Cat Enrichment Ideas to Keep Your Indoor Cat Happy
Indoor cats enjoy a pretty cushy life, but let’s be real—staying home all the time can get boring. Cat enrichment is essential to keep cats engaged, active, and happy! Here’s how to get started.
Enrichment is a term that describes how we can add stimuli to an animal’s environment that cater to their natural instincts to hunt, forage, and more. Enrichment activities contribute to an animal’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and are essential for any animal kept in captivity. This care technique first became popular in zoos, and pet owners are learning that enrichment can be just as valuable for our pets as it is for lions and tigers.
There are three types of enrichment that your cat needs to thrive. Combine all three and your cat will be entertained, mentally stimulated, and all-around happier. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
Cats in the outdoors get environmental enrichment as they explore the world. Every new rock to climb, plant to sniff, and squirrel to chase keeps them on their toes. Indoor cat enrichment requires continually adding new, exciting things to your cat’s environment to let them experience that same journey of discovery every day.
Adding new cat toys into your home for your cat to discover instantly adds excitement to their day! A variety of toys to chase (from lasers to ribbons to toy mice) simulates having a variety of prey to hunt in the wild. You don’t have to be hitting the pet store every week to keep them happy, though.
Cats love a good DIY cat toy just as much as the professional stuff—we know from experience that some cats will decide that a ball of scrunched up tin foil is their favorite toy in the whole world!
Cats are naturally inclined to find all the best vantage points and hidey holes to stay safe—and be ready to pounce. They should find just as many places to explore in your home! Cat trees provide vertical space for them to climb and hiding places for them to hunker down in.
You can also easily create your own kitty hiding spots! Cut holes in corrugated boxes from your latest cat food delivery, and boom—instant cat castle. Some cats prefer a classic paper bag to cozy up in (and probably pounce on your toes as you walk by).
Scratching is a strong feline instinct, and you’ve got to provide opportunities to express that desire (other than the arms of your couch, that is). A variety of horizontal and vertical scratching posts will help them keep their claws trim and their bodies stretched out.
Take Them Outside
Giving your cat safe and controlled exposure to the outdoors can fulfill a great deal of their desire for exploration. Some cats can become pro leash walkers with a little practice and can level up from walks around the block to hitting the trails with you! Other cats prefer the comfort and security of a catio or another contained outdoor space to take in all the sights and sounds of the outdoors while still feeling like they’re right at home.
Bring the Outside In
There are easy ways to give your cat a taste of the outdoors without ever taking them out the door. Bring in boxes of natural materials like leaves, pinecones, and more for them to dig through. You can even hide cat treats inside to encourage foraging behavior! Try growing cat grass to let them chow down on cat-safe fresh greens.
You also shouldn’t forget the benefits of giving them a good place to watch the world go by—a good cat hammock on the window or cat bed right on a window seat will become their favorite place to sit and watch the action at the bird feeder.
Household cats can’t get all their enrichment by their lonesome! They need partners in play, grooming, and more to help them develop their social skills and feel safe and loved in their home.
Play with People
Most cats love to play, and playing with your cat can be hugely helpful to keep them active and build the bond between you. A play session with a laser pointer or a good old fashioned game of fetch provides more excitement than solo play and keeps them on their toes as you keep where the toy goes next unpredictable!
Bonding doesn’t have to be all high-speed games of chase-the-string—sometimes it looks like cuddling up on the couch together and giving them head scratches. Grooming is an essential cat behavior, and mutual grooming is a way to show affection and trust. Petting or brushing your cat (and possibly receiving some licks in return) is the feline equivalent of a trip to the nail salon with your BFF. It’s a time to kick back, relax, and take care of each other.
If your cat shares your home with other pets, those animals can be a huge part of their social life. Canine and feline playmates can roughhouse and run wild with your cat in a way you can’t fully recreate. They’ll be constant companions even when you have to leave for your workday, providing a friend for playing with toys, wrestling, and cuddling up for a good nap.
Cognitive enrichment includes all the things that really make your cat stop and think. From solving puzzles to nailing a new trick, problem-solving works their brain to keep them sharp—and get them ready for a nice, long nap.
Cats have to hunt for their prey in the wild, and they can work their brains just as hard by solving a food puzzle to find their favorite cat treats. Store-bought cat enrichment feeders have all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide tasty kibble or treats in, but you can easily DIY your own with toilet paper rolls or a muffin tin.
Another enrichment idea for food-motivated cats is turning snacking into a scavenger hunt! Hide kibble or treats in different spots around the house and let your cat put their powerful nose to work finding them. Once they learn the game, they’ll be raring to go whenever they see you break out the treat bag.
Dogs aren’t the only ones who can learn cool tricks! With a little patience and positive reinforcement, you can train your cat to do…just about anything.
You can teach your cat useful behaviors that will help with things like nail filing and taking medication. You can also teach them tricks like waving hello—because that’s adorable. Many cats are responsive to clicker training, and you can’t go wrong with high-value treats to reward good behavior.
Cat enrichment is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your feline best friend! It keeps them busy, curbs bad behavior, supports their mental health, and builds a stronger bond between you and your pet.
Still, don’t feel like you have to tackle all of this at once. Introducing new enrichment opportunities every so often will keep things fresh and prevent both you and your cat from feeling overwhelmed. You’ve got a whole world of new games and activities to explore together—have some fun with it!
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