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