A bengal kitten loves to play with his fish tanks

Environmental Enrichment for Cats

Post updated August 2021

What does it mean when we refer to environmental enrichment for cats?  When we enrich our cats’ environment we are improving their “physical and psychological health by increasing the range or number of species-specific behaviors.” In plain language I guess we could say we are helping cats be cats.

What Does Enrichment Mean for Cats

Enrichment provides opportunities for cats to be cats, to indulge their inner tiger, and behave in a way that is normal for cats. This helps prevent behavior problems and associated health concerns. Lack of enrichment leads to stress, boredom, anxiety, destructive scratching, aggression, urinary tract disease, and obesity.

Free ranging, feral cats lead a busy life. They patrol a large territory with a variety of habitats and residents they socialize with. They have to explore and hunt to provide their food.  A typical house cat without an enriched environment spends most of their time sleeping and eating.

We can keep them from getting bored.  A boring environment can cause behaviors like over-grooming, destructive behavior, aggression, lethargy, and anxiety.

Cats overeat from boredom and stress just like their humans do. If your cat stays active, he will be less likely to be overweight with all the health concerns that come with obesity.  The more positive experiences your cat has the more confidence he will grow. It is possible to provide an enriched environment without letting your cat become an outdoor cat.

Grow Your Bond with Your Cat with These Fun Activities…

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You will receive access to a subscriber-only resource library of free and paid cat care guides and printables, our “mews”-letter filled with more tips, cat-related news, and a calendar of enrichment activities to do with your special kitty.

How Do You Enrich a Cat’s Life?

There are lots of different ways to provide enrichment for your cat.

  • Physically altering his environment to give him places to get up high and places to hide. Physical enrichment can be as simple as adding shelves to a wall and some boxes. Or as extensive as a full cat gym on your wall and an exercise wheel.
  • Adding extra food and water stations separate from each other. Bonus points for feeding puzzles and fountains.
  • Providing him with a variety of scratching surfaces and posts to work out on.
  • Sensory games
  • Controlled outdoor experiences
  • Training and social play with his people

Related Post: Social Enrichment for Cats

Physical Enrichment for Cats

Physical Enrichment for cats is just that. Adding interest to our home for our furbabies. We give them a variety of places to perch, hide, scratch, and climb. We make sure they have an abundance of resources like litter boxes, scratching posts, food and water stations, and toys. The more cats we have the more resources we need. Having to share is a source of stress for cats.

Add vertical space. Cat furniture for climbing, scratching and sleeping up high. If you keep the shelves single cat sized it will give Kitty a chance to get away from the rest of the family. You can build or buy an extensive cat gym, or create your own. Sometimes just moving furniture around can create a climbing area for Kitty.

Tabby cat playing on a DIY enrichment climbing wall

Bags and boxes are great for hiding in. You can purchase cat furniture that includes hiding spots as well as high spots.

Scratching surfaces are a must. Include a variety of scratchers in your physical enrichment plan for your cats. Every cat needs a strong sturdy post big enough that Kitty can stretch as far as far as she can. Add horizontal scratchers too. Cardboard scratchers come in fun novelty shapes and styles as well as simple flat boards. You can try jute mats, carpet remnants for other texture choices.

If you have the space, consider putting in a catio or a window seat. Some cats enjoy an exercise wheel.

Related Post: Outdoor Enrichment for Indoor Cats

Sensory Enrichment for Cats

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Provide your cat with a lot of different activities.  Think of the 5 senses and use them to enrich your cat‘s environment.  Rotate the items you use for enrichment, the more you keep things interesting the better for your cat.

Related Post: Click to learn more about sensory enrichment

Bring the outside in.  Grow cat grass, barley, oats, catnip and safe herbs and plants.  Bring in logs for scratching.  Dishes of rocks.  Add seasonal scents, fresh grass clippings, fallen leaves, feathers, even a bit of snow for the cats to play with. 

plants in a living room setting
Indoor Plants Provide Enrichment

You can bring nature to your kitty.  Design a wildlife friendly garden. Put in a bird feeder or squirrel feeder where Kitty can watch it.  Leave a porch light on to give him the excitement of watching moths and insects flittering about the light.

