Environmental Enrichment and Your Feline Friend!

Cats are a very popular pet and are increasingly kept indoors as more of our population lives in busy cities. By keeping your cat indoors, you can substantially increase its lifespan. Risks of catfights, toxicities, vehicles, and predators can significantly reduce when cats remain indoors. On the other hand, keeping a cat indoors does substantially decrease the amount of stimulation they receive, and owners often cite boredom as a reason to allow their cats outdoors. In the wild, a cat would spend a significant portion of their day hunting and foraging for food, observing their environment and keeping safe from predators. Our coddled indoor pets do not have these challenges but do need options to fill their day besides sleeping and eating their easily accessible food.

We see many problems associated with cats that have too much time on their hands. Obesity, which can lead to diabetes and arthritis, is very common. Aggressive or OCD behaviours can also occur as an outlet for all that pent-up energy. Stress-related diseases such as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis can be triggered by boredom which is a stressor in cats. All of these conditions can be prevented or managed, at least in part, by adding some simple additions to our households that encourage our cats to interact with their environment.

Start by giving your cat opportunities to work for their meals. You can make or buy food puzzles and balls to make meal times last longer. These can be as simple as stacked toilet paper rolls in a box with kibbles hidden inside that the cat has to fish out. Hiding part of your cat’s rations around the house will also keep them busy foraging throughout the day – this can be started slowly by letting your cat see you `hide` a favourite treat. As they become accustomed to the routine, they will know to look around for hidden goodies. It is important to ensure the treats or food you hide are a part of the total calories your cat receives in a day, so extra treats do not sneak up on their waistline.

Vertical Spaces: Everyone knows how cats love to get up high, but our homes tend to have limited opportunities to fulfill this behaviour. Adding shelves with carpeted traction significantly increases the available space within your home for your feline friends and give them that safe, high place they crave. This is especially important in multi-cat households where the floor space may be limited and negative interactions can occur if the cats feel too crowded. Your vertical setup can be quite simple but be warned that your cats wall mounted creations can get quite extravagant as you realize how much they enjoy getting around without touching the floor. Various options can be bought or easily custom made to fit your decor and avoid the `crazy cat person` status.

Take the time to figure out what makes your cat excited to play. Most will have a preference for either mouse or bird-like prey. Some may enjoy a rousing game of chase the string, while others enjoy a ball. Many cats are happy to play as long as the owner plays with them, so a game of fetch is not uncommon. Laser pointers can also be quite an entertaining option for both you and the cat. There are apps available now that have different skittering creatures across a tablet. Having multiple toy options is important as cats, like us, become bored with the same old thing day and day out. Changing the toys out will keep them fresh and exciting.

Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained to perform tricks. They just require the right motivation. Positive reinforcement (often with treats) will get most cats interested in figuring out what you want and get them willing to give it a try. There are multiple websites and youtube channels devoted to this topic with clicker training being quite popular and effective. It is not just the rovers of the world who can wow your house guests with their tricks.

Window Perches: Cats love to look outside and see what is happening. A comfy perch by a window allows your buddy to soak up some sun rays and people watch.

Safe outdoor spaces: More people are creating “catios” which allow cat`s access to the outdoors without free reign over the neighbourhood. This can be as simple as a small enclosure outside a window or as elaborate as an enclosed deck or balcony. Placing bird feeders nearby will give your cat something extra to watch.

These are only a few ways in which you can make your indoor space more exciting and stimulating for your feline friend. We would encourage you to incorporate a couple of ideas to start and add from there. It will be fun for both of you and make your cat a happier and better housemate.

Written By: Dr. Laura Davenport