Hanging out in the same place day after day can become rather boring, especially if you have few chances to indulge in your natural instincts and behaviors. While dogs can be hooked to a leash and taken for walks in new locations, most cats are not harness-trained and remain inside their home to stay safe. But, staying safe can put a serious damper on your feline friend’s ability to explore and engage with their environment. If you don’t feel comfortable taking your cat outdoors on a harness and leash, make their indoor environment as exciting as the local park or nature preserve.
Without adequate environmental enrichment, cats can develop many health and behavior issues caused by boredom, stress, and inactivity. A few problems that can be remedied by providing engaging activities for your cat include:
- Obesity-related conditions — For example, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and skin conditions
- Stress-related issues — These include overgrooming, bullying, inappropriate elimination, and idiopathic cystitis
- Boredom-related problems — Destructive behavior, inappropriate scratching, and aggression are some examples
To help prevent issues because your cat has minimal environmental enrichment, incorporate the following four methods into their daily life.
#1: Discover your cat’s prey preference
Stalking, pouncing, and “killing” prey remains part of your domesticated cat’s nature, who likely still prefers to hunt specific creatures. For example, some cats like to chase mice, while others would rather catch birds or bugs. Identifying your cat’s prey preference allows you to buy or make toys that will encourage your pet to be more active and entertained, instead of ignoring toy after toy.
Identify your cat’s prey preference by paying close attention to their interest in a variety of toy types, such as:
- Bird toys — Loose feathers, stuffed toys covered in feathers, objects suspended in air, and toys that make chirping noises can attract cats who are interested in birds. Entice your cat to play by making each object move and fly through the air, and see whether your cat wants to pounce on, or they ignore, the toy.
- Mice toys — Objects that resemble mice, such as fur, stuffed animals, and fur-covered toys are ideal for cats who enjoy stalking and pouncing on their prey as it “runs” away.
- Insect toys — Toys that look like bugs include a laser light, a string knotted at the end, and crinkly objects. See if your cat likes trying to catch these prey items, or if they’d rather pounce on a feather.
Determine whether your cat prefers objects that move through the air, ones that scurry across the ground, or fast-moving small items as their prey, and then purchase or make toys that best cater to your pet’s interest.
#2: Provide various lookout perches for your cat to keep an eye on their surroundings
Cats are unique in that they are both predator and prey. As such, they need to feel safe and secure, and they like to survey their territory from up high, watching out for potential enemies or dinner. Fulfill this need by providing them with multiple climbing towers with lookout perches. Place the perches where your cat can look out windows, or have a great view of most of the room. Scratching is another natural cat behavior that must be fulfilled for a happy, healthy pet. Ensure your cat’s climbing towers are covered with an ideal scratching surface, such as sisal, to encourage them to scratch in the appropriate area.
#3: Engage in interactive play with your cat every day
While tossing your cat a catnip mouse can provide some entertainment, your feline friend needs you to join in some of their games. Interact with your cat through play or training sessions every day, to encourage activity and prevent boredom. Since cats have a more limited attention span than dogs, keep sessions short, and always end on a high note, to entice your cat to play again. Strive for at least two or three brief games or training periods per day, or more if your cat begs for attention.
#4: Use food puzzles to feed your cat
An animal who still retains their instincts to hunt for 10 to 20 meals per day will easily become bored with a plain old food dish. Although your cat may appreciate unlimited food, gorging on food from a full dish can create a host of issues. Instead, ditch your cat’s food bowl, and use food puzzles for meals. You can purchase food puzzles like rubber Kongs and LickiMats, or you can create your own using crumpled paper, boxes, and cardboard tubes.
You may not think that a lack of play and exercise would be an emergency situation for your feline friend, but too little environmental enrichment can stress your cat. Stress is one of the main contributing factors to feline idiopathic cystitis, which is an inflammatory bladder condition that can lead to a urinary blockage. If you notice your cat straining to urinate, urinating a small amount, or showing blood in their urine, contact our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team immediately.