Here are some secrets from a team of veterinary experts for avoiding cat boredom, stress and disease by turning your home into a feline-friendly environment. These tips will help to keep your kitty happy and entertained. And of course, a happy kitty is a healthy kitty!
1) Engage Your Cat’s Hunting Instincts During Mealtime: Hunting is a vital natural instinct and a great way for cats to expend energy. According to Dr. Kayla Whitfield, DVM at Lakemont Veterinary Clinic in Altoona, Pennsylvania, hunting behavior consists of “seeking out prey, stalking, chasing and biting.” This sequence satisfies their brain when it comes to their instinct to hunt.
Since indoor cats are provided with food, their opportunities to satisfy all of their natural hunting behaviors are few and far between. So it is up to pet parents to help engage their kitty’s hunting instincts.
To keep your indoor kitty entertained during mealtimes, you can utilize certain strategies and tools to allow your cat to put their hunting prowess to work.
2) Use Cat Interactive Toys: “Hunting” for food is only a portion of healthy predation play for cats. Dr. Jillian Orlando, DVM, a veterinary behavior resident at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine says that you also need to have cat interactive toys available for fun and engaging playtimes. “Toys that allow cats to carry out components of the predatory sequence, including stalking, chasing, catching and biting, can be very rewarding for cats. Plush mice, feathers, and toys that move or can be pulled on a string are all good options. Cats will have their own individual preferences for what they like best, so owners should try multiple types.”
3) Play time: Play with your cat each day. Try different types of toys that allow your cat to stalk, chase, pounce and kick. When you’ve exhausted your cat, store toys that could harm them (such as toys with strings attached) out of reach. When you can’t be there to supervise, leave out “toys” such as paper bags (with the handles removed) or cardboard boxes. Be sure to switch the toys from time to time so that they seem “new” and more interesting to your cat.
Cats are natural athletes and it’s all too easy for your cat to go stir crazy if it can’t work out that excess energy. The good news is there’s no shortage of awesome cat toys that will keep your cat moving. There are toys that look like mice, toys with feathers, battery-powered toys with flashing light and sound, laser pointers, toys that move, toys on strings–everything that you need to help keep your cat pouncing and stalking safely indoors.
4) Provide Cat Scratchers: Cats use several means to mark their territory, including scratching and marking. Dr. Whitfield explains that scratching plays an important role in a cat’s overall happiness and health. “Scratching is an important behavior in cats as it not only helps mark their environment physically but also with scent.” She adds that scratching helps to keep your cat’s nails strong and healthy, too.
So, to keep your cat happy and not scratching your furniture, it is essential that you provide them with cat scratchers. Dr. Whitfield says, “Most cats typically prefer vertical surfaces and like the surface to be something they can really dig their claws into, like sisal, rope, carpeting or cardboard.
To further encourage your cat to use a cat scratcher, Dr. Whitfield suggests giving verbal praise and even food rewards to help positively reinforce this normal behavior when it occurs in an appropriate location.
5) Add Vertical Space: As prey animals, many cats enjoy having vertical space to feel safe and observe from. Dr. Whitfield explains, “Because cats can be prey animals as well as predators, it is important that owners provide places of safety and comfort for their cats. This includes elevated perches and other hiding spots.”
You can use cat trees, cat perches and cat shelves to help them get the elevation they crave. There are a variety of cat houses or condos that can help you to provide your feline family member with a safe spot to hang out.
“For elderly or arthritic cats, owners should provide furniture options that allow easier, gradual jumps or steps rather than completely vertical fixtures,” Dr. Orlando says.
6) Grow Cat-Safe Grass: Dr. Whitfield also suggests providing plant material for your kitty to enjoy. “Provide plant material to eat! Grow wheat grass or catnip for kitties to chow down on,” she says. According to Dr. Whitfield, even though cats are carnivores, they can benefit from the vitamins and fiber of plant material. Also, by providing kitty-safe plants, you may deter your cats from digging/eating other houseplants.
7) Optimize Your Cat’s Litterbox: A happy cat will have all their needs met, including the dirty ones. Dr. Whitfield emphasizes the importance of a proper setup for the cat litter box.
She says, “Litter box setup and maintenance are important for your kitty’s happiness. Too often we set the litter box up for our convenience and preferences—such as small, covered [boxes with] scented litter [placed] in the basement.” While some cats might tolerate that, Dr. Whitfield says that it is really important to keep the comfort and preferences of your cat in mind.
Dr. Whitfield recommends a large, uncovered litter box, though preferences can vary from cat to cat. Dr. Whitfield also recommends using an unscented cat litter.
8) Get Involved with Cat Training: Caroline Moore, KPA CTP at Animal Alliances, LLC in Northampton, Massachusetts, suggests training your cat as a form of stimulation. “Training is wonderful enrichment! It’s a great workout for your cat’s brain and a great way to bond.”
9) Bird Viewing Stations: Even well-fed cats still retain the wildcat’s natural attraction to small animals. You can indulge that attraction by setting up a bird viewing station inside. Simply install a cat window perch and put up a bird feeder or bath right outside the window. Your cat will have hours of viewing pleasure and entertainment.
10) Importance of Environmental Enrichment for Cats: “Cats are predators, so they have natural instincts to stalk, chase, bite and rip apart prey. They also mark their territories through scratching and scenting. These are their genetic ‘jobs,’” Moore says.
Cats can get bored and stressed when they do not have a “job” or outlet for their energy, and when that happens, they can start engaging in activities that humans won’t find so fun.
Moore explains, “If we can give cats ways to exercise those natural instincts, they will be more relaxed and content household members.” And Dr. Whitfield adds that “Indoor enrichment is vital to the overall health of the cat. Cats who do not have an enriched environment are prone to diseases such as bladder inflammation, upper respiratory infections, dental disease and obesity.”