Environmental Enrichment for Cats

A boring environment can contribute to a plethora of problems: destructive behavior, inter-cat aggression, depression and anxiety. Cats that are under-stimulated are at a greater risk of developing boredom-related or stress-relieving behaviours such as over-grooming, chewing inappropriate items, picking on other pets in the house, isolation, over-eating, self-mutilation, compulsive behaviours, scratching and inappropriate urination or defecation.

Cats are born to moveCat leaping

Cats have finely-tuned senses. They hear sounds that humans cannot. Their vision is excellent in low-light and they can see in conditions we humans consider totally dark. And there’s a cat’s sense of smell; they can detect odors that we’d never know where present.

Now let’s look at the cat’s unique movement. Cats can jump 5-7 times their height, walk on their toes for speed and stealth, and are incredibly flexible and agile. Their whiskers help them navigate and detect prey. There are many facts about your cat’s body that enable them to have incredible speed, stealth and accuracy.

Imagine having all that equipment and it never gets used! That’s the way it is for many cats. They’re brought indoors (and we want them in indoors) but there’s nothing to do. Cats weren’t meant to be sedentary and eat mountains of food. Cats were born to move!

Here are 10 ideas to implement Environmental Enrichment:

1. Food-related Enrichment

You can include food-related environmental enrichment through food-dispensing toys. There are several varieties of ball-shaped food dispensing toys for dry food. This is a way to include enrichment and playtime instead of just dumping a mound of food into the bowl.

You can also make homemade food-dispensing toys by using plastic water bottles. Cut holes in them and place dry food or treats inside. Even the round cardboard insert from paper towels works well. Cut holes, put kibble in it and fold the ends closed.

If you feed wet food you can also set up puzzle feeders. Something as simple as a muffin tin is great enrichment — just put a drop of wet food into each compartment.

You can also get involved – throw some cooked chicken cubes or tuna flakes for your cat.

2. Playtime

Cats benefit from several types of play, including: interactive and object play. Interactive involves you holding a fishing pole-type toy so your cat can concentrate on being the hunter, or try a laser pointer and move it around the room.

Object play involves toys such as furry mice, crinkle balls and other small toys. Up the fun factor by placing them in locations that inspire curiosity. Place a furry mouse inside an empty tissue box. Cut paw-sized holes in a box, tape the flaps closed and toss some toys in there. Place a ping pong ball inside a paper bag that’s on its side. Have a furry mouse peeking out from the top perch of a cat tree.

These are toys which stimulate the hunting/preying instincts in your cat. Notice, they get bored quickly. That because at the end of a chase/hunt they’d prefer to be rewarded with a tasty, high-protein, meaty meal. Involve meaty treats in play!

3. Elevated Space

Cats often seek out high spots for napping. An elevated location can also become security for a cat, especially in a multi-cat home. You can create elevated space with cat trees, which come in various heights and configurations. Depending on your budget, you can purchase a simple tree or an elaborate one that reaches the ceiling. What’s most important is that it’s sturdy so if kitty takes a flying leap the tree won’t topple over.

Cat walks and shelves can also add to elevated territory. You can purchase shelves and walkways or you can make your own. You can make it as elaborate or as simple as you’d like.

4. Hideaways

Hideaways can be in the form of a covered or uncovered bed. You can even take a box and turn it on its side to make a bed, and line it with a soft towel. For a very timid cat, cut a hole in the box as an entrance, turn the box upside down and your cat will have a complete hideaway. No matter how confident your cat may be, always make sure there are options for hiding in the environment. Every cat needs hiding places.

5. Tunnels

A tunnel can be a wonderful addition to environmental enrichment. You can purchase soft fabric tunnels or make your own using paper bags. If using paper bags, fold a one-inch cuff at the top to make the bag sturdy. Cut the bottoms of the paper bags, fold a cuff around that end and then tape bags together.

6. Water Stations

Water can be used for enrichment as well. Instead of a plain water bowl, consider using a pet water fountain. This is a good option for cats who like to overturn their water bowls for fun.

7. Scratching Posts

If kitty is scratching the furniture it means they likely don’t have the right post. Scratching is a natural behavior. Supply a tall, sturdy post that’s covered in a rough material. Some cats prefer horizontal scratching posts. Being able to get a good scratch, stretch the muscles and displace anxiety by scratching is a vital part of cat life. Try adding a little cat nip or honeysuckle spray to encourage scratching in the right places.

8. Visual Enrichment

There are cat-entertainment DVDs that showcase prey. Between the visuals and the sound effects, many cats become fascinated. Outdoor bird feeders can also be very entertaining. Set one up near the window where kitty has a perch or cat tree.

CAT-PLAYING9. Clicker Training and Agility

Clicker training is effective and a fun way to train tricks. A clicker makes a novel sound and once the cat makes the association that the sound means a food reward will follow, you can use the clicker to “mark” positive behaviors. The clicker becomes the bridge between a behavior and the reward, and you can use it to teach tricks.

Agility is something we associate with dogs but cats can do it too. You can clicker train kitty to do a fun obstacle course in your home. Learn more about the basic principles of clicker training in my hand-out: What You Need to Know About Clicker Training.

10. Companionship

Cats are social creatures, despite what you may have been led to believe. If you spend lots of time away from home your cat might benefit from a kitty companion. After a gradual and positive introduction, having a buddy can make a huge difference when it comes to enriching a cat’s life.

Rich with Enrichment

Environmental enrichment is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s time to increase the fun factor in your cat’s life. Customize whatever you do to fit your cat’s age, mobility and health factors. Some cats will obviously be more active than others but every cat can benefit from a more stimulating environment.

By: Erin Jones B.Sc., AWC, CPDT Candidate

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