This week you were promised ways to enrich your indoor feline’s life. This may be for a permanent indoor cat or a cat that is driven inside by the new snow and cold. You don’t have to wait until you are seeing issues to start these. In fact, if you do them from the beginning you may never have to worry about behavior changes!
Cats have a high natural chase and hunt drive. When they are kept indoors in a rodent-free environment (or so we hope!), there aren’t as many chances for them to stalk and hunt. Also, if you have a cat like mine, they may like chasing but still absolutely will never catch a rodent. If you have ever seen a cat hunting, it is a pretty involved process. They usually find a trail, sit and wait for as long as it takes, then pounce when the chance comes. All of this integrates their mind and body.
I do not recommend bringing rodents into your home just for your cat’s entertainment. This will backfire. Where does that leave us? We have to replace the mice with something more appropriate for our indoor cats to “hunt.”
Every cat has a favorite, but feathers on a string, ropes over the tops of doors to hang down, and laser pointers are popular choices. Not only will these engage your cat and get them moving, but carving out time to play with your cat will also strengthen your bond. While many see cats as aloof, and some cats are, many crave attention and love from their owners just like dogs. Many cats start looking forward to playing time just like dogs look forward to walking time!
Get several types, toys that have a bell, rustle, scratch or squeak. Have a toy basket and get a different toy out for each day so that they are new and exciting. Just leave a few down for everyday play and reserve the others for dedicated play time.
Another way to get your cat exercise while using their chase drive is to feed them meals of dry food by tossing kibbles across a floor (or up and down stairs.) This helps cats work off their calories while simultaneously letting them chase, catch and eat their meal. One of my mom’s cats will grab her kibble after pouncing, crouch, and growl while she eats it.
Cats tend to jump up to high places before sleeping or grooming. While the threat of predators in our houses is pretty low (depending on your dogs and kids), cats instinctively tend to seek high ground before letting down their guard. Cats that have a place to do this in our houses tend to be less agitated and able to spend more time in their comfort zone. This is especially good for multi-cat households, since it can provide everyone with their own “bedroom” area and decrease stress. Even cats that play together and groom each other need some space. Just think of siblings and spouses: you love them, but that doesn’t mean you want to be with them every minute.
There are many ways to create this environment. You can purchase tall, elaborate kitty condos that have beds and scratching posts. You can make a cat tower, or simply attach a series of shelves to the wall that your cat can access (without anything on them). You can add favorite beds or scratching posts to these. If your house is full, your wallet is empty and your carpentry skills aren’t up to snuff, then consider clearing any tall space. Dressers and tops of entertainment centers can make perfect spots — just make sure to be consistent in clearing all tall furniture so that your cat doesn’t get confused about why that china vase was off limits.
Cats scratch things to sharpen their nails, spread their scent and stretch their muscles. The key is giving them something to scratch that is allowed. We certainly don’t want to encourage them to ruin furniture, so instead, we must replace it with something acceptable. Find out what your cat likes to scratch (soft cloth, rough cloth, rope, cardboard, sisal) and buy or make them scratch posts. Some cats prefer these to be horizontal, while others prefer them to be vertical. You can often look at areas where your cat scratches the most to figure out what material and orientation they like. Make a couple of trial posts and pads. This will help them fulfill a natural urge, while also encouraging them to leave your furniture alone.
I’m sure everyone has noticed this, but cats love to get into enclosed spaces like boxes and bags. Plastic bags have a much higher risk of suffocation or plastic ingestion, so I encourage boxes or paper bags. Cats can entertain themselves for quite a while just by playing in these homemade toys. Take advantage of this inexpensive playtime and set up different types of bags or boxes.
If you have enough enrichment for your cat, you will see their stress behaviors decrease and their contentment increase. These are always the first things to change and implement before moving to more drastic medical options. Remember that you are also part of your cat’s herd, so grooming and playing with them helps them feel happier and more secure.