The number one cause of behavior problems in cats and kittens is a lack of proper environmental enrichment.
Some people think that to take care of a cat, or even several cats, all you need is a litter box and bowls for food and water. Nothing could be further from the truth! Environmental enrichment is essential for a high quality of life.
Cats are evolved to hunt. An indoor cat does not have trees to climb or birds to chase. When an animal does not have its natural environment, that environment must be simulated—by you, in the home—to prevent undesirable behaviors and medical illness.
What is environmental enrichment?
Environmental enrichment is the simulation of the natural environment in the home. Environmental enrichment actually helps prevent urinary tract infections and many other diseases, as well as destructive scratching, climbing curtains, and urinating outside the litter box.
What does my cat need?
We’re glad you asked! There are many ways to create an enriched environment.
- Scratching posts and cardboard scratching toys. Cats like textured carpet. Some also like sisal: that thick rope. Kittens often like the horizontal cardboard disks with balls on the outside to chase. Give your cat things to scratch that aren’t your furniture.
- Places to climb and hide. You can buy a good tall cat tree online for $60 to $80. Try to find space for one cat tree per cat.
- Window perches. Give your kitten hours of fun staring at birds and squirrels, and admiring her territory from the safety of her own perch. Some perches even come with fleece lining for extra comfort.
- Multiple kitty toys, on a rotating basis. Take turns with catnip mice, balls, toys with bells, toys with feathers, toys with crinkly noises—cats find toys more fun if you switch them up. Put a few out at a time and play will be new every day!
- Cat tunnels. Pure kitty bliss is zooming through a cat tunnel.
- Puzzle feeders. Cats evolved to hunt for food—in the wild they spend up to 10 hours hunting a day, making 100 to 150 attempts to catch and actually catching 10 to 15 prey animals! So puzzle feeders are ideal for simulating natural kitten behavior. They also force your cat to eat slower, which prevents regurgitation.
- String and fishing pole toys. Even well-fed cats have a primal need to chase prey. Toys with fur or feathers at the end of a string are ideal. Move the string along the ground slowly away from kitty, like it is a mouse to simulate the thrill of the chase.
- Hideaway beds. Cats need places to get away from it all. Igloo beds are especially nice. Carriers and crates are good options, too. Setting out a carrier gives your cat a chance to hang out in it and see it as a safe space, which is especially helpful when you have to get kitty to AHBC! Be sure to each cat has her own hideaway bed.
- Visual enrichment. We recommend the classic bird feeder, perfect when paired with a window perch. Cat TV is also fun for the more modern cat.
How can I keep my kitten happy at the feeding station?
Kittens and cats should never feel like they have to compete for food and water. To keep your feeding environment friendly, make sure to have…
- At least one water bowl per cat per level of the home
- At least one food bowl per cat
- Enough space between feeding stations for comfort
- Kitty fountains! Most cats love moving water. If your cat is a messy drinker, put a flat plastic lid under the fountain to protect the floor.
High-quality canned food is another excellent form of environmental enrichment. Giving canned food facilitates the human-kitty bond, as you cannot leave canned food sitting out all day and have to give it to your kitten personally.
My kitten has so much energy. What should I do?
Play with kitty! Although cats are often lower-maintenance pets, they are happier and have fewer problems if you play with them, even for just five to 10 minutes a day. So break out the laser pointer or kitty fishing pole!
High-frequency, low-intensity play at similar times each day—cats love consistency—is one of the best things you can do for your kitten. Play time is also great bonding time.
Some cats, especially kittens, prefer to have a friend; they can play with each other, groom each other, snuggle together. Remember there are rules to introducing cats: the first is, very gradually. Not every cat likes cats. Some prefer people, and some even prefer dogs. Some cats prefer to be solitary animals. It totally depends on your kitty.
By Dr. Jennifer Goetz
At AHBC, we are always happy to talk about creating an enriched environment for your cat—a home full of love, health, happiness, and intact furniture.