Beyond Toys: Keeping Your Cat's Environment Stimulating
Maya and Lily hanging out on perches close to the ceiling.
For many of us, the pandemic has shown us what life is like for our cats. They are stuck inside our homes, and it is up to us to create an environment where they can act out their natural behaviors. This is important because cats who are bored, who don't have options or choices, and who are not provided the opportunity to act out their natural species specific behaviors can develop behavior problems and possibly medical problems due to stress.
There are plenty of ways to keep the environment stimulating. Here are some things to consider:
Scratching - scratching is a natural behavior that stretches muscles, grooms nails, marks territory through visual and scent marks, and can release emotional tension. For all these reasons, scratching should be encouraged. Offer your cat options to see what he prefers. Does he like to scratch vertically, horizontally and/or at an angle? Does he like sisal, rug, or corrugated cardboard? An important consideration when getting a scratcher is that it is stable. A flimsy post is not as attractive as your couch that will not move. Ensure stability.
Climbing - unless your cat has mobility issues, a tall cat tree and perches provide a great opportunity for exercise, and a safe spot for your cat to view his territory. If you live in a household with multiple cats, small children, or a dog, having a safe spot like vertical shelves can provide a great spot for your cat to be able to hang out with the family.
Hiding - providing hiding spots such as cardboard boxes, or cat tents provides your cat with a place to rest undisturbed. Many cats like to use these boxes to play in too. Tunnels are also great for hiding and playing. I've become a big fan of the 3 way tunnels - I think it's a must have for most homes. Cat carriers can make great hiding and resting places - leave your cat carrier out in a room your cat frequents with clean bedding and toys or treats inside.
Smells - A cat's nose is much more powerful compared with a human's. A great way to stimulate your cat is providing cat friendly scents that you can use to revive old toys. You may be familiar with catnip, but silvervine is actually much more potent. Valerian root is another scent to try. A good place to try these is Meowy Jane's: https://meowyjanes.com/
Cat grass - Many cats enjoy grass. Their ancestors would eat grass to help with digestive issues. Today, many of our cats have this same desire to chew and eat cat grass. Providing cat grass is a great way to bring the outdoors inside for your cat. It's available online, and possibly at your local pet store or farmer's market.
Variety - Cats also appreciate novelty. Something as simple as moving the tunnel or cat carrier to a new spot can make it exciting again. Other ways to add a little excitement include using packing paper, tissue paper or the magic carpet from Deziroo during playtime or inside a box. Each day, I try to vary something. One day, I'll hide treats around the apartment. The next day, I'll use a pinch of silvervine on old toys. Another day, I'll use painter's tape, and tape a handful of toys to walls and windows around my home. It's our job as cat guardians to find ways to keep our cats engaged, challenged, and healthy.