Cats need physical and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. By providing your cat with enrichment you can prevent boredom and ensure they lead full-filling lives. Enrichment for cats can be divided in the following categories:
- Nutritional – Enrichment through feeding.
- Physical – Enrichment by physical objects or places.
- Cognitive – Enrichment by using the mind, like figuring out a task.
- Social – Enrichment through relationships.
- Sensory – Enrichment by using the senses smell, sight, touch, taste and hearing.
Let’s have a closer look at what kind of activities you can do with your cat covering one, or more of the categories, to enrich their lives.
Food foraging – Nutritional/Cognitive
Naturally cats would spend a lot of time during the day looking for food. By providing them this opportunity you can prevent boredom and give them a purpose. You can do this by either creating a scavenger hunt where you hide some favourite treats or food around the house, or by giving your cat food puzzles to solve. You can buy specific puzzle toys for this, or make them yourself. There are many DIY tutorials found online on how to make food puzzles for cats with items you most likely already have at home. When you do puzzle activities with your cat make sure to build up the difficulty slowly to prevent frustration.
Cat furniture – Physical/Sensory
Most people will be familiar with the scratch poles and towers you can purchase for cats. Scratch poles come in different sizes and designs, and can range from small and simple designs, to those that look more like cat castles. There are way more options when it comes to cat furniture though. There are companies that will do projects and place boards, hiding spots and bridges over different walls of your room. These can be custom designed to your home and wishes. You can also make DIY cat furniture out of cardboard boxes and there are many websites to give you ideas should you wish to go the DIY route. Providing your cat with cat furniture where they can freely climb and scratch on will enrich their lives. You can place the cat furniture near windows to provide extra sensory enrichment by giving them the possibility to look outside.
Wand toys – Physical/Social/Sensory
Cats are predators and they love games where they get to make use of their instinct. There are many options available such as fishing style pole toys with toy mice/fish/feathers, feathers on a stick, and wand toys that flutter and/or make sound. Giving your cat the opportunity to engage in their instinctual behaviour will prevent behaviour issues. Wand toys should only be used under supervision as strings might strangle around your cat or snap and get swallowed. Playing with your cat is also a great way to strengthen the bond with your cat and will provide them with social enrichment as well.
An all time favourite for a lot of cats is the laser pointer. Noted should be that the laser pointer might be frustrating for some cats as they never get to catch the red light and finish the hunting “sequence”. You can prevent this frustration by giving your cat something to catch afterwards, or by closing the play session with a wand game with a physical toy they can catch.
Catnip and cat grass – Nutritional/Sensory
Catnip is a herb from the mint family and is totally safe and non-toxic for your cat. When smelled, the oil Nepetalactone can cause behavioural changes in your cat, like becoming temporarily more affectionate and playful. In some cases aggression can also be seen. For cats that have a positive experience when smelling catnip it can help reduce anxiety and relieve pain. An important note is that not all cats will respond to catnip and cats can also have too much catnip, so it’s important to not give too much at once. When a cat “overdoses” on catnip symptoms may arise like vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness, but these will subside by themselves. Another option to enrich your cat’s life is by providing them with cat grass. It will provide them with a new smell and taste to try.
Window perch – Physical/Sensory
Cats love looking outside and you can enrich their lives by providing a window perch so they have a first rank view on the outside world. There are hammocks and perches you can buy that can be attached to the window, but you can also go the DIY route and many ideas for that can be found online.
Offer your cat safe outdoor time – Physical/Sensory
A great way to mentally stimulate your cat is allowing them safe outdoor time. This can either be through a secured yard, catio, or even on a lead if your cat allows this. If you choose to take your cat out on a harness, make sure that it’s taught through force free training and that the harness is the right fit to prevent escaping.
Learning tricks – Cognitive/Social
Learning your cat to do simple tricks is a great way to mentally engage them. Not every cat will be interested, but some cats love to learn things through force free training and with positive reinforcement. When you teach your cat tricks, make sure to build up the difficulty slowly to prevent frustration. Spending time teaching your cat some tricks is also a great way to strengthen the bond with your cat.
Music and videos – Sensory
Cats seem to enjoy a certain type of music. You can find music for cats by googling “music for cats”. Cats also like to watch videos of birds, though for some cats this might be frustrating as they will not be able to catch the bird. Just like with the laser pointer, you can prevent frustration by giving them something to catch afterwards.
Self-Play toys – Physical/Cognitive/Sensory
Automated toys are a great way to prevent boredom and to enrich your cat’s life. Automated toys won’t need a human to operate so they can be used independently by your cat. There are loads of options available like moving play mice, flopping fish, and tracks with balls inside that can be slapped around. While automated toys should never be used as a full replacement for playing with your cat, they are a great addition for the days when you’re busy.
Some cats will love a friend and you can enrich their lives by adding another cat, or even another animal species to your family. Make sure that you follow proper introduction procedures to ensure a smooth transition of the new family member into your home.
Even though cats are known to not need as much human involvement to stay happy and healthy, we do need to provide them with enrichment so they can lead full-filling lives. We hope that in this article we have provided a sufficient amount of ideas on what you can do to mentally stimulate your cat and enrich their lives.