Top tips for enriching your cat’s life
They may be independent creatures but that doesn’t mean domestic cats don’t need your help to harness their instincts and stay entertained and healthy. And this is even more important for indoor cats.
So, from playtime to scratching posts, to food puzzles and trick training, here are some of the many ways you can provide vital enrichment for your cat.
Toys and play
Cats love to stalk, pounce, bat and catch toys, as it’s an outlet for their natural desire to hunt. It also prevents boredom and provides vital exercise which, in kittens, helps enormously with physical development.
Grab a cat wand toy with artificial mice or feathers attached and whiz it around to channel their inner predator while enhancing your bond. Or allow your cat to flick about a ball or bell toy. Catnip can also encourage play as well as help relax them.
Make sure you have plenty of cat-safe toys for your pet to choose from and never force play when they’re uninterested.
Remember, hands should always be kept out of the equation, as this will encourage habits of scratching and biting.
Hiding places are one of a feline’s basic needs, so you should ensure they have plenty of private spaces to retreat to when they want to relax away from the buzz of your household. It helps them feel calm and secure, and you should avoid disturbing them when they’re tucked away.
They may hide under beds or on top of wardrobes, but they’ll also thank you for providing a special cat tent, tunnel, hideaway or even a cardboard box. They may even enjoy jumping in and out of these spaces. Get them used to these areas with treats, if needed.
But be alert if your cat is hiding for prolonged periods as this might be a sign of stress – and can lead to health problems if the cause is unaddressed, so speak to your vet.
If you have more than one cat, hiding spaces are even more crucial, and it’s important to ensure that there are enough private places for them all, as well as ample resources and litter trays.
Sharpening claws is the main reason cats instinctively need to scratch, but it also leaves scent marks in their territory.
To entice your cat away from clawing furniture, provide a scratching post as an outlet for this very natural habit. Some are even built into activity centers, including multiple levels with hidey-holes and toys.
As natural hunters, food puzzles give cats an outlet to work for their food and, in turn, keep brains active.
There are treat balls that dispense tasty titbits when moved or a wide variety of more complex puzzles. In warmer months, they may get just as much enjoyment from chasing an ice cube with tuna frozen inside.
There are so many possibilities to keep mealtimes fun and interesting, rather than popping food in a bowl.
Cats are highly intelligent creatures, so why not tap into that brainpower?
Basic training such as coming to you when called and getting used to cat carriers for trips to the vets are practical and important.
But teaching them to do tricks such as a high five can keep clever minds active and strengthen the bond between you both.
All training should be done using positive reinforcement, ensuring they’re rewarded for getting things right without any punishment when they don’t.
Cats without access to the outside world are more prone to behavioural problems, but the above tips help them to act naturally.
While no substitute for roaming outside, there are reasons why some cats need to be restricted, such as proximity to dangerous roads or transmissible illnesses such as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus).
If this is the case and you have a garden, there are special cat fences that can keep them safely in sight. If not, you’ll need to do all you can to harness their instincts indoors.