Editor’s Note: The Scratching Post is a new column that’s sponsored and written by the staff at NOVA Cat Clinic.
Fuzzy mice. Feather wands. Your toes. Are these some of your cat’s favorite toys? These toys, among many others, are considered a type of enrichment — a big word for little toys!
So just what IS enrichment? Enrichment is anything that enhances the environment of an animal within the context of their natural biology. Basically, what it means is that enrichment can help your cat live a more fulfilling life because he will get to do more of the things cats were “made” to do and he will get to do things that are fun. Enrichment can reduce boredom and potentially reduce unwanted behaviors like scratching inappropriately or attacking your legs when you walk past because there are other outlets for all that energy.
The best environment for your kitty is one that includes several types of enrichment. Luckily this is not hard to accomplish and you’re probably already offering a lot of enrichment without even realizing it!
Cats are expert hunters. A person dangling a feather wand in front of a cat is a form of enrichment. This prompts Mr. Fluffy Pants to chase (hunt) the toy which is a natural behavior that is appropriate for a cat. Toys are probably the most common type of enrichment offered to cats, but there are also many more.
Ever notice your cat scratching at your couch or jumping on top of your refrigerator for a nap? These are both very natural and appropriate feline behaviors, even if you and your couch don’t appreciate it. Habitat enrichment like cat trees covered in carpet and rope, cat scratchers, paper bags, and cardboard boxes are great ways to elicit these behaviors without sacrificing your personal belongings.
Your cat’s senses are quite a bit stronger than ours. Does your cat ever smell you when you get home from work only to make “stinky face?” That’s actually called a “flehmen response” and is your cat’s way of gathering as much information as possible from a small amount of scent. Does your cat like to hunt the elusive red dot? This visual enrichment is a great way to get your cat to exercise by hunting and chasing.
Food enrichment can encourage hunting, foraging, and problem solving. Ever used a treat ball or any other treat toy for your cat? You put treats or some of your cat’s dry food into a toy and your cat has to figure out how to get them out by manipulating the toy in some way. This is a perfect way to help your kitty lose some weight if it’s needed and have fun at the same time! Even taking a treat and throwing it across the room for your cat to chase and eat it is a form of food enrichment.
Who doesn’t like to hang out with friends every now and again? Your cat might, too. Cats tend to form colonies if there are a large number present. Multiple cats can keep each other entertained when you’re not at home. Plus, when young kittens are brought up with other cats it can help socialize them properly so they know the right ways to behave as adults. It doesn’t have to just be cats either — introducing your cat to a variety of humans can also be enriching. If done at a young age this can reduce your cat’s fear of strangers and help spread the word about how great your cat is!
Last but not least is behavioral enrichment — training! You’ve probably seen videos of trained cats shaking paws or rolling over. While these may not be natural behaviors, the process of training allows your cat to learn and process information and problem solve.
Remember, every cat is different and may not respond the way you expect towards different types of enrichment. However, trying out new things with your kitty is a fun way to learn more about your cat and strengthen your bond with them. Happy Enriching!
The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.