Staying Busy Not Bored: Cat Enrichment Ideas
Cats have been a part of human lives for thousands of years, from pest control, to gods, to companions. However, there are many myths associated with cat ownership, including "I don't have time to take care of or walk a dog every day, so I'll get a cat," "you can't train a cat," and “my cat only likes me because I feed them.”
These myths lead to a misunderstanding of the social needs of cats. Often, this results in a dull life for cats. Some handle the lack of enrichment modestly, but others show abnormal behaviors. Kittens who lack enrichment find their own fun and can get into a lot of trouble around the house. All of their excess energy and imagination can make anything into a toy. However, cats that lack enrichment may become reclusive or aggressive with both people and other pets.
Cats are capable of many of the same activities as dogs such as being trained, walked/hiked with, and engaged in play. Many cat guardians become frustrated with their cat because they don't learn the same way dogs do. Patience and understanding of what motivates your cat goes a long way. Identifying your cat’s preferred style of play and learning about their interests can help to determine which enrichment activities that they will enjoy the most. Enrichment comes in many different forms and simple adjustments in your home can make your cat’s life more fulfilling.
Cats have amazing eyesight, especially with horizontal movements. Placing a bird feeder outside of your window and setting up a comfy spot on the window sill is a great option for cats to stay entertained. Playing videos of birds for your cat can keep them busy if you're unable to set up a bird feeder. Each part of the world has their own "channel," where we live, there are a lot of birds to watch. Where we used to live, there was a higher number of squirrels. Cats enjoy a variety of different motions to entertain them. Fish tanks or videos of fish are another way to give your cat visual enrichment. Just make sure it has a secure lid!
Cats have acute hearing to enable them to locate prey. Keeping a screened window open allows them to hear birds and small creatures scurry around. If the window isn’t an option, playing sounds of birds and woodland creatures can be effective as well. There is also calming cat music that can be purchased or found on YouTube, such as “Through a Cat’s Ear.” Music can be soothing to them, especially for anxious cats.
Catnip is a great option to offer as scent enrichment. Catnip comes in the usual dried form, a spray, and the actual plant. The dried form is found most commonly in toys. The liquid form can be sprayed onto toys and other items to refresh the smell. Cat pheromones such as Feliway, are a great option for cats who are anxious or fearful, as they can be used as a calming aid.
Nosework games are a great way to mentally stimulate your cat. One way to do nosework is to hide treats around the house and encourage the cat to use their keen sense of smell to hunt for them. Another way is by training them that a specific smell is rewarding and to search it out. This is a super fun game and my dog and cat love to play! Very diluted essential oils can be another way to offer scent enrichment. It is important to find oils that are safe for your cat and to rotate them often so they stay interesting.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Some cats like to explore and relax outside to watch the small animals, hear the sounds of nature, and feel the sun on their fur. Other cats are intimidated by the outdoors and may prefer to sit on the window sill or in a cat window box instead. A window box is an enclosed space that sits in your window to allow your cat to see experience the sights and smells of the outdoors as they please, but close to the house for comfort.
If your cat is the adventuring type, there are many different options for safe outside time. Walking them on a harness and leash is a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your cat. You can explore new quiet areas and maybe even gain a trail buddy. Catios are enclosed areas that your cat can spend time in outside. Some catios are built up against a house so the cats can go in and out as they please. Fencing your backyard with cat safe fencing allows the cat to have freedom without the dangers of cats that roam have, such as running across the road.
Cats love to interact with objects by using their paws and scratching. Cat guardians are not usually thrilled with their pets when they are destructive, so providing many appropriate options can significantly reduce or eliminate damage to household items. Place scratching posts made of sisal rope or cardboard in locations that the cat is being destructive or that are near where the family spends time. Cats scratch to scent mark and they do it in social areas, keeping that in mind can help to reduce inappropriate scratching.
Providing many different types of cat toys can keep your cat busy. Make sure to rotate toys to keep them novel. Interactive toys are a great way to engage your cat when you are unable to actively play with them. HexBug makes two automated cat toys, a mouse and a bug, that move like the animal that they represent. There are other toys that look like butterflies flying in the air, activating other senses in your cat. It is best to have a variety of these toys so all the aspects of your cat’s predatory behavior are activated. When playing with your cat, try to mimic the motions of a mouse or a bird. Cats recognize these motions and enjoy the game!
Cats like to be elevated. Cat trees, perches, and shelves are a great way to create a comfortable place for your cat to relax, as many cats feel safer when they have a higher spot to look out from. Especially in homes with dogs and children, having a safe spot that they can get away and not be bothered in is crucial for a cat’s feeling of security.
Food and edible enrichment is a fun way for cats to engage in their natural predatory behaviors. Puzzle toys provide the cat with different ways to hunt for their food. Many cats prefer to “work” for their food, as opposed to a bowl, because it engages their minds and gives them a goal.
There are many cat puzzle toys on the market, as well as DIY options. Some involve a ball for the cat to bat around, releasing treats, while others have sliding pieces that the cat pushes to expose wells filled with food. Each puzzle toy has its own mechanism for releasing the rewards. Using puzzle toys to give your cat meals can help keep them active and busy which might help to give a sedentary cat a boost. They are also great to help with weight loss as your cat is getting more exercise!
Cat grass, or wheatgrass, is another great way to introduce flavor-oriented enrichment. To expand on the grass, you can make a small potted garden for your cat. Wheat grass, catnip, valerian, mint, lemongrass, and parsley are some great additions to the cat garden. Cats like to rub against the plants, smell, and nibble on them. On hot days, you can freeze ice cubes of low-sodium chicken broth, goat milk, or water from tuna and offer them to your cat in a bowl. They will spend time licking it which keeps them busy and cool!
Teaching your cat tricks stimulates their minds and gives them physical exercise. Cats are incredibly smart and are really good at solving puzzles. Teaching them tricks gives them cognitive puzzles as they need to figure out what we are asking with the criteria that we give them. Through the process of training your cat, the bond with your cat increases because you are both working towards a goal together. The ability for your cat to communicate their needs and wants to you increases greatly. Not to mention, it is really fun! My cat waits for me in our training area every day because she wants to do more!
1. Toilet Paper tube puzzle: Put some pieces of food in the tube and fold the ends in. Then, cut a small hole or two in the side. Your cat will push it around to get the treats out.
2. Pizza box: Cut numerous holes in a pizza box and put a cat toy inside. The cat will stick their paws in the holes to play with the toy.
3. Take some paper towel tubes and cut them to different lengths. Make sure that your cat can reach their paws to the bottom of each tube. Take all the cut tubes and fit them snuggly into a box. Put treats or food into the tubes and let your cat fish them out.
4. Ice cubes in a large bowl gives your cat something to bat around. This idea has a different feeling and keeps the cat engaged by the irratic motions.
5. Box forts - save your Amazon boxes and grocery store paper bags. For added fun, cut holes in the box!
Experiment with different types of enrichment to see what your cat enjoys. Try something from each category so your cat has environmental enrichment activities to engage in when you aren't able to spend time with them and also ones that you and your cat can do together. The combination of these two create a fulfilling life for your cat. Rotate toys and other enrichment activities to keep them interesting. Most of all, have fun with these ideas!
Always supervise your cat when giving enrichment activities, toys, and food to make sure that they are safe for your cat.