Environmental Enrichment for Cats

Environmental Enrichment for Cats

Many people believe that cats are much different from dogs and they do not need as much playtime or care as their canine counterparts. Cats are lazy and don’t need as much one-on-one attention from their humans as dogs do. Cats would rather be left alone to their own devices than spend time playing. All of the above is simply not true. Cats need stimulation and exercise; they need environmental enrichment to be happy. And, according to Tony Buffington from Ohio State University, the inactivity of many indoor cats may be killing them.

Dr. Buffington is a professor of veterinary clinical sciences at OSU and he has linked the lack of stimulating surroundings to interstitial cystitis, which may in turn lead to inappropriate elimination. (Did you know: cat’s urinating and having bowel movements outside of the litter box is a significant cause of owner relinquishment?) In addition, a general lack of stimulation can cause a litany of additional behavior issues as well (destruction of carpets and furniture, aggression, disturbed sleep patterns, etc. Not to mention the growing trend of obesity in cats and dogs in the last 10 years!).

What can you do?

It may seem obvious that a perfect solution to this problem would simply be to start letting our cats outdoors to wander and play, but that is not in the cat’s best interests. Yes, outdoor cats are less likely to be bored and obese, but:

  • They are more likely to be hit by cars or attacked by feral cats and wild animals.
  • They can be exposed to toxic plants and other substances without your knowledge.
  • They aren’t very good neighbors and may cause issues at other people’s houses in the area (leaving “gifts” in the yard, digging up flower beds and gardens, and causing territorial disputes with your neighbor’s cats!)
  • The life expectancy of an outdoor cat is 3 to 6 years, while an indoor cat can live a healthy, happy life until anywhere from 15 to 20 years of age on average.

Instead of throwing your bored, fat cat outside what can you do? Remember: enrichment is just a fancy term for manipulating the environment (your house) to suit the cat’s normal behaviors.

With cats there are two things to keep in mind: 1) Balance! While enrichment can prevent behavior problem, address and help to solve existing issues, and even improve general health, too much change can lead to anxiety, which could lead to illness.
2) Individuality! All cats are different and have differing preferences. What may be fun for one cat, might just lead to stress and/or boredom for another.

So after considering what type of cat you have and what it enjoys, you can begin to enhance their environment to suit their needs! Here are some ideas to start with:

  • Cats love cardboard boxes: Leave out an empty box on Monday. On Tuesday, place the box upside-down, put something on top of it to weigh it down, and cut “mouse holes” in the sides; cats can reach inside for treats you’ve hidden. On Wednesday, turn the box back over and sprinkle catnip inside. On Thursday relocate the box to another room. On Friday, place a small ball or squeaky toy inside of box.
  • Some cat’s love being up high: Use elevated spaces, like window ledges, cleared book shelves, or cat trees. If you are really looking for a weekend project and are handy, build cat walks. In multi-cat homes, the more raised surfaces for individual cats to call their own, the less conflict there will be between them.
  • Cats love birds: Outdoor bird feeders are entertaining for everyone! Some cats also enjoy watching DVDs featuring birds or reptiles.
  • The trusty laser pointer: Laser lights can be great, especially for kittens and very active cats. With lasers, it’s important that throughout the game and at the end, you drop of piece of kibble or cat treat so the cat actually gets to “kill” something and is rewarded for the hunt. You can also hide treats around a room before the game starts, and then point the laser in the area of the food so the cat finds it.

For more ideas visit the Indoor Pet Initiative. They have great information for cat owners and dog owners alike! 

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