Environmental and mental enrichment is an important aspect of feline health and well-being. Cats are creatures of habit and changes to their routine and environment can cause them to feel stressed and anxious. Enriching a cat's environment gives them something positive to focus on and channels their energy into instinctive behaviours, helping to prevent and reduce stress.
Cats like choice and control over their daily activities so providing them with a variety of enrichment opportunities is a good idea to ensure they are happy and healthy.
Here are a few happy cat essentials to get you started:
- Interactive feeding & drinking
- Visual stimuli
- Appeal to your cat's sense of smell
- Provide opportunities to climb
- Hide and explore
- Play time
- Enjoy the outdoors safely
- Top Tips for keeping your cat happy
Interactive feeding & drinking
This provides an outlet for mental and physical energy. It's particularly beneficial for anxious cats too as it redirects all their nervous energy in to a mentally enriching task.
- Food foraging: Hide little pieces of your cat's daily food ration all around the house so they can use their sense of smell to find their meal.
Food puzzles: These can be purchased or homemade.
- Try making a puzzle feeder from a small, clean plastic drinking bottle. Stab holes in the side (large enough to allow dried kibble to fall out). Place dried food inside the bottle and replace the lid. As the cat rolls the bottle, the dried pieces of food should fall out.
- Start off making it easy for them to get the food out so they can practice their new skills without getting frustrated. Over time they will get the hang of it and begin to work it out for themselves.
- Provide opportunities to drink water: Some cats like to drink running water. You can purchase shop bought water fountains or, as an alternative, you can let them drink from a slow running tap so they can help themselves. Provide a number of water stations around the house to make sure they have opportunities to drink from different types of receptacle. Avoid using plastic bowls as these can taint the water. Remember too that cats prefer to drink some distance away from their food station.
Provide your cat with hours of fun and mental stimulation with these ideas.
- Bird feeders: Place a bird feeder outside a window where your cat can watch the birds. However, make sure your cat doesn't become frustrated by not being able to get at them. Frustration can lead to aggressive outbursts so watch out for that.
- Feline window perches: will offer your cat a better view and a spot to sunbathe on.
- Cat TV: There are a number of different playlists available. But do ensure that the images do not cause your cat to become frustrated, aggressive or fearful.
Appeal to your cat's sense of smell
Cats have an excellent sense of smell, designed to help them hunt and detect odours and chemical messages.
- Provide opportunities to scratch: Cats like to have their own familiar scent in the home. Pheromones (a type of scent) from their feet are deposited by scratching. Scratching also exercises limbs and sharpens their claws. Scratch posts, scratch boxes or sisal mats provide a variety of vertical and horizontal scratching sites.
Catnip: Treat your cat to fresh catnip by growing it in the garden or in a pot for indoor cats. The plant is called Nepeta, sometimes known as Cat Mint. It is perfectly safe.
Catnip excites some cats (but not all) and they will roll in it, sniff it or chew it. You can also try dried catnip or catnip filled toys. However, do be aware that catnip can cause some cats to become more highly charged. So make sure it doesn't have any unwanted effects on their behaviour.
- Use Pheromones: FELIWAY sprays and diffusers contain a synthetic pheromone copied from the cat's F3 facial pheromone. This pheromone is one that conveys happy messages, providing the cat with an enriched sense of reassurance and security.
Provide opportunities to climb
Climbing provides physical exercise. Cats like raised locations so they can see what is going on around them. They also gain a sense of security from being elevated.
- Use cat towers: Select ones with ledges and hide-outs incorporated within them.
- Utilise shelving and furniture: Tops of wardrobes, cupboards and book-shelves make great look outs. Placing bedding there will give your cat the choice to rest there too.
- Raised Platforms in the garden: help to give the cat an aerial view of what is going on in their territory. Just make sure they are not sited too close to bird feeders.
Cats like to hide and explore
Provide opportunities for your cat to hide and explore. Cats are inquisitive and like to investigate.
- Cardboard boxes are great for cats to explore, play and hide in: A box can be a retreat as well as acting as somewhere to have fun.
- Paper-bags are great for hiding and playing in.
Playing provides a cat with physical and mental enrichment. It also floods their system with feel-good hormones and it's great fun to watch too!
- Interact with your cat: There are lots of toys available. You can use cat rods, bits of ribbon or roll a ball across the floor for them to chase. Scrunched up paper or foil make cheap toys and the noise they make can attract a cat to play with them.
- Encourage independent play: This prevents a cat from becoming too dependent on you. It's especially important for indoor cats or those that follow you or show other signs of over-attachment. Don't forget to have a range of different types of toys and do rotate them regularly to prevent boredom.
Enjoy the outdoors
It's possible to allow your indoor cats to enjoy the outdoors safely
- Consider leash walking your kitten or cat: If a cat has been positively trained to walk on a leash and harness, this can provide a safe option for outside exercise. Allow the cat to have choice about where it goes. And remember that cats are socially selective so it's not a good idea to take them to public places. A safe and secure garden is best.
- Create cat enclosures in the garden: Cat enclosures can help provide a safe outside area for environmental enrichment. You can buy ready-made Catios or make your own using safe, sturdy materials. Site the enclosure in a private location and provide plenty of nooks and spaces for your cat to hide. It is very important that they feel safe and secure so watch out for any signs of anxiety.
Top tips for keeping your cat happy
- Give your cat choice: Cats don't like to be forced or coerced. They need to be in control of their environment. So it is important to give them space and time to choose whether they want to interact or use the enrichment devices. You will soon learn which enrichment ideas they prefer.
- Health and Safety: For both home-made and shop-bought items, make sure they are safe and robust. Check that there are no loose parts that can be ingested or wedged in your cat's airway.
This blog was written by Caroline Clark
Caroline Clark is an A.B.T.C. Registered Clinical Animal Behaviour Counsellor and full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC). She is a fully qualified Registered Veterinary Nurse with a professional teaching qualification. Caroline runs Pet Education and Training, a busy behaviour practice where she sees cats, dogs and other companion animals on veterinary referral. Caroline is keen to promote animal health and welfare through education and provides on line and hosted courses for pet professionals and owners. She recently appeared in a 20 part series for Channel 4 TV as an animal behaviour expert and enjoys writing blogs and articles for veterinary journals.