A boring environment can cause behaviors like over-grooming, destructive behavior, aggression, lethargy, and anxiety.

You can give your furbaby the sounds of nature through videos designed for cats.  Classical music seems to be another sound cats enjoy.

Your voice is the most important source of sound for your kitty.  Get on his level and speak to him as you would a friend.  Just speak softly and talk to him in a high pitched voice and say his name often. Don‘t stare at him while you do it or you’ll come across as aggressive.

Water play isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about cats but some enjoy it.  The sounds of a drinking fountain, or even a small tabletop model, can intrigue your kitty.   A shallow bowl of water can be fun.  Toss in a few ping pong balls or battery operated fish toys for extra excitement.

Indoor Cat Activities

There are many activities you can do with your indoor cat to keep him from getting bored.

You can DIY a cardboard castle or cut a few holes in the top of a pizza box and toss in a few treats and toys for your cat to hunt out.

Make Kitty a forage box.  Fill a box with shredded paper, leaves, grass clippings, wine corks or other items.  And again, toss in a few catnip mice or spring toys.

Tall towers, sisal rope posts, cardboard scratchers, vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces will help kitty work out his energy.  You can DIY a variety of scratchers, or purchase them at most major retailers.

Put a few mirror tiles around your house at cat level and watch Kitty react to seeing himself.

Related Post: Help! My Cat is Bored

cat playing with a yellow toy

Toys

Offer your kitty different types of play.  Play is a great source of social enrichment for cats.  Your bond with your cat will grow as you play together.

Object play involves toys that kitty will play with on his own.  Small furry mice, catnip pillows, springs, balls that kitty can chase about.  Place a squeaky catnip mouse peaking over the edge of her scratch tower.

Interactive play with wand toys, mice on strings, peacock feathers, and laser lights. Figure out your cat’s play style; is he more of a ground stalker chasing mice and lizards, or is he a high flyer leaping after birds and bugs? Use toys that enhance his preferences.  Roll a ball or piece of paper and Kitty may learn to play fetch.

Related Post: Toys Your Cats Will Really Play With

High Tech Tools

Technology has turned even our cats into video gamers.  Turn your tablet into a source of entertainment for Kitty.  Besides the nature videos you can watch, Kitty can play with goldfish or butterflies in games designed for cats.

Motorized toys like a mouse that spins under a mat or back and forth around a circle is another way to tap technology for your kitty.  You can set some toys to turn on randomly for your kitty‘s entertainment.  There are automatic laser toys as well.

Siamese cat playing with a food puzzle toy

Using Food as Enrichment for Cats

Food puzzles, activity boards, frozen treats, putting food around the house for your cat to “hunt” is another way you can enrich your cat‘s environment. Split Kitty’s meals into three or four small servings and hide them in varying places. Kitty will happily take advantage of a neverending food source if it is available, but it is better for them to use their natural hunting skills.

You can buy interactive feeders or DIY your own out of plastic bottles, paper towel rolls, food storage containers, egg cartons or even something as simple as a few treats in a muffin tin.

Offer variety in food. Switching up brands, flavors, form and texture can keep your kitty from getting “finicky” and refusing to try new things.

Plan your cat’s enrichment activities: click to download our planner page

Training

Another way to keep your cats mind active is training.  Clicker training can challenge Kitty to learn tricks and well as useful skills.  You can even use clicker training and treats to teach your kitty to run an agility course.

Related Post: Cognitive Enrichment for Smart Cats. Let Your Cat Use Her Brain.

You can teach cats to enjoy exploring their community in a stroller or going hiking on a leash and harness.  Some cats enjoy the challenge of the cat show experience.

Brown tabby cat giving a human high five

The more enrichment activities you give your cat the happier and healthier your kitty will be.  Your bond will strengthen as you play together and the more fun you will have!

Related Post: Best Enrichment Products for Cats


Sources

Ellis, S. L. (2009). Environmental enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 11, 901-912


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3 thoughts on “Enrichment Ideas for Indoor Cats”

  1. What an awesome post! I’m really not a big fan of outdoor/feral cats because of the damage they do to the environment – not to mention how commonly they get sick or hurt. I wish more people knew that there are so many ways to provide indoor cats with enrichment and thus keep them happy living indoors.

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