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Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats

Dr. Kari Addante addresses what indoor cats need in their environment to help them stay happy and healthy:

The enviable life of the indoor cat: meals prepared, cozy beds to sleep in, and playtime at their leisure. It is a wonderful life indeed. At the same time however, it is very important to scrutinize the situation a little further. Is your home providing what is needed to encourage natural behaviors in cats – such as climbing, “hunting”, jumping, and even hiding? Is something in your home a source of stress to your cat? Making a few simple changes in your home can make your cat more relaxed and calm, which will help avoid behavioral issues, such as aggression between cats and litter box problems. Moreover, providing a stimulating and safe environment can decrease the incidence of stress related health issues such as feline lower urinary tract disease, feline herpes virus and even obesity.

Cats love vertical spaces and every home with a cat should really have a cat tree. There are many sizes, colors and styles to choose from so there’s bound to be one that meets the needs of your cat as well as your tastes in décor. There are trees with ramps and graduated steps that are a help to older or less agile cats. There are cat trees with cubbies for cats that like to hide as well. Ideally, the cat tree would be in front of a window so your cat can perch and watch the birds and squirrels. The taller the better as some cats love to go to the tippy top where they are out of reach for the dog, kids and everything else. Window beds and perches are lower cost options that can be used alone or in addition to cat trees to maximize your cat’s fun factor.

Often cats will use the tallest vertical object available to sharpen their claws so the cat tree may also serve that purpose. Scratching is a natural instinct for cats (i.e. even those that are declawed) and it is wise to have several different scratching posts throughout your home as an outlet for this behavior. Most, but not all, prefer a rough surface that they can shred. There are vertical and horizontal options depending on what suits your cat.

Toys are important as well and every cat will have preferences so it is best to try a variety. Toys that require you to interact with your cat such as feather wand and laser toys probably top the list of favorites. Food dispensing toys are also popular and are meant to simulate hunting behavior: hiding small treats about the home may achieve the same effect. There are battery operated toys and puzzle toys as well. Toy mice, balls, bottle lids, as well as empty boxes and wads of paper are great fun too. Cat-nip toys can be rejuvenated with cat-nip spray. With all the available options, you are sure to find things your cat enjoys and rotating toys over time helps keep their interest peaked.

After making sure you have provided an environment with many things to do – windows to look out of, things to watch, places to climb, scratching posts and safe toys, it is also important to provide sanctuary. This is especially true when there are multiple pets as well as young children. Baby gates can be used to create areas your cat can run under (i.e. best for older cats) or jump over. They can be stacked if needed to prevent larger dogs from leaping past them. A place where your cat can relax and be undisturbed is a fundamental feature of the ideal environment.

Likewise, having adequate resources for the number of cats in your home is vital. There should be one more litter box than the number of cats in your home. In addition, you should provide a separate feeding and watering station for every cat. Try to achieve a situation where there is no competition for perches as well. For homes with more than two cats or any home with a cat that has behavioral or health issues, I would recommend use of CEVA Feliway pheromone diffusers to decrease anxiety that is common is such situations. Even if you don’t use Feliway continuously, you may consider it during times of increased stress such as when you leave for vacation, guests visit your home or if you introduce a new pet.

All of us love our cats and want them to be happy: we know adapting to the human world comes with some inherent stress for them as a species. Unfortunately, this stress is rarely obvious to us. As a result, as cat owners, we are challenged to take a proactive stance: evaluate your home and how you can better meet your cat’s needs. Doing so is the best approach to insure the health and happiness of your feline.
Kari Addante, DVM

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