Feeling guilty because you haven’t done much for your cat in several months — or longer? There’s a common misconception that cats are self-reliant, that they don’t need anything special to be content. I’m here to tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you take a little time to enrich your cat’s environment, I guarantee you’ll have a happier cat — and a less guilty conscience.
There are some very simple changes you can make to your home and your daily routine that will help give kitty the stimulation she needs to keep her entertained while you’re away and promote bonding while you’re together. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to do it.
One of the keys to making your cat happy is catification, the term that cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy and I use for environmental enrichment for cats (and the title of our new book). Catification can be as easy as moving furniture around or as elaborate as building climbing structures or outdoor enclosures for your cat.
The idea behind catification is to accommodate a cat’s natural instincts to climb, perch, scratch and really own her territory. The process starts by observing your cat and her preferences (does your cat prefer to be up high or down low? Does she like to scratch horizontally or vertically?) and then catering to those preferences as you catify.
One of the more common enhancements Jackson and I recommend is creating a cat superhighway. This provides a way for a cat to navigate around a room without touching the floor. You can start by looking at the existing furniture in the room and rearranging it to make it easier for your cat to jump from one surface to the next. You may need to add some cat shelves or a cat tree to connect your superhighway, and make sure to attach nonslip mats or carpet pieces to the surfaces to prevent slipping.
Another great catification tool is cat TV. Find a nice window and place a bird feeder in view of it, then set up a comfy spot where kitty can sit and watch the action.
Create a challenge
While you’re away, kitty will play, so why not give her a little challenge? Puzzle toys and treat dispensers are great ways to keep your cat entertained and active. These toys are designed to dispense treats or food while your cat bats them around, encouraging her to exercise and catering to her natural instinct to hunt prey.
If you’re trying to cut kitty’s calories, rather than adding treats, you can divide the normal food allotment for the day into smaller meals dispensed by the food puzzle. Another alternative is to use a larger puzzle box that can be filled with small toys (big enough not to present a choking hazard) instead of food.
I recommend filling puzzles with treats or toys before you leave in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Place them around the house so your cat will come across them as she goes about her daily or nightly activities.
Bring the outdoors in
Cats love to munch grass in the wild, so get some fresh cat grass or a catnip plant for your pet cat. These cat-safe plants are available from pet supply stores and most plant nurseries, or you can grow your own from seed for just a few dollars. Try to always have a fresh plant ready when you need to replace the old one.
Spice up playtime
Schedule some interactive playtime with kitty every day. For these workout sessions, I recommend using a wand toy with a feather or other eye-catching attachment on the end of a string. Make your cat jump and chase the toy just like she would do with her prey in the wild. Use your new cat superhighway as part of the racetrack.
So kitty will have something to stalk while you’re away, make sure to have some smaller toys that she can toss around and carry in her mouth. (Just don’t leave out any toys with string, ribbon, yarn or rubber bands while you’re not at home.) Many cats enjoy toys with catnip, plus there are several other herbs you could try. Cat toys with valerian root, silver vine and honeysuckle are becoming more and more popular and could make your cat very happy. Remember to check with your veterinarian before giving your cat any herbs.
Change it up
You don’t want things to get boring for your cat, so think about changing the environment a little on a regular basis. Try moving the cat tree to a different corner or to the center of the room — your cat may see it as new again. I also like to rotate the cat toys; I put some away for a while and then switch the toys for variety. When the old toys come out again, it’s like Christmas!
What have you done to enrich your cat’s environment?