Tip of the Month

10/15/2012 Enrichment for the Indoor Cat

Now that the weather is cooler, more of the inside / outside cats are becoming indoor-only cats. Most veterinary professionals agree that keeping your cat indoors is the preferred choice regardless of weather. This lessens the chance of encountering injury or disease and they can adapt quite well, but providing an enriched environment helps minimize boredom, keeps them physically fit and can reduce or even eliminate some unwanted behaviors!

Some Basic Requirements

Sure, we know that food and water are the basics for all living creatures, so that’s a given. Of course, you will want to have a litter box as well. Additional things that cats need, to enhance their indoor experience and to allow them to perform their natural behaviors, are a scratching post and toys. They also need their own personal space!

Food and Water

Since cats are solitary hunters, it’s preferable to place their food and water in a location where loud noises won’t travel (on the washing machine during the spin cycle is not recommended!!). Also place their food in an area sheltered from regular household traffic; a place where they’ll feel safe eating. Keep in mind, the cat’s litter box shouldn’t be near by, either.

Many cats enjoy a bit of running water, either from the sink or a bowl that circulates the water. Obtaining water this way can be more stimulating than a regular bowl. Cat grass is something that can enrich your indoor cat’s munchies cravings. Cats will chew on a bit of grass when allowed outdoors and a cat appropriate indoor grass will bring some of that outdoor fun inside!

You can enrich your little hunter’s dinner time by simulating the hunt. There are commercially made “toys” that you can place either a bit of moist food or treats in and your cat can “stalk” its prey. They have to interact with it and the food will be released. Not only does this satisfy their inner lion, but it helps them stay active.

Living Space (and personal space)

Cats tend not to have a social hierarchy, like dogs do. If you have multiple animals, it’s important to provide each animal with their own “space”. Small adjustments to your household environment, like having beds in multiple spots or clearing perches for your cat (even an empty spot on the window sill will work) provides opportunities for the cat to disengage with the household and have some quiet time to themselves.


One natural cat behavior (that drives their humans crazy!) is scratching. In the “wild”, scratching not only maintains the health of their claws, but it leaves behind pheromones as well as visible claw marks to alert other cats they they’ve been there. Vertical scratching posts work well, as this is the natural position that many cats prefer (think of those trees!). Commercial scratching posts generally have carpet, but many cats prefer natural sisal. Sisal is from the agave plant that yields a fibrous material often used to make rope, dartboards, and other similar items. Sisal allows the cats to really sink their claws in! Other substances that cats enjoy are cardboard scratchers. While some cats will take right to these, many owners have a complaint that their cat won’t even look sideways at the post. Watch how and where your cats tend to scratch. Do they prefer to stretch up? If you notice that they do, then a vertical post will be more appealing (especially with a bit of cat nip application!). This behavior ties into territory marking, so positioning these posts in the location where the cat tends to frequent will increase usage. If your cat spends most of her time in the spare bedroom, then position the post there. If most of her time is spent on the couch, place one in very close proximity.

As we’ve established, cats are predators and they require prey in order to keep the mind satisfied. Natural hunting behaviors would be stalking, pouncing, jumping, biting and chasing; all things that humans do not appreciate much, especially at 2 am!! However, understand that cats need to do this as it is instinctual. When engaging in play with your cat, discourage the cat using you as the toy. Do not let him bite your hands or your feet. This may lead to play-related aggression issues later on. More appropriate toys would be something like a battery operated toy that moves on its own to encourage pouncing. Cat nip filled toys are often light weight, allowing the cat to toss the toy around and catch it, enacting a natural behavior if they had caught a small rodent. Other great toys that you can interact with your cat are the light beam toys (hours of chasing and jumping!!) or toys at the end of poles (like those feathers) or wands.

Providing an enriched indoor environment for your feline will combat boredom while keeping your cat more active. Indoor enrichment can also improve unwanted behaviors, such as excessive vocalizing or aggression. If you are experiencing any behavioral problems with your cat, it’s recommended to make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the behavior and ensure that there is not a hidden health issue before focusing on behavior modification. Your veterinary assistant can also review what enrichment strategies you’ve been utilizing and offer further advice. Working together with your veterinary team, you can provide your cat with a fulfilling indoor lifestyle.

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