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Feline Environment Enrichment

Boredom in pets leads to destructive and other behavior problems. These behavioral issues are a leading cause of pets being surrendered to shelters or being euthanatized. Since June is Adopt-a-cat month, this blog will be talking about environmental enrichment for your cat. Cats don’t need to go outside to enjoy their surroundings. As their caregiver, you just have to commit to making sure all their needs are met. By sustaining an enriching environment, you are looking after your cat’s physical and mental well-being.

Cats are skilled at hiding illness and anxiety. Some cats can display their unhappiness by scenting (urinating and defecating outside the litterbox, scratching at inappropriate items), posturing, over-grooming themselves, and vocalization. In the wild, cats have dual title of predator and prey. As a predator, they need to stalk, hunt and eat. As a prey animal to larger predators, cats need a small area that is protected to allow for rest. These traits still reside in your housecat.

Undetectable or insignificant sounds and smells can add to a cats stress level.  Cats use their sense of smell to evaluate their surroundings. By using pheromones that are excreted through the head, paws and body, they establish boundaries in their territory that helps them feel safe and secure. When you clean areas that your cat has marked, this can produce stressors, especially if there is a new cat, person, or changes in the home. Be mindful that cats dislike the citrus scent.

By making sure a few key environmental needs are met because of these ancestral traits, your cat can have a fulfilling life with you.

  1. Kitty Oasis – You know how much cats love crawling into boxes, but do you know why? It has to do with their prey instincts. Cats need a safe place only big enough for them to fit into to be able to protect themselves. Being elevated off the ground gives them the advantage of surveying the area (for food, adversaries, and predators) and protection. By giving them areas like beds, perches, cat trees, boxes, and shelves, it satisfies their basic instincts. Make sure your cat can have views out the window. If they have a favorite window they like to look out, think about placing a bird or squirrel feeder there. Have a perch at that window so they can longue while taking in the sights. If you are worried about your blinds, curtains and privacy, they do make specialized perches like Window Kitty that protects your privacy but still allows the cat to look out the window. Also, some cats may have trouble getting up to their favorite perching areas (due to being a senior or overweight), so you may need to create a little ramp or staircase that will assist them to getting to those areas.
  2. Hunter Instinct – At around 5 weeks of age, kittens will start to play by stalking and “rough housing” with their littermates and their mother. These adorable play times are actually the start of learning how to hunt for prey. In the wild, cats hunt between 9 to 20 times a day, 24 hours a day but are only successful less than half the time. Your cat still needs the opportunity to “hunt”. Interactive toys that mimic prey like toy mice and toys attached to the end of a wand, accomplish that need. Laser pointers area okay to use but they need a tangible “prey” to capture, otherwise they will become frustrated and can develop OCD behaviors. By introducing interactive toys early in the cat’s life, they will learn to avoid going after hands and feet. Make sure you have several toys that you can rotate to keep them from being bored. Just like with dogs, they have food puzzles and food balls that mimic the act of hunting and rewards them for playing which provides them with a more natural eating behavior. There is a product called Nobowl feeding system that offers a unique way of play/feeding. If you have a senior cat at home, get them a new toy. It might just be the thing to bring them back a piece of their kittenhood.
  3. Positive, Consistent Human Interaction – Kittens learn a lot about their world and how to interact with it between 2 to 7 weeks of age. Depending on how their interactions with humans were at those ages, will depend on how they will interact as adults. If they were handled, carried and cuddled as kittens, they will be more acceptant of these acts once fully grown. Some cats may just prefer sitting beside you and being petted. Cats, regardless of age, benefits from at least 15 minutes of play and interactions with their owner. Don’t forget grooming is part of social interactions between cats that express comfort and companionship. If your cat allows it, brush his/her hair coat at least once a week (longer haired cats require more frequent grooming.) Not only is grooming your cat a way to show affection to your cat, it also has health benefits. It keeps the coat free from mats, can help prevent hairballs and stimulates blood circulation and natural oil secretion (which results in a healthier skin and coat.) If your cat licks (grooms) you, you are one of the luckiest folks on the planet because it is a sign your cat loves and trusts you.

**Special note to multi-cat households. Just like with the number of cats litter box blog, each cat in your house needs their own and separated key resources. This means each one of your cats needs their own food bowl, water bowl, litter box, toys, scratching areas, and sleeping areas. It is recommended these resources should be separated from each other so that cats have free access without being challenged by other cats.

If you are they type of pet owner who is unable to run to the store to buy new items for your cat all the time, there are companies out there that provide monthly subscriptions that will deliver toys and treats right to your door.

By providing environment enrichment areas for your cats, they will have a happy and safe home.

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