How To Enrich Your Cat’s Home Environment
You’ve gone to great efforts to give your cat the best of everything: you’ve done your research, feed the best food, and attend to every physical and medical need. But is your cat happy?
Veterinary behavioural science has demonstrated that cats need more than shelter, food, and a clean litter box to have a fulfilling life. Cats also need what feline behavioural experts call environmental enrichment. The human home is made just right for humans, but it lacks some things that are essential to the health and happiness of cats. In an environment where a cat’s instinctual needs are not met, he will become stressed, anxious, and bored. Some cats hide boredom and anxiety well, but other cats may not tolerate being unable to express their instincts and begin to have behavioural and medical problems, such as:
• Compulsive overeating and obesity
• Scarf and barf
• Over-grooming leading to hairballs
• Destroying furniture
• Waking pet parent in the middle of the night
• Retreating into isolation
New research has even found that, for some cats, stress and anxiety can cause urinary issues, ranging from painful urination and urinating outside of the litter box to complete urinary obstruction, which becomes a life-threatening emergency.
In short, we owe it to the cats that we love to understand what they instinctively need and provide that for them in a safe, indoor environment. Here’s how to do so.
5 STEPS TO IMPROVING FELINE ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT
Create a Safe Space. In nature, cats are both predator and prey, so being exposed can make them feel vulnerable and stressed. Cats have a strong instinct to hide to feel safe and relaxed. Give them a safe spot to retreat to with beds, boxes, perches, cat trees, and shelves.
Give Cats Multiple and Separate Key Resources. Cats handle conflict by avoidance. They get along best when they don’t have to share. Cats need multiple “key resources” (litter boxes, scratching posts, resting places, water and food sources) in separate areas of the living space.
Provide an Opportunity to Hunt. Cats need to hunt to be physically and mentally healthy. In nature, cats hunt between nine and 20 times a day, 24 hours a day. Cats spend most of their waking hours hunting for food. Simply feeding from a bowl does not provide the stimulation that they need. Cats should hunt for and eat multiple small meals a day—not gorge from a bowl twice a day. In addition, cats are solitary hunters that prefer to hunt and eat alone. Forcing them to share a single location for food can cause conflict that leads to stress and urinating outside of the litter box. For a solution to this problem, check out my NoBowl Feeding System (NoBowlCat.com), a cool feeding system that let’s your cat hunt for her food.
Provide Positive and Predictable Human Interaction. Play with each of your cats every day! Cats benefit from at least 15 minutes of daily play with their humans. When you end any play session, allow your cat to “catch” his “prey” (the toy) and give your cat a food reward to complete their natural hunting, catching, and eating “seeking cycle.”
- Provide an Environment that Respects Your Cat’s Sense of Smell. A cat’s sense of smell is 15 times stronger than a human’s. Cats need to engage their exquisite sense of smell to hunt for their food. Likewise, cats dislike certain smells—especially citrus—so avoid scented air fresheners and carpet cleaners in their spaces!