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Environmental Enrichment and Your Cat – How to Keep Your Cat Engaged and Happy at Home

Cats come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, which is part of the appeal of cat ownership -- discovering your pet’s unique tendencies as they grow and mature. One thing consistent among all cats, regardless of breed or personality, is their desire to engage in physically and mentally stimulating behaviors.

Without enough mental or physical stimulation, your cat might become a bit too relaxed in their boredom and spend a significant amount of time laying around enjoying “cat naps” and overeating. While this might not seem too problematic, a sedentary lifestyle is often coupled with obesity and a host of health problems. Boredom can also cause cats who decide to create their own “excitement” in ways that are less than ideal from a human perspective. These can include destructive behaviors, marking, and ingesting non-edible items. The best way to keep your cat healthy both mentally and physically is to provide them with an environment that is enriching and stimulating. Read on for our tips for making your home a place that helps your cat thrive.

Why Cats Need Stimulation

Domesticated cats, no matter how tame they might be, still retain a part of the DNA that drives them in the same way as wild cat species. Some of the most common instinctual and mental needs of your cat include the following:

· To Hunt

· To Be Physically Active, Explore, and Climb

· To Stay Well Groomed

· To Have a Clean Environment

· To Scratch

If any of these needs and instincts are not met, you run the risk of having a cat that is not only frustrated with their environment but may also develop behavioral or health problems.

Common Problem Behaviors: When Your Cat’s Physical and Mental Needs Aren’t Met

One of the biggest complaints many cat owners have is their cats’ scratching behavior. Cats will often choose the most inconvenient (and expensive) spots in the house as their scratch spots. This often includes furniture, carpets, trim work, and curtains. Years ago, the standard practice was to declaw an indoor cat and, seemingly, fix this problem. The issue with declawing is not only that it is very painful and therefore not recommended, but it can also lead to long-term health problems and does not meet the cat's innate desire to scratch.

Another common problem indoor cats face is when their instinct to hunt for food is met with a constantly full food bowl. Cats will often overindulge and even learn to beg for more and more food, leading to obesity and a host of health risks that go along with it. Cats are carnivores by nature, yet most people prefer feeding dry cat food, which is very carbohydrate-heavy. This type of food does not meet cats’ ideal dietary needs and, in addition to obesity, can lead to other health problems down the road.

Cats’ desire for cleanliness means that they prefer multiple clean and open litterboxes throughout their environment. Most people prefer litterboxes to be kept hidden, covered, and few and far between. After all, no one wants a litterbox sitting in the middle of their living space. Cats without the number of clean litter spaces they prefer can develop problem bathroom behaviors, including finding places OTHER than the box to go. With all of these needs, it can sometimes seem a bit daunting to figure out how to help your cat meet them within the confines of your home.

How To Meet Your Cat’s Physical and Emotional Needs

1. Nailing It: Encourage Good Scratch Habits

Start by figuring out your cat's desired surfaces to scratch. This might include wood, carpet, fabric, and vertical or horizontal surfaces – do some detective work and see what your cat naturally gravitates towards. You can then create a safe alternative by either purchasing or making your own out of household materials. Cover any existing scratch spots that are not approved by you and place the approved scratch option in its place. You can even spray a little catnip spray onto the location and leave a few treats close by so your cat takes to the idea. Encourage your cat’s need to climb and explore by providing safe areas such as cat trees or a tall stool placed by a window.

2. Dinner Time

If you normally give your cat all dry food, consider switching all or part of their diet to canned. Use food dispensing toys, and offer small meals hidden in a few spots around the house rather than one location. Your cat will feel more like a hunter if they must seek out their meal and work to get it. Amazon and your local pet store carry a wide array of toys that will give your cat some mental stimulation. Be mindful of how much you are feeding each day and talk to your cat’s Main Street Veterinarian if you aren’t sure how much is too much. They can determine an ideal range of calories tailored specifically to your cat.

3. Unboxing the Litterbox

Cats generally need one more litterbox than the number of cats in the household – so 1 cat should have 2 litterboxes and 2 cats should have 3. The boxes should ideally be located on each level of the home, not be covered, and be out of high-traffic areas. If your current setup needs some tweaking, make changes slowly and be sure to clean the boxes daily.

4. Well Groomed

Most cats do a very good job of grooming themselves, but age, weight, and other factors can sometimes limit their ability to keep up. Brush your cat regularly if they allow it, and watch for matted hair, overgrown nails, and dirty ears. If you notice any of these, consult with a groomer or call our office. Sometimes a change to grooming can also be a sign that something is physically not well with your cat, so it is important to monitor for subtle changes.

5. Get Moving

Despite what Garfield might have led us to believe, cats really do need to stay active for both their physical and mental well-being. Provide your cat with some fun and engaging play opportunities daily. Toys are a great way to engage your cat and have fun along with them. Local pet stores and online retailers have tons of great options. To be most effective, the toys should not just lay around the house but be introduced periodically in ways that are stimulating, such as moving or dangling.

Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand and both require some effort to maintain. Cats’ needs are often misunderstood, and it is easy to overlook ways in which your cat might not be getting the environmental enrichment they crave. Even just a few small changes can go a long way toward making your home more exciting for your cat. If you are ever concerned about your cat’s mental or physical condition, call our office to set up an appointment. We want to provide you with all the tools and resources you need for you and your cat to enjoy a lifetime of happiness together.

MAIN STREET VET, PERKIOMENVILLE 1335 N. Gravel Pike, Perkiomenville, PA 18074 Telephone: 610-287-5100

MAIN STREET VET, SOUDERTON 201 North Main Street, Souderton, PA 18964 Telephone: 215-660-3699

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