Indoor Environmental Enrichment for Your Feline Companions
We love our cats and want them to be as happy and healthy as possible, both physically and emotionally. In order to help cats fulfill their mental well-being, they need to be provided an environment enriched with opportunities to be themselves as cats. Felines in the wild evolved as both predator and prey, so they have developed innate tendencies to hunt, explore, scratch, and chew.
Many cat friendly organizations, including AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), recommend housing cats indoors to keep them in the safest environment and provide them with the longest life expectancy. However, by keeping our furry felines indoors, we must remember to address their specialized needs and promote their individual mental and physical wellness quotient. Cats will be cats whether indoors or out, meaning they still retain their inquisitive nature and maintain their innate desire to chew, scratch, and hunt. As such, appropriate outlets for these desires must be established or felines may develop their own preferred outlets which will not necessarily work within the structure of your home.
First and foremost, a cat?s litter box and feeding needs must be met; these are the needs that most of us understand and successfully implement upon adopting a companion kitty. Environmental enrichment is a factor often forgotten with our fuzzy friends, and the consequences can be annoying at best and destructive or dangerous at worst. Likewise, without appropriate outlets, boredom and obesity ensue.
Spatially, felines enjoy perching on objects with a high vantage point away from other animals and people. This is reminiscent of their ancestral needs to hide from predators while still maintaining an outlook for their own prey below. Therefore, by providing multiple safe and private options to perch at various levels throughout the house, a cat has some control to choose a favorite location to rest or hide in solitude to minimize unpredictable stressors, such as other animals (indoors and out), small children, and loud noises. A perch set by a window can allow outdoor stimulation safely within doors. Hanging a bird-feeder or planting a garden or patch of flowers near the window can draw butterflies, birds, and various insects toward the window to provide hours of visual entertainment for your feline friends. Pre-fabricated perches are available for purchase through many pet-friendly outlets; a shelving unit can be used or one can make use of the high nooks in many homes by placing comfortable bedding on dressers, refrigerators, or bookshelves.
An indoor cat should be provided with preferred resources to encourage scratching with human-approved supplies. A declawed kitty still retains the instinctual desire to scratch and stretch its paw muscles and leave scent markings, although the damage to household items, such as couches and curtains, is minimized. Some cats prefer vertical scratching options whereas others prefer their scratching posts set horizontally. Providing well stabilized scratching options ensures each individual kitty's needs are met. A variety of material is available to entice every kitty's scratching desires, such as carpeting, sisal (a natural course fiber), and cardboard. Felines often have preferential locations for their scratching behaviors, such as nearby the perimeter of resting, eating, and socializing locations.
One of the best ways to enrich the lives of our feline companions is to provide them with a wide variety of toys to interact with you; these toys work best if randomly rotated periodically (every week or so) to keep the toys new and exciting. Cats love things that move, rattle, squeak, and swing. It is an inherent reminder of the mice, birds, and insects they so love to chase and catch.
Ping pong balls, crumpled paper, empty toilet paper rolls, and the plastic rings around milk containers enthrall them ? just ensure they do not tear apart and chew them. They love chasing, pouncing on, and rolling after feathers and small objects tied to the end of a shoelace string. Many stimulating puzzle toys are also available that can entice kitties by periodically releasing kibbles of food or special treats. A word of caution for laser light use: always provide a special treat or toy after play to serve as the reward part of the game - some cats can become overly anxious with never being able to capture the lighted dot. It is truly a gratifying experience as an owner to watch their natural quickness and agility come through during such interactions of play.
The importance of creating an environmentally stimulating environment and increasing the actions of indoor cats is starting to be addressed in many venues with a variety of resources now available for novice and experienced cat-owners alike. For more examples of toys and activities to play with your feline pal, look online at the
University's wonderful website promoting the unique needs of the indoor cat through their Indoor Pet Initiative program, http://indoorpet.osu.edu/. There are many links on this page with guidelines to help you encourage you feline away from objects you find reprehensible for play and toward a more feline-friendly alternative. By providing for the innate mental and physical needs of your cat, stress lessens for the cat and the entire family. As with mom, when the cat is happy, the family is happy