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Enrichment to keep your indoor cat stimulated

December 19, 2019

Cats are highly complex and naturally curious creatures. And while they may enjoy spending time outdoors where they can climb, scratch and stalk prey until their heart is content, the reality is that cats should be kept inside. This is both in the interest of their health and safety, and to protect local and native wildlife. 


But although keeping our cats inside is best to protect them against disease and other dangers, it can easily lead to boredom and other behavioral issues if we don’t provide them with the right environmental enrichment. And this is why choosing to take on a feline friend comes with the great responsibility to keep them stimulated and thriving while indoors! 


What are some signs that my cat is bored, or isn’t happy in his environment?


If your cat isn’t mentally stimulated enough by their environment, they can develop serious behavioural issues. These issues don’t just make life unpleasant for them – they can also make your life pretty unpleasant too! 


Such issues can include: 


– Aggression

– Attention seeking behaviour, like knocking items off shelves or countertops or excessive meowing

– Urinating or defecating outside of their litter box

– Over or under eating

– Self-injury or compulsions like excessive grooming or scratching

– Excessive sleepiness or laziness


How do I understand what my cat needs to stay stimulated indoors?


The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine suggests that the best way to understanding what enrichment you should introduce to your cat is by getting outside and observing their natural environment. There’s plenty of things to climb or hide behind, rough surfaces to scratch and rub against, moving insects to pounce at, and so on. Consider how you can add similar elements to your home so that your cat has an outlet to express their natural behaviour.


However, it’s also important to consider that all cats are different, and should be provided with unique environmental enrichment to suit their personality. For example, Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy mentions that there are three different ‘classifications’ that can determine what type of enrichment is best for them: 


–      Bush Dwellers: these are the cats that love to hide (perhaps under a coffee table or behind a plant) and pounce, but prefer to keep their feet on the ground. A Bush Dweller might prefer to hang out in a cat cave or tunnel.


–      Tree Dwellers: the cats that thrive off the ground, often perched on furniture that allows them to scope out the room and keep their eyes on what’s going on. If this is your cat, they’ll probably love a tall scratching post with platforms that they can climb up and perch on, or perhaps an elevated bed


–      Beach Dwellers: these cats also love being on the ground, but out in the open rather than hiding. If your cat is often sprawled out on the floor or expects you to walk around them, they probably fit in this category. Try providing them with cat toys they can play with on a ground level. 


Tips for keeping your cat mentally and physically stimulated


According to the RSPCA, you should introduce enrichment that allows your cat ample opportunity to use their natural instincts to jump, stalk, run and pounce. 


Here are some enrichment ideas to help keep your indoor cat stimulated, both mentally and physically: 


Consider their litter box setup – like many animals, cats use their excrements as a way to mark their territory. They also like quiet and privacy when using the litter box – much like humans! To allow them to access this fundamental need (and stop them from ‘marking their territory’ all over your home), they need a litter box that they enjoy using. A covered litter box can be a great option for some cats, or others may prefer an open tray. It’s also essential to keep them in an easily accessible place – which means if you live in a multi-level home, leave one on each floor. 


Craft an interactive tower – for those cats who like to climb or perch up high, use boxes to create a tower, with cut-outs that they can peer or poke their paws through. For even more fun, hide treats in the tower for them to find throughout the day! 


Give then ample opportunity to scratch – when bringing a cat into your home, this is the one thing you have to be prepared for! Scratching is a vital natural behaviour for all cats and helps them keep their claws in check, stretch their muscles and mark their territory with scent. Instead of discouraging it, provide them with lots of ways to express this behaviour! This may look like a purpose-built scratching post, or a few different textured scratch mats that you can change up regularly. 


Rotate their toys – cats love playing with toys, but make sure you switch them up regularly to prevent them from getting bored or becoming disinterested. Choose toys with texture (like feathers, rope or crinkle fabrics) that they can chase and pounce on. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine suggests choosing toys that mimic prey behaviour, like squeaking, chirping, jittering, swinging or vibrating. 


Make a cat wand – this is an easy DIY and a great way to make your cat take an interest in their old toys again! Simply attach a toy, or a simple item like a pom-pom or feather, to the end of a stick using elastic or string. Wave it around for them, or attached it to a surface where they can swat and play until their heart is content. You can also get cat toys with finger rings attached, which make it easy to get playful with your kitty! 


Don’t forget the ‘cat TV’ – just because your cat is an indoor cat, doesn’t mean they should be totally closed off to the great outdoors! Jackson Galaxy suggests giving your cat access to a cosy window where they can gaze outside and watch the world go by. Hot tip: set up a birdbath or feeder a few meters outside this window – it’ll keep them entertained for hours.



We know your cat will love these ideas! 


If your cat is experiencing behavioural issues, please speak to your local vet to determine the best course of action and explore suitable enrichment options to suit their needs. This post is for informational purposes only, and shouldn’t replace personalised advice from your pet’s vet.