Creating environmental enrichment for your indoor cat

Posted: September 25th, 2015 | Columns, Featured, Lifestyle, Pets | No Comments

By Sari Reis

Many cat owners don’t realize that our domestic felines are actually wild animals living in captivity; however, permitting them outdoor access could shorten their lives.

Statistically, indoor cats live an average of five years longer than those allowed to roam outdoors. They are safe from traffic, predators, toxins, diseases and other potentially life-threatening events.

Balls of string or any toy a cat can bat around is a good way to keep a cat stimulated indoors. (Photo courtesy of Sari Reis)

Balls of string or any toy a cat can bat around is a good way to keep a cat stimulated indoors.
(Photo courtesy of Sari Reis)

However, a safe life can possibly lead to other problems. Since cats are sensory-driven and natural hunters, they need to use these instincts on a regular basis. When indoor cats do not receive the stimulation and enrichment they need, they can become stressed, bored and unhappy, leading to behaviors such as over-grooming, aggressiveness to other cats, over-eating and self-mutilation.

Dr. Karen Becker defines environmental enrichment as “enhancing the living situation of a captive animal to improve health and well-being.” So how do we create the stimulation they need while keeping them safely indoors? One way is through creative feeding. Instead of putting all their food in a bowl, try hiding some food around your home and let them “hunt” for it. You can also try treat balls they can roll around on the floor that release food. Working for food is a natural instinct for these hunter cats and they will enjoy the challenge.

Since cats like to be in high places, place a cat tree or two near windows so they can watch the birds and other stimuli outside their viewing space. You can also place shelving on walls for them to climb and sleep on.

Playtime is crucial for cats and enhances your relationship with them. Try to set aside at least 10 minutes twice a day to play with your kitty. Laser toys for them to chase and wand toys are great for interactive play. They should also have toys they can play with independently. Fake mice, balls, feather toys and even an empty cardboard box or paper bag can provide fun and stimulation. I switch out my cats’ toys regularly so that they don’t get bored with the same ones all the time.

Scratch posts are a must for indoor cats as scratching is a natural instinct that needs to be met. If you don’t have scratch posts, they will probably use your furniture.

Even well-socialized cats need a safe place to go when they need quiet time. Providing a safe “hiding” place for them will keep them happy and avoid stress. If you work outside of the home or travel regularly, cat TV can provide entertainment for kitties or leaving some quiet music on the radio while you are away can create a calming yet sensory experience.

If you still want your furry feline to be able to experience the outdoors, you can try walking him outside on a leash or building a fully enclosed cat house on your porch or patio. There are several companies online that offer unique enclosures for this purpose.

Understanding and providing for your kitty’s need for enrichment will make for a happy and relaxed cat and create a more powerful bond between you.

—Sari Reis is a Certified Humane Education Specialist and the owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting services. For more information you can contact her at 760-644-0289 or

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