Cat Enrichment 101

fred staring out the window

Cats are transitioning from aloof farm animals to fluffy apartment-dwellers, and while they certainly love the warmth of a human lap, they have fewer outlets for natural behaviours like play, hunting and hiding. This leads to behavioural issues like increased stress, separation anxiety and urinating outside the litterbox, not to mention medical issues like obesity. 

While we’ve talked about dog enrichment lots, many people in the animal industry forget that cats can benefit from enrichment too. Not only can it head off many potential issues, but it also stops them getting bored. Cats are naturally really playful!

How to Provide Enrichment for Cats? 

Many cats are aloof, and you may struggle to find ways to engage with them at home. A good place to start is to remember the role cats traditionally have on a farm: pest control. 

Enrichment with Hunting and Play

kittens play hunting

Hunting and play go hand in hand. The easiest way to provide enrichment for your cat is to use toys that mimic prey for your cat to stalk. Not all toys will appeal to all cats. 

Cats fall into two categories: mousers and birders. Fred is a bird guy. He chats to them out the window and loves toys like flirt poles, which mimic birds’ airborne, darting movements. 

Cats who like mice tend to prefer toys that sneak along the floor or that they can creep up on and bat around. Some cats prefer independent play, and others like to engage with people. Different toys provide both. 

For example, this flirt pole is great for the bird-lover who prefers playing alone as it hangs over a door on an elastic string. It has various attachments, so you can replace any that get a bit damaged and keep the toy novel. You could also move the toy around different doors to provide an extra level of interest. 

Think about what play your cat likes to engage in and visit your local pet store to find a toy you think will appeal. 

Give Them Feeding Toys

fred with feeding toy

My love for feeding toys is well-documented, and cats benefit from them too. I have used Fred’s puzzle feeder for years.

Because the food is still visible in this bowl, your cat is still motivated to eat. Hiding food or using food toys that conceal food will cause lazy cats to give up on the task at hand, no matter how hungry they are. 

Simply fishing out kibble prolongs meal times and requires more brain power than a regular cat food bowl. 

Lickmats are another underused toy for cats. They are great for cats on wet food diets and as treats. We use the Lickimat Splash for Fred because it sticks to different surfaces, to  provide exercise and challenge, depending on where you place it.

If you place the lickmat in a particularly challenging location, increase the value of the treat you smear across it. Fred particularly likes these lickable treats. Freezing lickmats increases the challenge for cats with limited mobility. 

Offer Safe Places to Hide at Different Levels 

In the wild, cats live between the ground and tree branches. Even on farms, they will sneak around at ground level before retreating to the rafters of a barn. Offering your cat spaces at different levels to hide in, relax, and run surveillance mimics these natural environments. 

Fred’s favourite spot is this bed that we’ve stuck to the office window so he can monitor our work while indulging in bird watching. The three raised sides to this bed make him feel safe and secure, so he can relax up at a height. The suction cups are strong and stick to the window so long as they’re applied properly according to the instruction manual. Fred is a big cat at 5kg, and we’ve had no malfunctions yet. 

If you have limited window space and don’t want all natural light blocked out by your cat, there are beds that hang over radiators, couch arms and off window sills. 

Cats are known for projecting a sense of boredom, and sometimes, this might be the case. Providing opportunities for your cat to exercise physically and mentally helps prevent many common behavioural and medical issues before they crop up.