Enrichment means fun for cats!

By Jennie K. Willis, PhD as published in the Coloradoan in August of 2012

We all know that an indoor cat is a healthier cat, without exposure to disease or dangerous situations, but let’s face it… being indoors day after day can get old.  Enrichment is a way to help make days more interesting and it doesn’t need to be expensive.  All you need is some imagination and creativity!

What is enrichment?  You can think of it like entertainment for their minds and bodies.  Cats are an intelligent species that spent 70% of their time hunting and catching food ancestrally.  Now, we provide them food in a bowl and wonder why they get up at night pouncing our pillows and knocking items off countertops just to see what happens.  When we provide them safe and appropriate things to do, some of these attention seeking behaviors can be improved.

Enrichment used primarily engages your cat’s sense of novelty and problem solving.  So we want to think about stimulating all senses and trying to engage them in play and exploration.  Here are some ideas.

  • Awaken their sense of smell:  Anoint different areas of the house in different perfumes or scents and let them investigate.  You could even leave a food treat to “mark the spot” and reward their efforts.  This low-pressure way of playing hide and seek can be endlessly entertaining.
  • Use catnip to jazz up old toys.  Not all cats have a response to catnip, but many do!
  • Employ the kids to blow bubbles indoors.  Cats love to chase and bat them and it is a great game!
  • When you go to the store or get a delivery, think about repurposing those paper bags and cardboard boxes.  Cats love exploring new territory, even if at first they are a little scared.  Make crinkly paper into balls for them to bat.
  • Use music to cue active times.  Put on music while you are playing interactive games or at times when they might be usually be running and playing.  Once this cue is paired with activity, it can be used to move activity to a different time of day if needed.
  • Make food fun.  No one thinks eating out of a dish is particularly exciting, and neither does your cat. Their minds were meant for so much more!  For dry food, buy a puzzle toy that lets a little spill out a time, when your cat makes an effort.  For wet food, think of a rubber cavity toy where you can let your cat lick the wet food out.  Make it harder by freezing the toy so it takes longer.
  • Rotate their toys.   Cats may not be playing with toys on the floor now, when they have been put away, then they are brand new coming out again!
  • Remember natural possibilities.  Branches with leaves to bat or kitty grass to chew are nice options too.

Remember to supervise all enrichment to make sure it is being used as intended.  Help your cat be happy, healthy and safe as an indoor kitty with a lot of options for fun and excitement!

Dr. Jennie Willis is an instructor of animal behavior at Colorado State University and owns a private consulting business, which provides counseling for problem pets and their people. For more information about consultation, seminars and classes please visit www.AnimalBehaviorInsights.com

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