When we domesticated animals, we took on the responsibility of giving them an environment in which they can flourish. We have taken cats, tiny carnivore hunters, and expect them to live a boring existence in which we humans are the only entertainment. The fact is even the most attentive pet parent must sleep some time and our cats have some nocturnal inclinations.
If you think of a day in the life of wild felids, you can see that their natural environment is much more stimulating than our living room can be. What can cat caregivers do to address these needs? The answer falls into a broad category called Environmental Enrichment. All captive animals (which our indoor-only cats are) need environmental enrichment whether they live in a zoo, shelter, or our home.
Some cats are at a greater risk for chronic behavioral problems, anxiety, or frustration than others and can benefit even more from purposeful environmental enrichment. We can enhance our cat’s daily atmosphere by thinking of life through his eyes. A wild environment is full of sights, movement, smells, and sounds. The stalking of prey takes up a lot of time for our cat’s wild relatives.
You can augment your cat’s routine with television with the volume turned low. Choose images that might interest your cat. Some of my clients like to show videos of birds and squirrels. If you have windows, make them easily accessible to your cat with window perches and wide sills. It is true that your cat might glimpse another cat and have stress, but the benefit outweighs the risk to your cat.
Cats are used to having to hunt for their food and their brains and bodies need the stimulus. Puzzle toys that encourage the cat to think in order to get a food reward are wonderful for cats. They give you control over how much food or treats the cat gets and he has to outwit the toy. Toys that require chasing and apprehending the food reward are great for cats to stimulate the mind and body.
Know that you will have to rotate and buy new toys regularly, especially if you have a really savvy cat who can figure out the system quickly. When you get a new toy, hide the old ones out of sight (and scent) so that when you bring them out after a time, they will seem new again.
Cats are notorious for their curiosity so it stands to reason that they enjoy novel objects. New mailing boxes to hide in or stands/perches to climb make for an entertained and happy cat. The same rotation theory applies here. Exchange the boxes and perches, so that they seem exciting and new. Cats grow accustomed to things rapidly and their minds love fresh amusement, so when packages come, save the boxes for your cat. The stimulus does not have to be expensive. Your cat does not have a price tag on fun.
Environmental enrichment satisfies an animal’s physical and psychological needs. It can reduce stress and promote overall well-being by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time.