Indoor cats need more than food and shelter to lead happy and healthy lives. The best way to ensure your furry friends don’t get bored or stressed is through cat enrichment.
Cat enrichment involves creating a stimulating environment for your kitty by engaging all of their senses. Cats have certain behaviors and needs. Giving them opportunities to self-express keeps them excited and entertained while strengthening the bond between you.
You can enrich your cat’s life through activities, toys, and the clever use of surroundings.
In this article, we’ll cover feline enrichment for cats of all ages.
What is cat enrichment?
Cat enrichment is all about making your cat’s daily life interesting and fulfilling.
It’s about engaging their minds, senses, and bodies using toys, furniture, food, training, and indoor and outdoor activities.
Keeping your cat occupied is especially important for indoor-only kitties because they don’t have as many opportunities to satisfy their instincts and curiosity as outdoor cats.
Why do cats need enrichment?
The main reason cats need enrichment is that too little (or none at all) may lead to numerous issues that affect your cat’s health and behavior.
This includes anxiety, hyperactivity, aggression, litter box problems, and more.
Naturally, every cat is different, so you have to discover the things your kitty particularly enjoys. While doing so, always be mindful of safety. Be sure to supervise your cat to prevent potential problems, such as ingesting pieces of toys or DIY items you make.
Different types of cat enrichment
There are several types of feline enrichment you can try out with your kitty:
Sensory enrichment involves stimulating all five senses – sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Examples of sensory enrichment include audio (like music composed for cats), food puzzles, surfaces for scratching and rubbing, like doormats, and cat-friendly plants like cat grass.
Cognitive enrichment entails exercising your cat’s brain. You can stimulate your cat’s mind by giving them food puzzles, hiding toys around the house, and teaching them tricks.
Environmental enrichment involves making use of your cat’s immediate surroundings and making their indoor habitat stimulating. For example, you can give your cat many places to hide, climb, or scratch. Try using cat trees, scratching posts, cardboard boxes, and paper bags.
Cats are social creatures. Although they may seem shyer and more independent than dogs, they enjoy and crave human interaction.
To meet those social needs and build a bond between you and your cat, start by spending time with them. Give them a cuddle, comb them gently if they like it, and play with them with their favorite toy. You could also sing and read to your cat.
If you have only one cat, consider adopting another one so they have a friend to keep them company when you’re away.
How do you enrich an indoor cat’s life?
Use your imagination when it comes to enriching your indoor cat’s day-to-day life. Variety is key, and it’s important to try out and rotate different types of enrichment to keep your cat entertained.
Here are some cat enrichment ideas for indoor kitties:
Self-play toys are ones your cat can play with on their own. Cats enjoy toys that let them engage in their predatory instincts. Toys that prompt chasing, pouncing, and stalking are the best.
You can find battery-operated toys like automatic bubble blowers, or perpetual motion toys to keep your cat occupied.
There are also low-cost ideas for self-play toys. Cats can bat around wine corks, scratch doormats or bath mats, and paw at toys in an old pizza or cardboard box with holes in it. They can also knock around empty paper towel rolls, crumpled-up newspaper, and wrapping paper. Just be sure you remove tape, staples, and anything that poses a choking hazard.
Interactive cat toys bring you and your cat closer together through the shared experience of having fun. You and your pet are bound to have a good time while playing with wand toys with strings, fabric strips, or feathers attached to them.
Another cat favorite is a laser pointer and chasing the point of light around the house. However, this can get a little frustrating for cats, so it’s a good idea to include a reward. Point the laser to a toy that they can “kill” at the end and continue to play with later.
Using space and furniture for enrichment
There are many ways you can use vertical and horizontal space in your home for cat enrichment.
Cat trees and cardboard cat scratching boards are great for climbing and clawing. If you have cardboard boxes lying around, you can use them to build box forts or box towers for your cat, and add blankets for extra coziness. Plastic milk crates and storage tubs also make great retreat spots.
You can also create a comfortable place near the window or install a window perch to give your cat a better view of the surroundings and a place to bask in the sun. You can hang a bird feeder outside the window so your kitty can watch the birds.
