Environmental enrichment consists of providing our feline companions with surroundings conducive to an excellent quality of life. An enriched and stimulating, cat-friendly environment lowers stress between cats, decreases boredom, and increases activity. Less stressed, more engaged cats have fewer stress-related behaviour problems, such as house-soiling, excessive vocalizing, aggression, destructive scratching, over-grooming, and overeating. In addition, they are less likely to develop medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and bladder disease. So, environmental enrichment is a wonderful way to decrease the risk of disease and improve the quality of life of our cherished feline companions.
Hide dry food and treats to encourage foraging behaviour and extend your cat’s pleasure. It can also slow down a cat that tends to eat too quickly. Try a variety of feeding toys and puzzles.
Offer toys that can be chased and caught, stimulating your cat’s natural prey drive. Some cats prefer to ‘hunt’ bird-like toys, others like mice, and some prefer insect-type prey. Interact with your cat! Even the most interesting toy will lose its appeal if you don’t involve yourself in the game. Throw a ping-pong ball or tempt your cat with a cat dancer. Crumple up a small piece of paper or tin foil and throw it: your cat might surprise you by fetching it and dropping it on the floor at your feet! Rotate toys (offer a limited number of different toys every few days) so your cat doesn’t get bored.
Social activities with humans are especially important in single cat households. Groom and stroke your cat regularly – preferably every day. This activity is good not only for your cat’s health but can also strengthen the bond you share. (It can even lower your blood pressure). Clicker training is a popular technique, and it will keep your cat engaged and interested.
· Provide multiple water dishes throughout the home. They should be kept clean and fresh. Some cats prefer running water: pet fountains are perfect for these animals. Be certain to clean the filter frequently.
· Cats need to scratch. Ensure your cat has access to a scratching surface. It may be part of a climbing structure, a scratching post, a cardboard box, or piece of carpeting or wood. Try to determine what type of material your cat prefers, and whether she likes to scratch a horizontal or vertical surface.
· Add complexity to your cat’s environment. Brown paper grocery bags or cardboard boxes are wonderful, inexpensive ‘hideouts’. Create some three-dimensional structure with climbing or perching surfaces. Cat trees, tents, igloos, tunnels, and catwalks all provide wonderful hiding and resting places for your cat.
· Bring the outdoors in. Grow cat-grass in a spill-proof pot. Place a cat perch at a window so your cat can watch the goings-on outside.
· If it is practical, consider an outdoor enclosure for your cat so he can enjoy the great out of doors in a safe environment. [GH]
- www.vet.ohio-state.edu/indoorcat (Indoor Cat Initiative)
- www.fabcats.org (Feline Advisory Board)
- www.purrfectfence.com (Outdoor enclosure)
- The Cat’s House, by Bob Walker
- Cats into Everything, by Bob Walker
- How to Massage Your Cat, by Alice May Brock (1992; Chronicle Books)
- Cat Massage; A Whiskers-To-Tail Guide to Your Cat’s Ultimate Petting Experience, by Mary Jean Ballner (1997; St. Martin’s Press)