Enrichment: Cats Gone Wild
Indoor cats tend to live longer, healthier lives than cats who are given outdoor access, but is indoor life enough to keep your house panther content? Many people with indoor cats wonder if their cats are happy being stuck inside all day. With a few simple tools and tricks, you can provide enrichment to help your indoor cat live a full, active, happy life.
If there’s a cat in your life chances are you’ve watched your cat watching everything going on outside. Birds, squirrels, cars, people. For the curious kitty, getting to observe the outside world is highly entertaining. Near a window, they also get to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine, and maybe some fresh air through a cat safe screen. You can also consider placing a bird feeder in a place visible from the window to increase the level of outdoor activity. If you live in an area where there isn’t a lot of wildlife for your cat to observe through the window, you can find videos online that feature birds, squirrels, or fish.
Bring the outdoors in with a patch of cat grass. Barley, rye, oat, and wheat grasses are all safe for your cat to munch on, and some cat grass kits come with a combination of these seeds. Once it sprouts, cat grass grows quickly and is easy to maintain. You can also purchase cat grass already planted and sprouted. Cats enjoy the flavors, and the grass provides nutrients, as well as fiber, which can aid digestion and even support hairball passing.
For cats, play is actually the enactment of hunting instincts. You might already be familiar with the hunt - catch - kill - eat - groom - sleep cycle that is natural to cats. Timing a play session just before your cat’s meal time supports this cycle and helps your cat keep in tune with her natural rhythm. Wand toys work best for keeping human hands safe while your kitty gets to stalk and pounce, jump and catch. Try out a variety of materials and toys styles to find out what really gets your cat revved up for the hunt. Interactive feeding toys can provide an outlet for your cat’s hunting instinct, too. They also encourage movement to keep cats from being sedentary.
Small toys that mimic prey are great options for cats to interact with on their own. Your cat might also love to chase and bat around balls. Cats love mystery, so you can create a fun toy by cutting holes in a small cardboard box and putting a few small toys and treats inside for your cat. There are now an incredible amount of fun interactive toys to choose from that can add excitement to your cat’s day. Your tablet or iPad can also become a toy, with games designed just for cats. Similar to playing with a laser light, though, these games don’t provide the satisfaction of actually catching something. Follow up a fun laser light or video game session by providing an object for your cat to catch so they can enjoy the thrill of a successful hunt.
Cats are built to climb, so having at least one cat tree for your indoor cat is highly recommended. For a household with multiple cats, make sure there’s at least one perch per cat so they don’t need to fight over a favorite space. Cat trees not only satisfy the need to climb, they also give cats a safe place to observe the rest of the home. This is especially important in a busy household, or one that also has dogs.
Scratching is an instinctive behavior for cats. It’s a way for them to keep their nails healthy, and to place their scent in their territory. Scratching also helps cats stretch their bodies and relieves stress. Some cats might have a preference for a vertical, horizontal, or slanted surface for scratching. Rubbing catnip into the scratcher’s surface can help entice your cat to use the scratcher instead of furniture. Having a scratcher or scratching post for your indoor cat will not only save your favorite couch, it will provide a much needed outlet and help your cat maintain healthy nails, muscles, and lower stress levels.
Taking your cat out for a stroll is not as strange as you might think. There are backpacks, harnesses, and strollers designed specifically to give cats some safe, structured outdoor time. Not all cats will take to being out and about very easily, so it's best to start when they're young to help them build confidence. If you do harness train your cat, be sure to have them fully vaccinated to protect against illnesses like calicivirus and distemper. Also, know the neighborhood and be watchful for potential dangers or things that might spook your cat.
As cats have become more beloved as pets, people have taken a greater interest in understanding them and providing resources to more fully address their needs. They are not merely aloof hunters meant to keep homes rodent free. They are family members who deserve a rich, healthy life. Whether your cat spends time outdoors or is a full time indoor companion, enriching their life will strengthen the bond between you and allow them to show you their full, magical, marvelous feline self.