Enrich your Cat’s Environment for Better Health

It is a well known fact within the veterinary community that cats now outnumber dogs as the number one pet in the U.S. One of the primary reasons for this trend is that cats are perceived as being easier pets to keep. This is especially true for urban dwellers. Many of these cats live entirely indoors. Pet owners provide food, water and a litter box and all is well. The cat(s) greet them at whatever hour they arrive home, get a little attention and go back to sleep. While this might work for some cats, many veterinarians and animal behaviorists have come to recognize that without an enriched indoor environment, many of these cats will suffer both mentally and physically. We now recognize that conditions from urinary tract disorders to inflammatory bowel disease can be related to cats living in a sterile indoor environment or due to the stresses induced by changes in the indoor environment.

To understand how to enrich your cat’s indoor environment, it helps to understand the nature of cats. Cats are typically more solitary and less socially interactive than dogs. Cats like to hide, hunt, pounce and then sleep. While dogs often solicit our attention constantly and like to be approached and petted anytime, cats usually prefer short periods of interaction with their owners and on their own terms. Cats have often mistakenly been considered nocturnal. Behaviorists now realize that cats prefer multiple periods of activity with naps interspersed. A feral cat might hunt for small prey 15-20 times per day. This hunting occurs both day and night, so it is common for most cats to both sleep and play during the night. Because cats are solitary by nature, it is very helpful to provide cats with a place of refuge within the house. This should be a place in the house that is quiet and away from other pets and children where the cat(s) feels safe and secure. Ideally, this refuge should also have food, water and litter available. Guests and children should not be allowed to violate the cat’s refuge.

Once these most basic needs have been met, we need to provide an interesting environment that encourages play and exploration. Climbing structures are always popular with cats. They love to perch where they can survey their domain. If the perches provide views outdoors, this is ideal. Cats enjoy a variety of toys. Cats have prey preferences which affects what toys they most enjoy. Toy mice with catnip are often popular. Mechanical toys can be a real treat. Other cats react well to feather teasers or other bird toys. Laser pointers are extremely popular and are a great way to get cats to exercise. Laser pointers more closely mimic insects.

Another important addition to the indoor cat’s environment are scratching posts. Scratching posts serve several functions. The scratching post helps shed the outer cuticle of the nail, provides exercise and also is a means of marking territory. Several scratching posts around the home can prevent damage to furniture and may prevent urine marking.

When your cat is enjoying her indoor environment it should be apparent. She should be active and playful. She will eat multiple small meals daily and enjoy periods of attention. A contented secure cat will frequently sleep in plain view. Cats that are stressed will often remain aloof and apart from the family. You may notice changes in food intake and litter box habits. If you feel that your cat is exhibiting signs of stress, please give us a call. There are many solutions.