Many domesticated cats live stress-free lives. If they’re indoor-only, then most of their days are probably spent sleeping by a window, knowing when and where their next meal will come from, and getting lots of pets and scratches (on their terms, of course).
This kind of care-free lifestyle looks completely different from their ancestors and feral relatives. Their wild counterparts have new places to explore, are driven to hunt for their food, and must watch out for predators. It may seem like our domesticated felines have it made, and in a lot of ways they do, but many indoor cats lack a lot of the mental and physical enrichment they would find if they were still roaming free.
Enrichment is anything that is meant to improve the mental and physical well-being of a domesticated or captive animal through several different means. In short, it’s anything that makes your cat’s indoor life more exciting by tapping into his or her natural instincts.
There are many different forms of enrichment, but the main ones are:
1. Physical – Enrichment that provides or promotes exercise.
2. Sensory– This includes anything that stimulates the 5 senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound.
3. Nutritional–Taps into food and foraging instincts.
4. Occupational – Having a job to do or goal to complete.
5. Social– Being able to experience positive interactions between humans and other animals.
Each type of enrichment plays an important role in your cat’s life, and it is beneficial to include each of them in their day.
It may be surprising to hear that cat’s need enrichment, especially when they are often so content with being by themselves and doing their own thing. Cat’s need enrichment because it helps them feel happier, keeps their mind working, and helps them stay healthy. Just like dogs, cat’s benefit from a variety of enrichment items and activities in their every day lives.
Enrichment also helps reduce stress and anxiety. In can also decrease negative behavioral problems, such as aggression towards members of the family or other pets. It helps our cats to not feel bored with their everyday surroundings by providing them with different outlets to just be their own catty selves.
Many things you can do for your cat can be enriching for them in more than one way. For instance, an occupational enrichment activity could also fulfill a nutritional enrichment need and so on. When coming up with enrichment ideas, don’t over complicate it! A lot of things you have at home can provide your cat with plenty of fulfilling enrichment fun. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Tap into those primal instincts by getting creative with your cat’s favorite treats. Use toilet paper rolls, muffin tins, and treat puzzle toys to hide different treats for your cat to find. Adding pieces of paper into these items can make it even more challenging and fun for your cat.
You can also experiment with different types of treats that vary in taste, texture, smell, and size to get some extra sensory enrichment involved for your cat to enjoy.
Cat’s are naturally curious, so providing environmental enrichment can help keep their surroundings interesting.
Experiment with different pet furniture for your cat. Tunnels, wall mounts, and stackable cat cubes are great ways to give your kitty new places to explore. Make sure to rotate, add to, or rearrange pieces of furniture to keep things interesting!
For the truly adventurous cat, take them for a walk to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the great outdoors. A walk can remind your cat that there is even more to explore than just the inside of your house. Just be sure your cat is comfortable and properly harness trained or secured in a stroller before taking them outside.
One of the greatest ways to provide enrichment to your cat is through interactive play. Cat’s can play on their own, but they really benefit from play that encourages movement as it taps into their hunting instincts.
Use different toys such as laser pointers, feather wands, and motorized mice for your cat to chase after. Get creative and think of different ways to play or move each toy to keep things exciting.
Nobody wants to play with the same toy over and over, it just gets boring! Be sure to introduce a variety of toys to your cat including puzzle feeders, various interactive toys, and crinkle toys. This will give your kitty different things to choose from throughout the day and will give them several ways to play with different goals.
You don’t have to have a backyard or live in the country for your cat to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. The internet is full of hours of bird-watching and nature scenes that you can put on for your cat.
Nature channels and videos are especially helpful if you plan on leaving your cat for extended periods of time and they need something to entertain them while you’re gone. Make sure your TV or streaming device is secure, though, you don’t want an overly excited kitty knocking anything down!
We aren’t talking about trick-or-treating (though there is plenty of enrichment activities you can do with your cat that’s fall-themed) – we’re talking about trick training! Cats don’t often get trick training, and to that we say, “Why not?!” Cats are just as capable of learning tricks as dogs are, they just might require a bit more patience.
Teaching your cat tricks keeps their brain sharp and can strengthen the bond between the two of you. Keep treats small so as not to fill your kitty up too fast and be consistent. If your cat loses interest, reintroduce the tricks later. After all, trick training should be fun and not stressful.
While our cats may be picky, they appreciate having a fun environment to explore and interact with. Try out different enrichment ideas with your cat and see which ones they respond to. Modify games, treats, and toys over time to keep things interesting. Remember, you’d get bored of the same things every day, too!
If you've ever gone down the rabbit hole of researching the best kind of diet to feed your cat, you aren't alone! Many cats are often given dry kibble or are introduced to it as they get older, but more cat parents are opting to give their feline friends wet food over dry.
The transition from wet to dry may not seem easy right away, but there are many great benefits your cat will enjoy once they do!