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Keeping your kitty happy: How cat enrichment helps felines stay healthy

March 28, 2018

Cats are fantastic furry family members, but indoor cats can suffer from depression and frustration, and become lethargic if their environment does not provide enough stimulation.

Cat playing with wand toy with paw upCat-friendly furniture, such as bookshelves with steps specifically designed for cats or tables and couches with tunnels and openings cats can explore, is available and trendy, but can be hard to find.

There are stylish home design accents that work just as well, such as deep and wide frames for photos or art that your feline friend can climb into/onto, or shelves or perches placed on the wall near windows.

Did someone say box?

Sometimes, placing a simple cardboard box on the floor is enough to create an enrichment area for your feline, as many cat guardians will likely agree.

Providing an indoor environment that promotes natural behaviours including climbing, hiding, chasing, jumping and pouncing is key.

Cat enrichment tips:

  • Ginger coloured cat touching nose to string ball toyProvide a variety of cat toys that are safe and stimulating such as feathery and furry toys that move and feel like small prey or toys filled with catnip (beware that catnip makes some cats aggressive or hyperactive)
  • Provide a scratching post with high perches
  • Set up perch areas near windows so your cat can observe the world and open screened windows to let fresh air in
  • Set out a cardboard box or paper bag for your cat to explore, or turn on a dripping tap
  • Playful black and white kitten crouching down ready to pounce on blue toy ballSpend time every day interacting with her by playing with toys, games of chase and peek-a-boo
  • Plant a pot of indoor greens for your cat to munch on such as cat grass or alfalfa
  • Hide treats around the house and encourage her to find them
  • Cats are auditory hunters – be creative, get toys that make buzzing noises
  • Reward your cat when he hunts the sound
  • If your cat tends to keep you up at night, schedule a few interactive playtimes during the evening, then feed him a main meal right before bed; you can also use a timed feeder to dispense one or two small meals during the night

What’s the issue with indoor and outdoor cats?

Photo credit: John Creviston

The BC SPCA strongly recommends pet guardians keep their cats indoors, but some cats may benefit from restricted outdoor access if they get frustrated indoors.

Should your cat require outdoor access, many cat guardians choose to build secure cat enclosures that allow their pets to experience the outside world safely. Cats can also be leash and harness trained.

Risks of letting your cat outdoors

  • Other cats or dogs in the neighbourhood can cause injuries to your pet
  • Busy streets and traffic can cause injury or death
  • Exposure to contagious diseases and parasites
  • Extreme weather issues
  • Poisoning
  • Pet theft
  • Animal cruelty
  • Eaten or injured by wildlife like coyotes, eagles or other predators

Outdoor roaming cats also cause:

  • Problems by digging in neighbour’s gardens
  • Marking territory by spraying
  • Prey on songbirds and other wildlife

I want my cat to have some time outside

  • Photo credit: John Creviston

    Only let your cat out during the day

  • Train your cat to walk on a harness
  • Build an enclosure outside to keep her safe – catios – enclosures that allow feline family members (and sometimes, humans too if enough space) to safely enjoy the outdoors are increasingly common, as are other enclosures built with cats in mind

Tips to help keep your cat safe outside

Think about all the risks before deciding to let your cat go outside. It might be hard to change her habit of going out if you change your mind and want to keep her in.

  • Photo credit: John Creviston

    Train your cat to come back at a certain time every day by feeding her only then

  • If budget and space allow, build a safe enclosure or catio that allows him to safely explore that outdoors while still having safe access to the inside of the home
  • Give your cat access to the inside of the house or a safe shelter near the house to escape other cats or dogs if one is chasing her
  • Train your cat to respond to a whistle by blowing the whistle every time you feed her or give her a treat (Be careful as your cat may come running from across the street when she hears the whistle. You should not use the whistle unless you know it is safe)
  • Talk to your vet about vaccines and parasite prevention

Curious cute tabby cat lying on wood floor playing with feather wand toy