Many people add a feline companion to their family because of their unique and independent nature. Cats are distinctive in their likes and dislikes, and often prefer their own company rather than the pesky family dog. The many hours your cat spends sleeping or sunbathing on the porch may give pet owners the false impression that they don’t require a lot of time or exercise, but yearly or more frequent veterinary examinations are important for ensuring your cat remains healthy and disease free, as well as physical and mental enrichment, especially for indoor cats. Decoding your cat’s needs can be challenging, so our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team has compiled five ways to ensure your indoor cat is enriched. 

#1: Exercise your cat daily 

Obesity has become an epidemic in pets and people, and many added extra weight during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to the Association of Pet Obesity and Prevention, more than 50% of cats are considered overweight or obese. Indoor cats are especially at risk for packing on extra pounds, since their bed, bathroom, and food bowl are easily reachable, and cat owners are easily persuaded to provide treats to their purring furballs. Ensure you incorporate daily exercise sessions into your cat’s routine, which will help keep the pounds off, aid joint health, and provide mental stimulation. Exercise ideas include:

  • Chasing a laser pointer 
  • Playing hide and seek with their favorite toy
  • Using a feather toy, which can also promote natural stalking behavior
  • Hiding treats around the house for your cat to find
  • Leash walking your cat outside; however, never force your cat to wear a leash or harness, and understand that acclimating your cat to a leash may take time and training 

#2: Encourage your cat’s natural hunting behaviors

Cats have a natural instinct to stalk, hunt, and catch prey, and your cat will not likely come across this opportunity indoors, except when an occasional bug or rodent finds its way inside. Encouraging your cat’s instinctive behaviors will improve their overall well-being. Ensure you introduce enrichment tools when your cat is young, and discourage them from attacking your feet or hands. Additionally, always allow your cat to catch the prey toy, in addition to providing a variety of toys, to prevent them from becoming frustrated or bored. Natural behavior enrichment tools may include:

  • Interactive toys that mimic prey, such as a feather wand, toy mouse, or other plush toy
  • Puzzle toys, which also encourage problem-solving skills
  • Hiding a catnip-filled toy, or their favorite treat, to encourage them to hunt for their treat  

#3: Provide your cat with a safe retreat

Cats are naturally territorial, and having designated safe spaces throughout the home where they can retreat from people or housemates, and feel protected, is vital. Cats are experts at finding small, tucked away spaces, but these can sometimes be dangerous. Place your cat’s favorite blanket, bed, and toys in a quiet, safe area, such as a closet space, or under the bed, where they may gravitate. Other safe spaces may include:

  • A cardboard box with a blanket, or cat bed
  • Your cat’s open travel carrier with a blanket or pad
  • A high-sided cat bed that is placed in a quiet corner or closet, or on a chair or a safe shelf 

#4: Bring the outdoors to your indoor cat

Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to ensure they are protected from outside dangers, including wildlife, being hit by a car, and exposure to infectious diseases. However, stimulating your cat’s senses, especially smell, in the same way they would be stimulated outdoors is critical. Consider purchasing, or building, a catio to provide your cat with safe access to fresh air and outdoor sights, smells, and sounds. Other ways to bring the outdoors to your indoor cat include:

  • Planting flowers that will attract various bugs outside a perchable window 
  • Placing a bird feeder outside a perchable window
  • Playing a special cat video of fish or outdoor environments
  • Providing them fresh catnip, or treats
  • Bringing non-toxic flowers, leaves, and plants inside for your cat to investigate, after checking the ASPCA toxic plant list to ensure they are safe

#5: Provide your cat a birds-eye view

Cats are natural climbers, and often seek elevated spaces where they can safely observe their territory, and retreat from housemates or people. Place their favorite blanket or bed on a safe shelf or window sill, or purchase a cat perch. Most cat perches also serve as a scratching post, and will discourage your cat from using household furniture to sharpen their claws. Provide ample praise, or their favorite treat, when your cat is first learning to use their scratching post or cat perch, so they understand those are desired behaviors. 

Call our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital office if you have any questions about providing your cat with indoor enrichment, or to schedule a wellness care appointment.