Do you ever look at your cat and see a glimpse of the wild cat that she is deep down? Do you joke that your cat “thinks he’s a tiger” as he stalks, hunts and pounces? Do you find yourself getting woke up in the middle of the night because that’s when kitty is most active? This is because cats still have survival instinct behaviors that some of our other domesticated pets do not have. To keep your cat happy and healthy, she needs activities that keep her engaged in her surroundings. This is known as “feline enrichment”.
This topic is close to my heart because I have seen the difference in cats’ personalities and behaviors depending on the amount of stimulus around them. Boredom can lead to a variety of behavioral problems including meowing or growling, aggressiveness, scratching or going to the bathroom in inappropriate spots as well as obsessive or compulsive tendencies like persistent fear, pacing, over-eating or over-overgrooming. It can also lead to physical health problems caused by stress such as urinary infections, obesity or respiratory issues.
An enriched environment allows cats the ability to create positive experiences in a safe space. The goal is to create an “environment of plenty” meaning that there’s a secure space with plenty of food and water, litter boxes, socialization and stimulating activities.
What does a secure, safe space look like for a cat? Cats prefer to eat, sleep and use their litter box in an area that they’re not disturbed. If they’re doing these activities and there are loud noises, people moving back and forth or animals interrupting or scaring them, then these activities become stressful. You may need to relocate the cat dish to a higher area if the dog is competing with her for her food or move the litterbox to an area farther away from where the kids are jumping and playing loudly. You may also want to consider offering various locations for your cat to eat, rest and use the litter box to give them alternative options.
In the wild, your cat would be found scratching surfaces and spending time off the ground up on perches or trees. This is where they feel safe and can hide, rest or hunt. If you give your cat opportunities to be elevated off the ground, not only will they be more inclined to stay off your dinner table, but they’ll feel more secure in their environment. Scratching is also a natural desire; in the wild, these marks display rank, give off scent and can even show gender. Placing scratching posts will help save your furniture while encouraging your cat to display their natural feline behavior.
Wild cats live in colonies, and domesticated cats are social beings. Every cat has a different temperament and personality; some cats like to be near you but left alone, and others can’t get enough belly rubs. Make sure the people near your cat are calm and unforceful in their interactions and your cat receives consistent socialization each day.
Last, but not least, activity! Give your cat opportunities for their natural predatory behavior. Cats are most interested in things that move, so provide toys that have motion and allow interaction. A jingly ball, feathers on a string… try a variety of options, and your cat will definitely show favorites. You can also incorporate food or treats within toys which provides an opportunity to hunt.
Creating an “environment of plenty” for your feline family member enriches their lives, and our cats enrich our lives. The outcome is a secure, happy, healthy pet and a richer home. What can you add to your cat’s environment today?