy. But being inside all day, every day can get a little boring, particularly for cats who evolved from hunters. That's why enriching your cat's environment is so important.

Why Keep Cats Indoors?

Before we dig into why and how to enrich your indoor cat's life, it's important to understand why you should keep them inside. There are lots of reasons, such as helping them avoid:

  • Catching a contagious disease — Wild animals can carry serious diseases, which they can transmit to your cat. Some of these diseases can be deadly. For instance, rabies is nearly always fatal once the symptoms start to show.
  • Getting injured — Cats can get hurt in all sorts of ways outside. They can get hit by a car, fall into a ditch, or get attacked by a larger animal.
  • Losing their way home — Cats who wander far from home may have trouble finding their way back, especially if the weather turns bad.
  • Involving you in a neighborhood squabble — Outdoor cats will likely venture into other yards and gardens. This can upset your neighbors who may not like unfamiliar cats using their garden as a litterbox or stirring up the pets they have inside.

Also, cats are natural predators, so keeping them inside protects birds, rabbits, and other small wildlife from being hunted. Plus, you'll be less likely to get a "present" left at your doorstep.

importance of cat enrichment _ little white kitten found hiding in a cat toy tunnel

Why Is Cat Enrichment Important?

Without opportunities to express their predatory nature, indoor cats can get bored and frustrated. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and compulsive or unwanted behaviors, such as:

  • Excessive vocalization
  • Going outside the litterbox
  • Scratching at carpets or furniture
  • Overgrooming
  • Pacing or spinning

Cats also need mental stimulation to help prevent boredom and cognitive decline as they get older. Luckily, there are lots of ways you can enrich your cat's environment and help avoid these issues.

Get tips on choosing the best toys and treats for your cat.

Store-bought Playthings

There are many different types of cat toys you can purchase to entertain your frisky feline. Some are designed for you to use to play with your cat, while others allow them to play on their own.

You may have to experiment a little to see which kinds of toys your cat likes the best. Many cats prefer toys that play into their predatory instincts, such as faux mice they can chase around or a wand they can swat.

Cats can get bored with their toys, so it's good to rotate their playthings to help keep them fresh and interesting. In addition, you can use catnip to pique your cat's interest in a toy. Sprinkle or spray it on and watch your cat go bonkers.

Cat Toy Safety

Be sure that any toy you give to your cat is sturdy and safe. They should not have any loose bits that could get ripped off and choked on. If your cat swallows a small piece of toy, it can get stuck in their digestive tract, which can be painful and dangerous. This situation often requires surgery to remove the obstruction.

You should also clean your cat's toys regularly by wiping them off with a cat-safe detergent or soap. Depending on the toy, you may be able to toss it in the dishwasher or washing machine.

how to make cat toys _ cute black cat lying in the sun playing with a toy mouse

DIY Cat Enrichment Toys

You can create some fun for your cat with everyday household objects. For instance:

  • Recycle empty paper towel rolls for your cat by cutting small holes in the sides, inserting some treats, and folding over the ends. Then let your cat work to get the goodies out.
  • Set up an obstacle course for your cat with paper bags and cardboard boxes. Encourage them to dart in and out to their heart's content.
  • Cut holes in a clean and empty pizza box and place treats inside for your cat to dig out.
  • Does your cat like to dive into your suitcase when you're trying to pack? Set out an old one that they can use as a plaything.
  • Put out things they can bat around, such as ping pong balls or crumpled up paper. Just be careful it's not small enough for them to choke on or swallow.
  • Save plastic soda or juice bottles to use as treat dispensers. Carefully cut different sized holes in the plastic bottle and add some treats for your cat.

Cat Scratch Fever

Leave scratching posts or mats out for your cat. This not only gives them a way to express their natural desire to scratch, but it can also save your furniture and carpeting from damage by sharp nails.

They come in a variety of sizes, styles, and fabrics. You may want to experiment to see which ones your cat enjoys the most. If your cat isn't interested in them, sprinkle a little catnip on them to get their attention.

mealtime games for cats _ orange tabby cat eating out of a silver bowl

Hunger Games

You can play into your cat's desire to hunt by making a game out of mealtime. Rather than feeding them a couple of large meals during the day, break their meal up into three or four small bowls and hide them around the house. This is a more natural way for them to eat since it's how their ancestors did it—by hunting for prey and eating smaller portions.

To start this game, you can hide food in the same spot for a few days and help your cat seek it out. Gradually, you can move it further away. Once your cat gets the hang of it, you can get more creative with your hiding places.

You can do the same thing with treats.* Hide a few around the house for your cat to find. Just be sure to give your cat treats in moderation. You don't want your kitty to put on weight. Overweight and obese cats are at greater risk for health conditions like arthritis and diabetes.

Going Up

Cats love to climb and perch up high. Create vertical space for your cat by purchasing cat trees, houses, or condos or make your own by tying plastic milk cartons securely together.

Another great idea is to set up a seat for your cat in a windowsill so they can watch the birds outside. You can even place a bird feeder near the window to keep them entertained for hours. Just make sure the window is securely closed so they can't get out and hurt themselves or the birds.

teaching a cat tricks _ black and white cat giving paw

Teach Them New Tricks

Yes, you can teach your cat tricks! It takes time and plenty of patience, but it can be done—and it can be a fun way to spend some time with your cat.

Use positive reinforcement, like praise, a good scratch behind the ears, and treats to reward your cat as they pick up on the trick. Some tricks you can teach your cat are to fetch a toy, sit on command, and give you a high-five with a gentle swat of their paw.

Sensory Stimulations

When you're thinking about ways to enrich your cat's environment, don't forget to consider all of their senses.

For instance, you can play a video of birds or small animals for them to listen to and watch. Or set up a simulated aquarium. If you have a real aquarium, be sure your fish are safe from curious paws that might try to dip in and catch them.

You can also buy cat-safe herbs or synthetic feline hormones to stimulate their sense of smell. Keep in mind that cats have a keen sense of smell, and they may not enjoy things with strong scents, like air fresheners or carpet cleaners. They can be overpowering to cats and make them feel sick.

Does your cat do weird things like head-butting you or nap in a dresser drawer? Get explanations for 14 common odd cat behaviors.

Keeping Your Cat Happy

In addition to enriching your cat's environment, you can help keep their motors running by making sure they have a place where they can rest quietly, a litterbox where they can go in peace, a nutritious diet, and plenty of love and affection.

It's also important to take them to a veterinarian regularly, as well as any time you think they might be hurt or sick. Pet insurance can help you provide your cat with the best veterinary care. Get started with a free quote.

*Reminder: Treats should not make up more than 10% of a pet's caloric intake. Also, stomach upset may occur in pets who do not tolerate dietary changes well.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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