When cats wander outside, they’ll experience a wealth of opportunities for mental stimulation. They might stumble across another cat, hear the sound of a car’s horn or take in the smell of some leftover food in a garbage can.
Indoor cats are at less risk of contracting diseases or suffering injuries and tend to live longer. The downside is that they don’t generally get the same kind of environmental stimulation as their outdoor buddies. In some cases, that can lead to behavioral issues.
Read on to find out how to create some “environmental enrichment” in the life of an indoor cat to keep them happy and well-adjusted.
Keeping Your Cat Mentally Stimulated
If an indoor cat doesn’t get the right amount of stimulation, these are some of the signs that might appear:
- Not using their litter box
- Anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm
- Attention seeking behavior and aggression
- Compulsive grooming or scratching
- Excessive vocalization
- Scratching at furniture or carpets
As the responsible owner of an indoor cat, it’s up to you to create an environment of opportunity for your cat. This will help them stay positive, get the mental stimulation they need and keep them more physically active – all of which are good for their overall well-being.
Mental stimulation can help to prevent boredom and cognitive decline, especially as a cat starts getting older. Read on for some tips!
Make Mealtimes Feel More Natural
Cats are natural predators. Keeping them inside protects birds, rabbits, and other small wild animals from a cat’s hunting instinct. Try to replicate this instinct by using food puzzles and interactive food toys and balls.
There are plenty of options in the shops but you can also make some toys yourself. For example, cut holes in a plastic bottle, empty paper towel roll or a clean and empty pizza box and fill them up with some favorite treats for your cat to dig out.
Try hiding food in various spots around the house such as in boxes, bags and carriers. This will encourage your cat to hunt for their food. Vary the locations each day. Make sure you make a list of the hiding places so that you can check if your cat finds the food.
You could also play videos of birds or small animals for them to listen to and watch.
Create Some Vertical Spaces
Most cats are natural climbers and enjoy being in high places where they’d be more likely to feel less danger if in the wild. Giving a cat some hiding places that are above floor level makes them happy and improves the overall space they have to live in.
You could give your cat a carpeted tree with hiding spots, perches and shelves. Single perches are a great escape option when playing with other animals around the house.
Create opportunities for your cat to sit with their eye-line at window level. This gives them the chance for plenty of mental stimulation when they watch what’s going on outside. Regularly move perches to encourage your cats to explore.
Get Them Chasing and Running
Cats that live indoors can become sedentary very quickly. You can help keep them physically active by playing games that involve them running around each day. Set a timer for at least five minutes twice daily to play with your cat.
Try using a ping-pong ball, used hairband or feather tied to a long length of string attached to a stick of bamboo. Move the string around you so that your cat can join in by chasing what’s on the end of it.
Homemade Toy Ideas
Cats can tire of their toys. It’s a good idea to mix things up and rotate their playthings so they’re always fresh and interesting.
Here are some more homemade cat toy options:
- Set up an obstacle course with paper bags and cardboard boxes
- Set out an old suitcase they can use as a plaything
- Put out objects they can bat around like crumpled up paper
Train your cat to perform some tricks and to obey commands such as sitting. This takes time and plenty of patience. It’s a fun and stimulating chance for you to bond with your cat.
Always use positive reinforcement and have plenty of treats to reward your cat as they pick up a new trick such as fetching a new toy.
Provide a Scratching Post
Cats need to scratch and climb as a way to leave their scent, sharpen their claws and stretch their legs. You must provide a post made from a material that your cat enjoys scratching.
Vertical posts using materials such as sisal rope tend to work best. Some cats may prefer a horizontal post. You may need to try a couple of options before your cat finds a surface and shape they like.
When they use the post, reward them with treats. You could also use catnip for encouragement.
Use the Right-Sized Litter Box
Always provide a separate litter box for each of your cats and locate them in different, peaceful and stress-free parts of your home.
The litter boxes should be of an appropriate size for each cat. Large plastic storage boxes can sometimes work well. Most cats prefer unscented, clumping litter.
Keep the litter box clean by scooping from it at least once a day and changing the litter every week or two. Wipe it regularly using only soap and water. Avoid highly-scented detergents or other cleaning products with a strong smell. Make sure any cleaning product is thoroughly washed off when you’re finished.
If your cat is not urinating where they should be or has another behavioral issue without apparent medical cause, it is likely they have become stressed. It’s important to find out what the cause of the stress is and deal with it quickly.
Speak to your vet about using a calming pheromone diffuser if you’re struggling to keep your cat’s stress under control.
Talk to Us
Nothing beats the experience of a vet to discuss further ways to keep your cat happy with sufficient environmental enrichment.
If you have any concerns about your cat’s mental and physical well-being, get in touch with us now. We will always have an experienced vet available to help you.
Find out more information about all our competitively priced pet insurance products too.