Environmental enrichment is a term that is used by many feline behaviorist, and it’s important that you understand what it means for your cats.
Creating an environment that stimulates your cats’ senses and gives her opportunities to exercise her natural instincts is especially important for indoor cats. Renowned behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell,” calls environmental enrichment “catification.” Catifying your cat’s environment not only makes her happy, it can also prevent serious behavior problems ranging from scratching and inappropriate elimination to aggression toward other cats in the household.
Cats need to have plenty of toys, places to hide, places to climb and perch, and things to watch. All of these needs can be met with environmental enrichment.
Most cats like to be up high. If you don’t provide appropriate spaces for them to do so, they will jump up on counters, sit on top of the refrigerator, or climb curtains or bookshelves. There are numerous ways to provide vertical space for your cat: cat trees, cat condos, shelves or window perches all get the job done. If you have multiple cats, make sure you set things up so that there’s access from two sides so you don’t create a situation where one cat can be trapped by another.
Some cats will prefer hiding spaces where they can get away and feel safe. In addition to using existing furniture such as end tables and coffee tables, you can use cat tunnels, cat cubes, or covered beds. This way, your cat can remove himself safely from perceived stressors or threats, and you’ll avoid confrontation or redirected aggression toward another cat, or the human, in the household.
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. The problem comes in when this natural behavior collides with our living space. Providing plenty of scratching posts will save your furniture and allow your cat to exercise her natural desire to scratch in appropriate places. Scratchers come in a large variety of shapes and materials from vertical sisal posts to carpeted horizontal or angled scratchers. Most cats seem to prefer vertical scratchers, and they should be tall enough to allow the cat to fully stretch her body. Regardless of your cat’s preference, you should have multiple scratchers throughout the house.
Interactive toys are a great way to keep your cats stimulated both mentally and physically, and a great way for both you and your cats to get in on the fun. Interactive toys fall into two categories: toys that your cats can play with on their own, such as food puzzle toys, and toys that are designed for joint play for cat and human, such as wand or fishing pole type toys.
Even though only about 50% of cats react to catnip, for those that do, catnip toys can provide hours of fun by stimulating excitement that allows kitty to go wild.
Bird feeders and fish tanks
A strategically placed bird feeder outside a window will create “kitty TV” for your cat. Bird watching will satisfy your cat’s hunting instinct without harming the birds. A fish tank with a firmly attached lid can also provide hours of entertainment for your cat.
Screened in outdoor enclosures are a safe way for indoor cats to experience the outdoors. There are numerous options for these “catios,” ranging from window attachments to movable outdoor enclosures to enclosed patios. Make sure the enclosure is well constructed and that your cat can’t escape.
Environmental enrichment is not an option for happy cats – it is necessity for their physical, mental and emotional health.
This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.