Boredom in pets leads to behavior problems – most commonly destruction. These behavioral issues are a leading cause of pets surrendered to shelters or euthanized. As a cat’s caregiver, you have made a commitment to ensure all their needs are met and this includes environmental enrichment. 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 posturing, over-grooming themselves, and vocalization. Often the most noted behavior problem is scenting and often called marking. Inappropriate elimination or urinating/defecating outside of the litter box is a cat’s way of indicating that there is a problem, either medical or environmental. In the wild, cats have a dual title of predator and prey. As a predator, they need to stalk, hunt and eat. As a prey animal, cats need a small area that is protected to allow for rest. These traits still reside in your house cat.
Undetectable or insignificant sounds and smells can add to a cat’s 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 to 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 a citrus scent.
Let’s list some ways to keep your cat mentally stimulated and physically active!
- Boxes! Need something to do with all those Amazon boxes? Cats love a good box, but do you know why? Prey instincts! A box is a secure spot usually with just enough space to fit and be able to protect themselves.
- Elevation! Cats love to survey the area from high off the ground. Picture the mountain lion on top of the cliff waiting for the perfect meal to pass by on the path below. Cats use elevation to survey food options, adversaries, and predators. In the home, we offer these conditions in the form of beds, counters, refrigerators and other appliances.
- A room with a view! Provide an elevated view at a favorite window. Make it more stimulating by adding a bird feeder/bath or squirrel feeder just outside this window for your cat’s viewing pleasure. An elevated cushioned perch at this window will allow your cat to lounge while taking in the sights. Concerned about your privacy? Google window kitty for a large selection of ideas. Is your cat a senior with arthritis? Create a ramp or staircase to assist them reaching this area.
- The need to hunt! Around 5 weeks of age, kittens will start to play by stalking and “rough housing” with their littermates and mother. These adorable play times are the start of learning to hunt for prey. In the wild, cats hunt 9 to 20 times in 24 hours. They are successful less than half the time. Your cat needs the opportunity to “hunt”. Providing opportunity to hunt! Interactive toys that mimic prey like toy mice and toys attached to the end of a wand, accomplish this need. Laser pointers are okay to use but they need a tangible “prey” to capture, At the end of laser play, give a favorite treat or toy to avoid creating frustration or an OCD behavior. Introduce these interactive toys early in the cat’s life to avoid learning to go after hands and feet. Have several toys and rotate them to keep life interesting. Food puzzles and balls are excellent for mimicking the act of hunting. The food reward provides a natural eating scenario. In a single cat household, hide small amounts of a meal throughout the house rather than feeding from a bowl.
- Human interaction – Kittens learn a lot about their world and how to respond or interact at 2 to 7 weeks of age. Human interaction during this critical age will determine how the cat will interact with humans as an adult. Carried and cuddled as kittens, will lead to a cat more acceptant of cuddling as they age. 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. Grooming is a part of social interaction between cats that express comfort and companionship. If your cat allows, brush his/her hair coat weekly or more often if necessary depending on the type of hair coat Grooming is not only a form of human interaction and affection to your cat, it also keeps the coat free from mats, can reduce or prevent hair balls and stimulates blood circulation and natural oil secretion resulting in a healthier skin and coat. A cat licking you is the largest compliment you can receive! This is a sign of trust and love!
**Special note to multi-cat households. Just like having multiple children, each cat in your house needs their own space with key resources. This means each one of your cats needs their own food and water bowls, litter box (yep a box for each cat plus 1!), toys, scratching areas, and sleeping areas. The separation will allow free access without being challenged by other cats.
Creating and providing several favorite enrichment areas to include seclusion (box), elevation (shelf/perch) and stimulating views along with some daily affection (grooming and touch) will satisfy your cat’s natural instincts.