The importance of environment enrichment for cats

You can think of your cat as a mini panther in your house. And when you put a mini panther inside your house, a lot of things can go wrong. Environment enrichment for cats is really important—otherwise your mini panther can end up destroying your stuff. The upside is, cats are still quite low-maintenance pets, and many of the things you can do won’t take up too much time. Here I’ve put together my top five tips to keep your cat happy and healthy.

Tip 1: Give them a hiding place

Cats like to watch everything that goes on around them, and they really like to hide. So it’s important that you provide a hiding place for your cat. It can be a cardboard box, or a cat perch—somewhere nice and high that they can get up to if they get a bit scared or stressed. Sometimes they like bookcases. It’s really important that they’ve got those areas where they can go and hide.

Tip 2: Set up a hunting zone

A lot of people will just put down a plate, or make mealtimes the same time morning and night. But I find that when cats are inside, they get bored with this sort of feeding system. What we recommend is creating a little hunting zone for your cat.

Instead of feeding them in a bowl, hide the food around the house. There are many great toys you can use to do this. One is a ‘no bowl feeding system’, which mimics the natural way cats hunt for food in the wild.

In the wild, a cat will hunt their food, eat it, then sleep. We want to mimic that in our household cats. So if you hide their food around the house, they have to go looking for their food. Those special feeding systems are great, but if you don’t want to buy one, use something simple like a toilet roll. Squash the ends in and put a little hole in the middle, and put your biscuits in there. By the time it comes to the evening, they’ll be exhausted by doing all that hunting.

This is really good if your cat’s waking up in the middle of the night and is bored or hungry. We can change that sleep/wake cycle of a cat, and how we do that is changing how you feed them.

Tip 3: Fix their toilet

Our normal size litter trays are too small for our cats. New behaviour studies have found that the bigger the litter tray, the better and the more comfortable your cat will feel using it. Those studies recommend a litter tray that is the length of your cat, plus the tail. An ideal size is an under-bed storage container with low sides.

The number of litter trays is important. If you’ve got even just one cat, you want to have two litter trays. If you’ve got two cats, you want to have at least three litter trays. If one of those litter trays is dirty, your cat won’t go to the toilet in it. They’ll hold on and they can get bladder problems or bladder infections if the cat’s holding onto that wee.

Cats don’t like any sort of changes with their litter, so always use a consistent litter. We want to try and avoid any sort of urinary problems, because cats are very specific, and any changes can cause problems in the bladder. And always keep the litter tray clean. As soon as they go to the toilet, we need to clean up after them.

Tip 4: Play every day

Playing with your cat regularly is always recommended. Those little fishing poles with the butterfly or toy mouse on the end are a great way of getting your cat to hunt and to be social. Laser pointers are also really good to help keep your cat active.

Or just regular social interaction with your cat. Most cats benefit from daily play with their humans. It only has to be about 15 minutes a day. If you just play with them, that’s the same stimulation they get from hunting, and that’s a really good way of just ensuring that you have that good bond with your kitty.

Tip 5: Watch the smell

Ask yourself, does your cat have an environment that respects its sense of smell? Cats’ sense of smell is 15 times stronger than our human sense of smell. We want to engage that sense of smell when they’re hunting for their food. Cats really like salty flavours over sweet flavours, so putting a tiny bit of anchovy paste on their biscuits is something they will really love.

They dislike any strong perfumes or odours. You want to avoid any air fresheners or scented soaps, or any strong-smelling detergents, which can deter your cat from getting too close and make them unhappy.

Enriching your cat’s environment

Following these five tips will make the environment of your home much more exciting for your cat. They don’t take much more time or effort than what you are probably already doing, and the reward is a happy cat.