How to Provide Environmental Enrichment for Your Indoor Cat

July 7th, 2015 by Daniel Mudrick

In our last post, we discussed how indoor cats can easily get bored and dissatisfied without enough stimulation. Remember, cats are instinctual animals that need to be able to enact certain behaviours; otherwise, boredom becomes stressful and causes anxiety.

Your indoor cats need an outlet for their natural instincts. We know as a caring pet parent, you’ll want to enrich their indoor environment so they stay happy and healthy!

Here’s how you can make a cat-friendly environment for your furry friends:

Scratching Posts

Cats need something to scratch and stretch out on. If you don’t provide an adequate scratching post, they’ll take to scratching something else – like your furniture and carpets!

Be sure to provide a scratching post that is tall enough for your cat to stretch all the way out. Pay attention to your cat’s behaviours. Some cats prefer different types of scratching materials (e.g. sisal, carpet, cardboard, etc.), while some even prefer horizontal scratching pads to vertical posts.

Consider putting a scratching post in common family living areas. Cats like to scratch things in common areas because scratching leaves their scent behind and marks their territory.

If you have more than one cat, you should have several scratching posts located throughout your home.

When your kitties scratch something you don’t want them to, you should place an acceptable scratching item – a scratching post – near the object. Then, make the unacceptable scratching object unappealing by covering it with double-sided tape, aluminum foil, or something else unpleasant.

Don’t forget to praise your cats when they scratch the scratching post to give them positive reinforcement!

Windows and Perches

Cats need places to climb and observe the world around them. They like to be above ground level, which allows them to feel safe while they watch their environment. They’ll often feel so comfortable on a perch that they will sleep there, knowing they can’t be surprised from their high vantage point.

Cats like to perch and watch things both inside the house and out. Window perches are especially important because the outside world typically provides far more interesting things to look at than inside the house. Leaves blowing through the air, squirrels, birds, people, new smells – all of these keep your cat from feeling bored.

When you are arranging your home’s furniture, you should ensure your cat has a perch they can look out the window from. Put a sofa, a table, or a cat tree in front of the windows.

Litter Boxes

Cats are clean creatures, and can be quite picky about their litter boxes.

Important litter box tips:

  • Keep it clean! Scoop at least once a day.
  • Most cats like large, uncovered litter boxes.
  • Most cats like unscented, fine-grained litter.
  • Fill the litter boxes at least 2 inches deep.
  • Place the boxes in easily accessible, quiet, private places where no unexpected noises or visitors will startle your cats.
  • You should have one more litter box than you do cats (e.g. if you have 3 cats, you should have 4 litter boxes).
  • If you have multiple cats and multiple litter boxes, provide different litter locations throughout your home (at least one on each storey).

If you aren’t vigilant about maintaining your cats’ litter boxes, don’t be surprised if they stop using them altogether and find some other place in your home to do their business! Cats don’t like dirty litter boxes and urine odour any more than you do!

Places to Rest

Cats need a safe refuge where they can sleep without fear, because they feel vulnerable when resting. Typically, cats like to sleep in quieter places in the home where they won’t be surprised – that’s why you’ll see them sleeping under beds, for example.  If you have children, the cat may choose to sleep out of their reach.

Perches and cat trees are great places for cats to sleep because they know nothing can sneak up on them there.

Don’t bother your cats while they’re sleeping. Your cats will appreciate it if you respect their privacy, and will become more comfortable in your presence overall.

Toys

We couldn’t get through a list like this without talking about toys, of course!

Cat toys let your cats simulate hunting down prey, which is one of their strongest instincts. They’ll hunt, stalk, and pounce on toys they like, entertaining both themselves and you! Different cats like different types of toys, so you should experiment with various options to find out what they like best.

Here are toys your cat might like:

  • Toys that interact (squeak, move, vibrate, etc.)
  • Small animal toys (e.g. little furry mouse toy)
  • Wand or stick with a string or toy dangling from it
  • Balls (crinkly balls, balls with bells, regular balls, etc.)
  • Simple things like pieces of string, toilet paper rolls, balls of paper

Just give your cats some toy options and see what they like best! And even if your cat loves a toy, they can get bored of it over time, so be sure to provide new toys every once in a while to keep their interest piqued.

Your Reactions

This may be the most crucial thing for cat parents to understand. Cats do not respond to punishment, yelling, or negative consequences.

If your cat is doing something you don’t like (say, scratching the carpets), and you yell at them, they won’t connect your yelling to their behaviour. They will only associate the yelling and anger with you and become afraid of you. To cats, human punishments and yelling are seemingly random incidents that only serve to make them think you’re unpredictable and dangerous.

If you want your cats to trust and love you, don’t do this!

You can create distractions if your cat is doing something you don’t like, to draw their attention elsewhere. Just make sure you’re not associated with the noise/distraction, or you’ll have the same problem.

Cats respond much better to praise. Catch them in the act of doing something you like, and lavish them with affection and approval.

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats

Happy cats are healthy cats.

We recommend keeping your cats indoors to protect them from outside hazards and maintain their long-term health. However, staying inside does come with its own pitfalls. That’s why it’s so important to provide the right environment for your indoor cats, complete with everything they need to live a stress-free, fulfilled life.

An excellent resource to help you provide environmental enrichment for your cat is “The Indoor Pet Initiative”. Click here to check it out.

>> Bring your cat in for a yearly check-up and ask us about environmental enrichment! Cats are notoriously skilled at hiding discomfort and pain, so a check-up may be the key to an early diagnosis. Make your appointment now!

Reduce your cat’s stress on visits to the vet. Get our free tip sheet on stress-free cat travel.

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About Daniel Mudrick

I'm the owner and founder of Clarkson Village Animal Hospital, a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Clarkson Village Animal Hospital has always been a dream of mine, and by caring for one patient at a time, the hospital has continued to grow. During those rare times when I'm not at the hospital, I'm at yoga, hiking, gardening, and spending time with my family. I also enjoy reading to stay current on the most recent advances in veterinary medicine.

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