Our feline friends are independent with unique personalities that make them special. Many pet owners choose to bring a feline friend into their home because of their easy nature and the perceived limited needs of cats. However, cats, like our canine pals, require a lot of care, veterinary visits, physical activity, and enrichment. Cats are especially skilled at hiding signs of illness, stress, or anxiety. And, cats whose needs are not being met, or those who are stressed, will often exhibit undesirable behavior, such as biting or inappropriate elimination in the home. Behavioral problems are the leading reason pets are surrendered to a shelter. Follow these four tips from our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team to ensure your indoor cat is receiving proper enrichment to remain healthy and happy.
#1: Provide a safe retreat for your cat
Our frisky felines are naturally territorial, but living indoors all the time necessarily limits the size of their territory. Ensure your cat has a safe space where they can retreat to feel protected and safe. Although their indoor territory may be small, cats need to be able to exhibit these natural behaviors to feel safe. Provide your cat with a protected area where they can rest. If you have multiple feline friends, ensure each cat has a designated safe area. If you notice your cat gravitating toward a special place in the house to rest, ensure the area is safe and encourage their behavior by placing a blanket or cat bed at the location. Types of safe spaces may include:
- Cardboard box with an added blanket for comfort
- Cat perch or tree
- Back of an open closet or under the bed
- Travel crate that remains open for your cat to come and go as they please
#2: Stimulate your cat’s senses
Cats, like people, require stimulation of their senses in their environment. If you had to look at the same wall day after day with no view of the outside world, chances are you would become frustrated, bored, and anxious. Your cat will, too, so ensure they have a variable environment with regular forms of enrichment. Although your cat lives indoors, you can bring the outside world to their paws in many different ways. Stimulate their senses by incorporating one or all of the following:
- Sight — Place a bird feeder outside a window where your cat can watch the birds, or plant flowers that will attract various bugs your cat can watch. For houses without easily accessible windows, try playing a special cat video of fish or outdoor environments.
- Sound — When possible, leave secure screened windows open to allow your cat to hear natural sounds such as birds chirping. However, if you live on a busy street or in a city area, this may not be a good option and could cause your cat increased stress. Try playing special music for cats that is designed to calm them and stimulate their brains.
- Scent — Bring non-toxic flowers, leaves, and plants inside for your cat to investigate. Use caution when choosing a plant and always check the ASPCA toxic plant list to ensure it is safe. Spray natural cat pheromones, such as Feliway.
- Taste — Provide your cat with fresh catnip and occasional treats.
- Touch — Ensure your cat has designated scratching posts to avoid damage to your furniture.
#3: Encourage your cat’s natural prey and hunting behaviors
Encouraging your cat’s instinctive behaviors, such as hunting and stalking, will improve their overall well-being and strengthen their bond with you. Cats have a natural need to hunt, so choose interactive toys to mimic prey, such as a toy mouse or a feather wand. Designate daily play times with your cat and ensure you occasionally allow them to catch the prey to avoid them becoming frustrated. For multiple cat households, ensure each cat receives equal playtime and attention. Food puzzles or balls are also a great way to mimic your cat’s natural hunting and eating behavior and will encourage their problem-solving skills. Provide a variety of toys and rotate them so your cat does not become bored.
#4: Provide your cat safe access to the outdoors
During the warmer months, and when it’s possible, provide your cat with safe access to the outdoors. Try buying or building a catio where your cat can safely view the outside and experience fresh air. Leash walks with your cat are also a great way to take them outside safely. Slowly acclimate them to a new harness and leash by allowing them to sniff and investigate the equipment. Have ample treats available when training your cat to wear a harness and leash. Never force them, and ensure they are completely comfortable before taking them outside. Before taking your cat for a walk, ensure they are current on all vaccinations and parasite control. Also, ensure your cat is wearing an identification collar and their microchip contact information is current.
Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team wants to ensure your cat remains healthy and enriched throughout all their life stages. Call our office if you have any questions about keeping your indoor cat healthy, or to schedule a preventive care appointment.