Cats have come along way from wild animals to the domesticated home bodies we now call pets. Many cats these days are kept as indoor pets only and cats can be perfectly content living their entire life indoors but it is important to make sure that they have enough mental and physical stimulation. A boring environment or a place that lacks any form of stimulation can lead to behavioural issues such as destructive behaviour, scratching, inappropriate urination, chewing, biting, aggression, depression or anxiety.
Giving your cats the opportunity to still live and behave like cats while being confined to the indoors is possible. This is called enrichment which means to make a situation more meaningful or rewarding or in this case for cats it is about giving them opportunities in which they can behave and express themselves in a way that is species appropriate. There are a number of ways in which cat owners can enrich a cat’s lifestyle in simple and yet effective ways, which then provide the cats with both mental, physical and behavioural stimulation.
When putting enrichment techniques into place try thinking about your cat’s life and think of their senses, ie touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Here we have discussed four main types of enrichment for your cat and some suggestions on how to accomplish this.
Environmental Enrichment involves providing a variety of mental and physical simulations within the house. Think about cats in the wild and some of their natural instincts, they like heights, they like to climb and they like to hide. Provide them with objects that they can do these things on. Scratching or climbing posts provide a place to both scratch their nails but also a way to exercise, climb, jump and sit up high to watch the world. Cats love to hide especially in empty cardboard boxes. If it is possible you could build them an secure enclosure off the house to allow them to get into the fresh air, climbing around or even somewhere to sunbake.
Play is a great way for cats to get exercise, communicate. learn and release boredom or frustration. It is also a ideal opportunity for them to interact with humans and other cats or animals in the household. Naturally cats like to chase things, bat them around and play. They are generally enticed by things that can move either on their own or when they hit them given them the ability to chase and pounce just like hunting in the wild. There are many toys available to purchase and household items can often be just as exciting for a cat, like a toilet roll or a piece of scrunched up paper.
Cats are instinctively hunters that need to chase and kill their prey. These days pet cats simply have to walk to a bowl with ample food available, no hunt required. Engaging these hunting skills is important enrichment for a cat. This can be done in by making cats search and hunt for their food, by scattering feed or part of their feed on the floor or using cat kibble (biscuits) or cat treats that can be hidden around the house or on toys, scratching posts or in hidey holes that they are likely to frequent during the day. Treat toys are also ideal and usually involve the cat having to move it around in order to be rewarded with food. Obviously these techniques may not work for all cats but they are particularly good for very food orientated cats.
Interacting with your pet will provide them with great entertainment, stimulation and companionship. If it is a multi-cat household or a multi-pet household cats will gain some social interaction from the other animals but interaction with humans is also ideal. This can be as simple as talking to them, patting them, playing with them or grooming them. Playing with them is also important and there are many toys available that you can use to play with them like a simple cat tickler or cat teaser where you wave it around for them to chase.
There are so many ways to enrich your cats life, they don’t have to be bought from a shop and may just require a little imagination but whatever it is always ensure that it is safe and appropriate for your cat, especially if leaving unsupervised.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 16, Spring 2018.
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