Indoor Cat Enrichment

More cats are being kept as indoor pets than ever before. As natural hunters and predators, they’re made for a life of action. Cats’ natural instincts sometimes clash with our expectations for indoor behavior. Here are some tips to help make indoor environments more cat friendly so your cat can thrive.

Problem Behaviors.

Undesired behavior could be a reaction to change. Moving, vacations, adding a new pet or a new addition to the family can be very stressful to a cat. Even small changes, like rearranging furniture, or a change in routine can cause strife.

The hardest thing can be to recognize the stressor. Some cats are unusually sensitive to their surroundings – these cats can respond to life stressors by becoming uncomfortable, nervous fearful, or even get sick or display aggression.

Territorial Marking.

Cats who are marking aren’t being spiteful – they are upset over something. It’s important owners don’t try to reprimand a cat by shouting, rubbing their nose in it or throwing them in the litter box. It will make the situation worse.

For more information, reference the Solving Litter Box Problems brochure

Solve Marking in Four Steps. 

  1. Identify the stressor.
  2. Clean the areas with enzymatic cleaner – if they can still smell the urine, they may continue to go in that area.
  3. Limit access – close a door if possible, or block the area with baby gates.
  4. Use a stress reducing pheromone like Feliway – these calming pheromones work by telling the cat the environment is safe, and works together with environmental enrichment to reduce stress related behaviors. It comes in both a spray and a plug in diffuser, and along with other enrichment efforts can reduce the urge to spray or mark.

6 Basic Indoor Cat Needs.

Dr. Tony Buffington, DVM and creator of the Indoor Cat Initiative at the Ohio State University, says there are six basic needs every indoor cat requires.

1. Vertical Personal Space
Cats tend to feel safer someplace high. Provide a perch where no other animal or human might frighten them. This will be a safe place to lie, sit, sleep, or look outside from above.

2. Food and Water Bowls
A safe place to eat fresh food and water is important. Place food away from appliances or vents that may come on unexpectedly. For proper hydration, consider additional water sources separate from food.

3. Soft Comfortable Bed 
Cats feel most vulnerable while sleeping. Make sure to provide a soft and comfortable bed in a safe, quiet and warm location.

4. Scratching/Climbing Posts
Scratching is an instinctive, natural behavior. Provide an appropriate place to scratch, and it will keep them from scratching places they shouldn’t.

5. Litter Box
Make using the litter box a positive experience so they want to keep using it. Here are some basics.

  • Scoop litter daily, and the box should be washed weekly with mild dish soap and water. Litter should be 2-3 inches deep.
  • Cats prefer large litter boxes that are easy to get in, stand up, and turn around comfortably.
  • Cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litter. Odor isn’t a problem in a clean box. Once you find a litter your cat likes, don’t change. If you need to change litter types, offer the new litter in a new box placed next to the old box with the old litter.
  • