Canadians have grown much closer to their pets in the last 20 years or so, coming to regard and treat them more and more as fellow family members, and we are all for this!! As part of this trend, cats now tend to be kept indoors to keep them safe from the risks of outdoor living, especially with the increasing presence of Coyotes in Burlington and many other areas.
An indoor/outdoor cat has hazards of traffic, dogs, other cats and wild animals with which to contend. If an outdoor cat is not killed or injured on the roads, shaken to death by a neighborhood dog, or injured by another cat or wild animal, there is still the risk of contracting some debilitating disease. Basically, although most cats pine for the outdoors, it’s not a safe existence out there and thankfully most owners now know that. It is said that cats live 3 times as long indoors!
But indoor life can be tedious for cats if we don’t make a concerted and ongoing effort to stimulate them. They lack the all-important aspects of daily life in the wild, including the freedom to hunt, protect and defend, and to interact with others of the same species.
It is our duty as cat owners to enrich our cats’ indoor lives, to make good some of these deficiencies. Without a purpose, or something stimulating to do, cats merely exist within boring but luxurious homes. Also, without some species-specific entertainment, they may get into trouble, psychologically or physically, leading owners to seek behavioral modification advice … or not.
Below is a list of suggested means by which a cat’s environment may be made more user-friendly, in other words: cat enrichment! The underlying principal is “think cat.” If you do this you should be able to add to this list!
Climbing Frames (Kitty Condos) Cats really appreciate a three-dimensional environment, as evidenced by their constant attempts to climb up on top of things. To facilitate this innate compulsion, provide climbing frames in strategic locations so that your cat can elevate his position with ease and obtain a panoramic view of the outside world. This is the closest thing to a cat newspaper. From their perch they can survey their immediate environment in safety and catch up on the latest comings and goings.
Bird Feeders The instinct to watch and stalk birds still courses through cats’ veins even though it may have been generations since they relied on catching prey for a living. The provision of window feeders for birds can provide cats with a lot of viewing opportunities at no risk to the birds.
Fish Tanks This isn’t for everyone, for obvious reasons, but a fish tank (with its lid firmly attached!) can be another great pleasure for cats. Even though they never catch the fish, that failure does not detract from the thrill of visual “fishing.”
Food Puzzles In nature, cats had to work for their food. Hunting consumed a great deal of their time and energies. Yet we simply put their food down and leave them to scoff in as little as 5 minutes. What do they do then – sleep? If you get creative regarding your cat’s feeding opportunities you can spin out those meals and make the process of eating more entertaining. Ideas include:
1. Putting your cat’s kibble inside a Buster Cube, a plastic cube with various compartments for food that falls out as the cat bats it.
2. Feeding kibble via a toilet roll tube, with the ends taped over and holes drilled in the sides to release kibble intermittently. (The tube rolls around and is fun to chase.)
3. Ping-pong balls with a hole drilled in the side to allow you to put a single piece of kibble inside.
You can even make your own – Punch a number of holes in the tube of an empty toilet paper roll, making the holes large enough to release their kibble. Fill the tube with kibble and securely tape the ends to contain the food. You may have to show the cat (more than once) how to roll the tube to get the food.
Non-Toxic Grasses Some cats respond well to fresh catnip or cat grass grown especially for them. Along the same theme, some cats also enjoy lettuce or green beans. Other cats can be redirected onto pieces of thin rawhide coated lightly with fish oil or cheese spread. Owners should offer the rawhide chews only when they will be directly supervising their cat.
Predatory Games It is almost mandatory to have various feather wands or fishing poles with string attached to entertain your cat. You should put aside several minutes a day for this activity. This will exercise and mentally stimulate your cat, and help to dissipate otherwise undirected predatory tendencies. Some predatory toys are automatic and allow activation by the cat even in your absence. For those of you who don’t want to spend much cash there’s always the old small-toy-on-a-string trick or a bunch of table tennis balls that you leave around on a smooth floor. Most cats enjoy Laser pointers (don’t point at the cats’ eyes!) which you can buy at the dollar store, and there are other fancier new electronic toys out there. Ask your friends!
Tall Scratch Posts (please make it very tall) allows them to stretch out more – also tie a string/ribbon around the top for fun
Boxes – This simple concept can provide unlimited fun for cats. We regularly bring home various boxes – all kinds that your cat will fit into (or try to fit into), and you can use the lids on if you cut down a side, or cut a hole for them to go in and out. It’s a lot of fun as the paw sticks out to bat at things. Did we mention that this is also stress reduction for the humans? Laughter is good for the soul.
Catnip – Inside some crocheted balls (from Burlington Humane!), sewn “pillows”, or rubbed on a surface (eg cat scratch post)
And of course, let’s not forget…..
Let your cat help you work! They love anything different, and to be near you….