You've done everything to treat Fluffy like a queen. She gets the best food, the best medical care, and you keep her safely indoors. But is she really happy? Our homes are set up for humans, but may lack qualities that cats instinctively need to be satisfied. Food, shelter, and a clean litter box are the basics. Environmental enrichment means making a home more suitable for a cat’s instinctual needs. Cats get bored, anxious, or stressed if their environment does not meet their needs. This can lead to medical or behavioral problems. “Scarf and barf” (eating too fast and immediately regurgitating), hiding, inappropriate elimination, waking owners in the night, marking or destroying furniture, and overgrooming can all be due to lack of environmental enrichment.
To enrich your cat’s environment, start by creating safe spaces. In nature, cats can be prey, so being out in the open can make them feel unsafe and unable to relax. Provide quiet hiding places like cat trees, simple cardboard boxes, perches, cat tunnels, cat condos, kitty slings, and cat beds. If you have more than one cat, it’s imperative to create multiple safe spaces to eat, eliminate, and rest. In general, you should provide 1 litter box per cat plus one extra. When cats are forced to share critical resources, it creates stress. Elimination problems often stem from not having enough litter boxes or not keeping them clean. Litter boxes should be scooped 1-2 times daily or cats will find them too dirty or smelly to use.
Cats in the wild spend the majority of their day hunting. They average 8-10 mouse meals per day, so naturally they are grazers. When we feed cats kibble in a bowl, it hampers both the hunting behavior and the built-in exercise. No wonder indoor cats are so prone to obesity! Did you know feeding just 10 extra kibbles per day over a year can add up to 1 pound of excess weight? To prevent boredom and obesity, use toys that help express hunting behavior, and feed multiple small meals. Or better yet, put the food in toys that make the cat work (hunt) for their meal. Try the Pipolono cat treat//food dispenser, Multivet SlimCat, Petsafe EggCercizer, Catit Treat maze, and Kong treat ball.
It’s better not to keep the bowl full all the time — this is a recipe for a fat cat! Instead, put multiple small bowls of food around the house and change the location daily so your cat will have to go on a daily treasure hunt. Play “kitty soccer” with the kibble or try the NoBowl cat feeding system. There are even many automatic timed feeders for cats that will dispense the amount of food you want to give at the times you want.
Play with your cat every day. Cats love to chase and catch balls. Ping pong balls are a favorite, but crumpled paper or foil “balls” work, too. Cats like furry catnip mouse toys, especially ones that scurry, vibrate, or squeak. They like to catch things that dangle or drag from a string — feathers are popular and mimic bird prey. When playing with a laser pointer or any toy, be sure to allow your cat to “catch” or “kill” the toy occasionally or he will get frustrated and give up on the chase. Squeaky toys delight some cats. Others are happy with simple toys made from toilet paper tubes, boxes, milk carton rings, and paper bags. Of course, supervise cat play and be sure your cat does not ingest part of a toy. Do not play with string or yarn.