Your cat is a sensory-driven creature who needs an outlet for her energy. If she is faced with a boring environment and no means to release tension, the consequences may be detrimental. Creating an enriching home environment is something every cat parent should focus on to keep kitty happy and healthy.
Keeping Cats Enriched
Environmental enrichment is something that cat parents may not necessarily think of when bringing a new cat home, but it is incredibly important to the well being of any cat. The finely tuned senses of cats have helped them to survive outdoors. When we bring them indoors, (which is really where we want them), into an environment where there is little to do, a cat may find a way to release tension that isn’t so beneficial. A boring environment can contribute to destructive behavior, aggression towards other cats, anxiety, or depression. This manifests in a variety of stress-relieving behaviors such as over-grooming, chewing inappropriate items, picking on companion pets, retreating into isolation, over-eating, self-mutilation, compulsive behavior and loss of appetite.
Play = Hunting
Cats like being in hunting mode. Dopamine is released in a cat’s brain when she is hunting, creating a feeling of eager anticipation. This feeling of eager anticipation makes it less likely for her to feel bored, anxious, or depressed. By providing enough toys and playtime, we can create the same feelings in our cats that they feel when they are hunting.
Cats benefit from both interactive and object play. Interactive play involves you engaging with your cat by holding a fishing pole-type toy or laser pointer that mimics some form of “prey” your cat can hunt. When you move the toy or dart the laser across or away from your cat’s field of vision, her prey-drive is triggered. Remember, no self-respecting prey would plop itself right in front of your cat and say, “eat me for lunch,” so she will be less enthused by you dangling the toy right in front of her face.
Object play involves any manner of small toy (or for that matter, ball of paper) your cat can bat around and jump on. When you place these toys inside various objects or locations, you can stimulate your cat’s curiosity. Try re-purposing an empty tissue box as a hiding place for a furry mouse toy, or place a small ball inside a paper bag for some added fun.
Tunneling for Fun
Adding a tunnel for your cat to play in or hide can also be a way to add enrichment. Fabric tunnels can be purchased or you can make one yourself by taping paper bags or boxes together.
Cats live in a vertical world and will often seek an elevated location for napping, to seek refuge, or even for security, especially in a multi-cat home. Giving your cat the opportunity to get vertical can provide additional enrichment. Vertical space can be created with cat trees, catwalks, or cat shelves and perches.
Every cat needs a place to hide. Regardless of the confidence level in your cat, giving her an option for sneaking away to hide is a good thing. Donut or “A” shaped beds are suitable hideaways, but even a simple box turned on its side and lined with comfy bedding will suffice.
Visual enrichment for your kitty can also be a great thing. If you have window perches set up for your cat, consider adding a bird feeder near the window so that your cat can be entertained by the birds that come to partake of the snacks you’ve left for them. If that is not an option, consider investigating entertainment DVDs that showcase prey for your cats to watch. You can even log onto YouTube and search “videos for cats” or “entertainment for cats” and find a plethora of videos of birds, squirrels, and other assorted wildlife that can keep you cats entertained.
Finding ways to create enrichment for your cat will ensure she stays happy and healthy. That’s not just good for her, but also for the whole family.