Feline Environmental Enrichment

Just like any family member a cat needs a healthy living environment. They have basic requirements of food, water, and shelter to survive, just like any animal does. To thrive, and have a happy life, they need more than just the basic requirements. This is where environmental enrichment comes into play.Environmental enrichment simply means improving the living situation of captive animals to enhance their health and quality of life. Environmental needs are often not addressed until a cat exhibits signs that attract the owner’s attention like. Such as reclusiveness and lack of interaction with family members, destruction of objects in the house (e.g. furniture), aggression, over-grooming, and they can even display sickness behaviours in response to a living environment that makes them uncomfortable. By providing outlets for energy release, the cat has something to do so that they don’t need to engage in destructive behaviours.  If we only lived in a world where we just ate, drank, and slept, we would be pretty unhappy, and the same goes for cats. This is why it is so important to enrich your cat’s environment as best as you can.

Cats are highly intelligent creatures, and naturally curious as well, so introducing new interactive activities can be great if added slowly. Nothing should be forced upon your cat. Let them discover things on their own. Some owners may be tempted to let their cats outdoors, thinking that this would be a simple solution for enrichment, but this can present many risks to the cat’s health and longevity. There are so many ways you can make a great home for your cat while keeping them indoors.

A great way to provide enrichment is to encourage them to perform natural feline activities like climbing or hunting ‘prey’. Cats enjoy being in hunting mode. Studies have shown when a cat is hunting the brain chemical dopamine is released that creates a sense of anticipation, kind of like a kid on Christmas morning! Feather toys are a great option to practice hunting play. Move the toy like prey, so your cat can practice their hunting skills. To trigger the prey drive move the toy across or away from the cat’s visual field. Don’t dangle the toy right in front of them. You want to create a natural look of a bird for example moving or flying.

Another great option for enrichment is puzzle feeders. Puzzle feeders are a food dispensing toy that the cat can move around, and try to figure out ways to get the food or treats inside. There are many different styles to choose from at different pet stores or online, but you can also try making your own if you are feeling creative! Puzzle feeders let cats learn to work and think for their food, as they would naturally do, while also providing activity and fun. Food enrichment like puzzle feeders can be a good start when introducing environmental enrichment, as food is usually a good motivation for most animals.

Setting aside playtime every day is a nice routine that the cat will come to enjoy. Invite your cat to come into the main living space where they are most comfortable, and bring out things like the feather toy, allowing them to be curious about it, letting them see if it’s something they’re interested in. Playtime is a great way to strengthen your relationship with your cat and provide enrichment. Toys don’t need to be complex or expensive. Things like laser pointers, catnip mice, balls, and objects on a stand or a wand, are just some examples of great toys to have around.

In addition to toys and playtime, ideal environments for cats include tall vertical and horizontal spaces, so they can remove themselves from stressful situations, and have a space to rest. Some examples include cat trees, shelving, crinkle bags, tunnels, and cardboard boxes. Cat trees can also double as scratching posts, which is something necessary to have, as cats have a natural desire to scratch, stretch muscles, and displace anxiety.

A final thing to consider when looking at enrichment for your cat is the litter box environment. A cat should feel comfortable with their litter boxes, and feel safe and secure enough to use them regularly. In general, cats prefer clumping litter, in large regularly cleaned, uncovered boxes. They should be placed in quiet, easily accessible areas, and there should be at least two litter boxes per cat.

Giving your cat a stimulating healthy environment will not only make for a healthier cat but a happier cat too!

Written by Amanda Thomson