Let me share my first-hand experience with enriching cats. I inherited my cat, Ella from a family member who passed away. Ella previously lived on 30-acres and roamed freely during the day. She came into the house at night for safe sleeping and then was put outside to roam in the morning. She had a very stimulus rich environment. There were trees to climb, rodents to hunt and new scents to explore every day. Then she moved into the city with me. It’s not safe for her to go outside. The dog next door has a history of killing felines. There are resident cats in the neighborhood who have marked out turf and frequent my yard, looking for fights. And we live near a busy road which Ella has never known. So, she’s got to stay inside. And she was going to get herself in trouble if she was bored.
Bored cats destroy things. They leap at your head in the middle of the night. They jump from windowsill to windowsill and claw curtains and stalk unsuspecting visitors. Just ask me. Enter enrichment, the salvation of all cooped-up critters. Zoos use it. Marine animal parks use it. Shelters use it and so should you.
Enrichment is a simple concept with multiple variations. Enrichment simply means bringing novelty into the captive’s environment. Enrichment can be scents, toys, activities or tricks. For each individual, enrichment should include species-specific interests and games. Consider what your cat is built to do and then find ways to engage her doing it.
For my cat, a young adult hunter, she’s got to climb, to seek, to wrestle, to stalk, and to engage in social behavior. Here are some of the things I’ve done to bring enrichment to her world:
- I bought a platform scratching tree at Davenport’s Den (WHS pet supply store). It is very sturdy and solid so she not only enjoys climbing it, she can dig her claws in deep and pull, without knocking it over. She doesn’t scratch where she is not supposed to because this post meets her scratching need.
- We play. I have a couple of cat teaser toys and we use them daily. She can chase them, catch them, bite them and kick them without ever touching me or putting my guests at risk. She can exhibit all her hunting prowess, stalking and catching behavior and get some exercise.
- I bought a cat puzzle toy, also at Davenport’s Den. This puzzle toy is a wooden square with lots of holes. I can stuff toys in there, along with her regular food. As she reaches into the holes, she pulls out food and occasionally a catnip stuffed mouse to bite down on and toss in the air. This seek and eat game fills her need to win her food.
- Ella loves to be brushed. I know I’m lucky in that regard; not all cats love it. But, most cats can learn to like it or at least tolerate it, if you start slowly and use a gentle brush. Pair the brushing session, however brief it may be at first, with the arrival of a teaspoon or two of moist cat food and before long, your cat will look forward to these special sessions.
- Ella’s not much on cuddling, but she does appreciate the electric blanket on my bed and will join me for some down time each evening before going off on her own to sleep. Some cats really enjoy cuddling to the point that they are in the way! For these cats, try using an electric cat bed to lure them away from your body at various times of day.
- Leash walks. Ella is learning to walk on a safe harness that snugs up and has an elastic leash in case she bolts so she can be safe yet enjoy some freedom. For now, our walks are confined to the backyard where she enjoys grazing on the fresh (untreated) grass. I’ll be working with her on this skill so she can enjoy further explorations on a regular basis. This will meet her exploratory needs.
- Cats love being outside, especially in the sun. Ella’s hoping I’ll build her a catio – a simple wood-framed, wire covered structure that will allow her to sit outside the window and keep an eye out for the neighbor cats without risking her safety. A friend of mine built an entire maze structure which extends from the exit window to an entire feline enclosure in the yard. Lucky cats.
- Clicker training. Ella enjoys learning new tricks. Check out my clicker kitty seminar and teach your kitty some new tricks. Clicker training is super for teaching skills like nail trimming and crate-loading but also is an amazing enrichment tool to keep smart felines mentally fatigued. A tired kitty is a happy kitty!
Keeping your cat safe and happy does not have to be hard or expensive. Let me know if you need other ideas. We’re hoping to host more cat training programs at the shelter. Stay tuned!
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