What is Feline Enrichment?
Feline Enrichment is one of my FAVOURITE topics and I am hoping I can share as much information possible in this short post. Firstly, I cannot stress enough that enriching your pet’s life is one of the most important things you can do for them. It is usually an overlooked topic but has slowly been making its way to the forefront.
So, lets define this weird “enrichment” word. According to the dictionary, it is “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.” In this case, the “something” is your pet’s quality of life!
Now, moving on to how you can actually do this. I will focus on some ideas for the rest of this post because there are so many you can try with your cat (canine enrichment blog to follow!). This blog just scrapes the surface of feline enrichment so feel free to do your own research in addition using the links below.
Top 3 Ideas of Feline Enrichment
#1: Harness training and walks
This has been very important for one of my cats, who is an aspiring outdoor guy that is living the indoor life. I ensure he gets out for at least one walk/outdoor excursion a day. This can range from enjoying the flowers, grass and sunbathing to going up the street 500m to interact with the neighbourhood dogs.
The key to this enrichment activity is to make sure your cat is comfortable wearing a secure harness and being outdoors. It is best to start in an enclosed space using lots of positive reinforcement (ie. their favourite treats) to help them become familiar and feel safe.
Don’t forget; start slow, keep things short and finish on a positive note. Critically decide if this is an activity your cat will actually enjoy; it is not for all and enrichment should never create stress for the animal.
#2: Food puzzles
These can range from DIY using toilet rolls and boxes to fully assembled store-bought products. From personal experience, it is best to choose a toy/puzzle that suits your cat’s personality.
My male cat LOVES to use his paws. Naturally, his favourite puzzles involve opening drawers and compartments. My female cat prefers using her nose to work through puzzles and embraces her “huntress” qualities. She does well with treat balls and hiding food throughout the house and in toys.
No matter what you choose for your cat, BE PATIENT. I am guilty of almost giving up because I would place food and treats in their puzzles and my cats would come running to me 10 seconds later meowing for food!
Eventually, they figured things out and now wait by their puzzles for me to fill them. These brain games are much more engaging than just placing food in a bowl. It allows them to use problem solving skills and other natural behaviours.
If your cat is on a mixed kibble and wet food diet or even just wet food, this is still applicable. There are many ways to feed wet food in puzzles such as using a silicone mat, ice cube tray, muffin tin etc. It will take your cat much longer to eat their meal and they will be mentally exhausted by the end of it.
*Tip: don’t be afraid to use dog puzzles. I tend to use a mix of dog and cat specific puzzles because they present a range of challenges. Also, rotating puzzles will keep things interesting and prevent boredom. If you own both dogs and cats, it can cut costs if they can share puzzles!
#3: Hiding & resting places
This might seem simple, but it can really make your cat feel safe which will improve their quality of life. Investing in a multi-level cat tree is beneficial because they can use this as a scratching post as well. Cats prefer to be high up, but they also don’t mind hiding in an empty cardboard box on the ground either!
Again, personalize this to what your cat likes. If they like to be snuggled up in blankets/beds, you can put those into an empty box, crate, or even on the cat tree. If your cat loves to look out the window, you can place their favourite resting spot by a window.
There are many different possibilities but the best approach to this is giving your cat a few of these options in different areas and letting them choose where they feel most comfortable throughout their day.
* Tip: You can also incorporate these into feeding ideas by placing little piles of kibble throughout their hiding spots.
Feline Enrichment: Making your Cat Happy
Enrichment comes in many different forms and promotes many benefits to our beloved pets. Proper enrichment makes their environment more physically, socially and temporally complex by increasing novelty and opportunity to express species appropriate behaviours. It will also strengthen the human-animal bond.
It is important not to forget to customise your enrichment plan to your specific pet’s personality and consider their likes and dislikes. Always monitor your pet during these activities and seek veterinary advice/attention when required.
Landsberg GM, Hunthausen W, Ackerman L. Feline destructive behaviors. In: Landsberg GM, Hunthausen W, Ackerman L, eds. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2003:341–347.
Overall KL, Rodan I, Beaver BV, et al. Feline behavior guidelines from the American Association of Feline Practitioners. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2005;227:70–84.
Heath S, Wilson C. Canine and feline enrichment in the home and kennel: a guide for practitioners. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2014;44(3):427-449. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2014.01.003
About the Author
Lorena S. is a Veterinary Student at The University of Queensland
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