However, be careful if you have roaming cats in your yard. Some cats feel anxious and insecure when they see cats in their territory and can start spraying inside your house.
Training your cat and teaching them tricks provides great mental stimulation for them while also allowing them to play.
You can teach your cat to respond to cues such as “sit”, “down”, and “wave”, and give them treats as a reward. Positive reinforcement works really well for clicker training, which conditions your cat to expect something enjoyable like a treat, in return for doing tricks.
You can also give your kitty safe access to the outdoors.
There are a few ways they can safely explore the outside world. This includes building a cat enclosure like a catio and taking your cat for walks.
Catios are a great way to let your cat experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world without the danger of getting hurt or harming wildlife.
You can also train your cat to wear a harness to go for walks or buy a pet stroller to take them around your neighborhood. There are harnesses made specifically for cats available in pet shops, we even reviewed some in our “Best Cat Harnesses” article.
Cats in the wild feed by hunting prey. Indoor cats have the same innate urge to search for food. Food puzzles, also known as foraging toys or puzzle feeders are a great way for cats to satisfy this need and exercise their brain.
Puzzle feeders are filled with cat food (kibble, wet food, or treats), and it’s up to your cat to figure out a way to get the food out. There are many types of food-dispensing toys, some of which are stationary, while others are designed to move around.
Toys like Pavlov’s Cat and PetSafe SlimCat are a good way to introduce your cat to puzzle feeders, as they won’t have too much trouble getting the hang of it.
Pavlov’s Cat works by releasing dry kibble when a cat scratches the toy.
SlimCat is a ball-shaped toy with small holes that dispense treats when rolled around. You can adjust the hole size to make it more challenging for your kitty once they get the hang of it.
Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. cat feeder kit is a great example of a mobile puzzle feeder. It contains three mouse-shaped toys you fill with food and hide around the house.
Your cat needs to search for the “mice”, and once they find them, they have to pounce on the toys to reach the food., The hunting aspect engages their inner predator and gives them an outlet for their energy.
You can also make DIY feeders or hide pieces of kibble around your home and let your pet search for it.
How do you enrich an older cat’s life?
As your cat ages, it can be tricky to keep them active and engaged without straining their bodies and joints. Enriching a senior cat’s life involves making your home more accessible and giving them soft, cozy places for hiding and retreat.
As senior cats are likely to experience limited mobility, you can put elevated food and water bowls on the ground instead of leaving them on tables or counters. If your cat prefers drinking running water, you can get them a cat water fountain – this will keep them entertained, too.
To help them stay active, you can get your cat a carpeted cat ramp to serve as a climbing aid for cats with arthritis. Flat, horizontal scratching posts are also helpful because senior cats have difficulty retracting their claws and stretching upwards.
Video, audio, and scent products
When it comes to enriching an older cat’s life, focus on visual, auditory, and scent stimuli.
For visual stimulation, you can buy your cat an artificial mini aquarium, install a bird feeder near a soft, cozy window perch your senior cat likes to lay on and put on videos made specifically for cats.
For auditory stimulation, you can try out CDs recorded specifically for cats, or leave the radio on to see how they respond to music. A 2015 study showed cats respond favorably to music composed for cats.
When it comes to stimulating your old cat’s sense of smell, you can expose them to some cat-friendly plants such as silver vine, oat grass, and catnip. Catnip is the most popular plant choice for many cat owners. You can grow catnip yourself, buy it from garden centers, and get it in dried or spray form.
Feliway or cat pheromones are also a good choice for scent stimulation. If you plan on using essential oils or man-made scents, make sure to double-check whether they’re safe to be used for cats, as some can be harmful or unpleasant for your kitty.
For a comprehensive list, read our article on the “26 Smells Cats Hate”.
The main takeaway on cat enrichment
Cat enrichment is essential for keeping your cat happy and healthy and for minimizing stress and boredom. Different forms of enrichment provide both mental and physical stimulation and keep behavioral and health problems at bay.
It’s important to incorporate various types of enrichment into your cat’s daily routine to keep them busy and entertained. Spending time with your cat will help you discover what they enjoy most, so use cat enrichment ideas accordingly.
Of course, it’s important to provide your pet with an environment that’s safe as much as it’s fun, so when in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.