Feline Environment Enrichment
By Rita Reimers, Cat Behaviorist
You’ve adopted your first cat, good for you! Now what? Are you scratching your head, not really knowing what your cat needs to thrive in the great indoors?
You aren’t alone. It’s one of the areas I see neglected the most when it comes to cat care. Giving cats both physical and emotional stimulation in their indoor environment is an essential, yet mystifying, task for new and seasoned cat owners alike.
In nature, cats are very active creatures, spending their days hunting, climbing, and of course snoozing in a sunny, yet secure, spot where they can watch the world around them. In addition to food, water, and litter, giving your cat the appropriate indoor outlets for his natural instinctive activities is necessary for optimal health and happiness.
Cats live to hunt, and hunt to live out in nature. While our indoors kitties have plenty of access to food and water, they still have that natural prey drive that compels them to hunt. Without fulfilling that need, your cat may decide he needs to run around your house and tear things up in the process so he can burn off his pent-up energy.
I recommend my clients set up a playtime routine that happens just before breakfast and dinner. Use a wand or fishing pole type toy and tease your cat into a game of “cat and mouse.” Of course let him catch his prey, so he feels like a proud successful hunter about to eat his catch.
Places To Scratch
Have you ever tried to discourage a cat from scratching your furniture? It’s nearly impossible, unless he is offered appropriate, and pleasing, alternatives.
Cats scratch on things to improve their paw health, stretching out those muscles and tendons in his paws, to remove the outer layer of their nails to reveal new nails, and also to mark surfaces. Offer scratching posts and scratching pads as an alternative to your sofa, chair and doorframes, and entice your cat to use these items by sprinkling or spraying cat nip on them.
What cat doesn’t love to curl up in a small space, away from the household commotion. In nature, cats make themselves as small and invisible as possible, to allow them to observe and nap safely, keeping them from becoming another predator’s dinner. It’s one of the reasons cats love to hide in and play with boxes so much.
Offer kitty cubby hole furniture and/or small boxes, where your cat can really curl up by himself, and feel like a proud lion surveying his domain as he drifts off to sleep. To make your cat’s hiding places even more cozy, cover them with a blanket or soft towel, or place a snuggly cat bed inside them. (By the way, cat’s LOVE those heated cat beds!)
Things To Do and See
Your cat has hunted, been fed, taken a nap, what more is there to do… If you don’t provide something interesting for him to do, your cat might decide to knock down all those pretty things you have on display. Watch YouTube for a minute and you’ll see plenty of videos depicting cats pushing things to the floor. It’s a game to them, but probably not so funny to their humans.
Provide your cat with food puzzles and other self-play type toys so he has things to do when he is alone. Cats also love things to watch. Bird feeders positioned outside a window with a cat perch will make him chatter with delight. Don’t forget about Cat TV; you can turn that on for him when you leave the house, so he won’t be looking for trouble around the house. You might also consider getting him a cat buddy if your cat seems to be lonely.
One of the single best things you can offer your cat, of course, if your attention. Your cat lives for the moments he can snuggle close by your side, listening to your voice as you scratch him in those places that he cannot reach by himself.
He is in kitty bliss when you spend time giving him your love, so he can give his love to you in return. After all, affection is really what your cat needs the most, once he becomes a member of your household and part your life.