Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats

Deciding to keep your cat indoors has its pros and cons. It allows your cat to be protected from outside threats such as injuries from other animals, cars etc., and it puts them at less of a risk of contracting infectious diseases and parasites. “Studies have shown that outdoor cats live shorter lives (averaging two years or less) while indoor cats will live an average of 15 years or more.” It is important to know the responsibilities that come with keeping your cat indoors. Your cat’s need to hunt, play, hide and explore must be met in alternative ways since they are not able to do so outside.

Every cat responds to types of toys differently, so it is important to expose your cat to several different types of toys. Toys that mimic natural prey (mice, birds, etc.) that make sounds/move on their own may be very appealing to some cats. Coating toys with catnip or filling them with food are other great ways to entice them to play. Toys hanging from doorknobs provide an alternate form of play, or you may also consider motorized or puzzle toys. However, care must be taken to avoid your cat swallowing toys, as this could lead to an intestinal blockage. Cats also need to have spaces to hide and climb. “Play centers” are a great option to allow both of these necessities to be met. Scratching posts (of adequate height to allow a full stretch) is essential for cats to condition their claws, mark their territory and relieve stress. Your cat may prefer a horizontal scratching post, or different scratching materials, i.e. cardboard, wood etc.

It is quite easy for indoor cats to become overweight since they would normally spend several hours of the day actively hunting for their food. Alternatives to this for indoor-only cats are puzzle or feeder toys, which require them to work for their food. You can also try hiding food in bowls around the house, or using an automated feeder, so they can only eat small portioned meals throughout the day.

Hiding is a normal part of cat behaviour. In the wild, they use this time to seek out prey and provides them with a place to feel safe. However, there may be instances that this is not the case, such as when changes are made to the home, or there are unfamiliar/new people in the house. Allow them time to adjust and come out on their own, and you may find it helpful to use food/toys to encourage them to come out sooner. You can also ask your veterinarian about a synthetic feline pheromone (Feliway) to reduce anxiety.

If you do want to provide your cat with some time outside, without letting them roam on their own, you may find the use of a harness/leash helpful, although not all cats take well to this form of outdoor activity. Alternatives to this are outdoor pens for cats, which would allow them access to the outside world, while still being contained within the walls of the pen. Ideally, they would be able to access this from home through the use of a cat door, but only when they can be supervised.

August 15th – October 15th is our Feline Focus! We encourage you to bring in your feline friends for an exam, where they will be entered into a draw to win 1 of 2 raffle baskets. If you have any questions about anything in this blog or about our Feline Focus, please do not hesitate to come in or call us at 905-664-4888. Meow for now!

Resources: Life Learn – “Cat Behaviour and Training – Enrichment for Indoor Cats.”

Written by Briarwood Animal Hospital