(Adapted from article in Clinician’s Brief by Lisa Rodosta, DMV, DACVB)
It is important to provide adequate environmental enrichment for cats to help prevent behavioral and medical problems. Cats are less likely to display inappropriate urination, aggression between cats, aggression directed toward humans, and behavioral overgrooming with appropriate enrichment. Below are several simple additions that can be made to your home environment and enrichment activities that you can implement with your cat.
- Provide vertical space and areas for your cat to hide (ex. cat trees, cardboard boxes, crinkle bags). It is recommended that you have one resting and hiding space for each cat in each room.
- Set up scratching posts in your home. (If your cat is scratching on carpeting or furniture, it is important to place the post near these areas. Cats typically prefer to be with people in the main living areas of the house, so scratching posts tend to be used more often if they are in these locations).
- You can use food, catnip, and treats to help encourage your cats to use resting/hiding places and scratching posts.
- For anxious cats or multiple cat houses, consider using Feliway (a synthetic copy of feline facial pheromone). This scent is used by cats to mark their territory and help them feel safe and calm. It is available as a plug-in diffuser or a spray that can be used on bedding, cat trees, or other areas of the home.
- We recommend that you have one litter box for each cat in the home, plus one additional box. These litter boxes should be in different locations throughout the home. It is important the the litter boxes are easily accessible. Avoid putting litter boxes in loud areas or areas with strong scents.
- While all cats are different, most studies show that cats prefer clumping litter in large, uncovered litter boxes. As cats age and develop arthritis, it is easier for many cats to get in and out of litter boxes with shorter sides.
Play and Hunting Activities:
- Cats are natural predators and even well fed cats will oftentimes have a drive to hunt. Simulating this behavior by hiding food around the house or using treat balls (Kitty Kong or IQ Treat Balls) can help fulfill this drive and help keep your cat at a healthier weight.
- You should have several toys around the house. Again, every cat is different, but small, mobile toys tend to encourage play. Cats like variety in their toys and rotating your stock of toys every few weeks can help keep your cats interested. This can be as simple as changing the color of his/her favorite toys.
- Examples of inexpensive toys include ping pong balls in a bathtub, catnip mice or balls, balls with bells, and toys on stands or wands. It is important to provide supervision when cats are playing with any toys with strings or small toys that could be swallowed. These toys can cause a GI obstruction if eaten.
- It is important to schedule time to play with your cat daily.
- Training your cat will also provide mental stimulation and can also help bond the cat to the owner. Cat training sessions should be kept short (about 3 minutes) . Cats are most likely to be amenable to training prior to a meal. Additional information about training cats is available at http://www.clickertraining.com/node/1776.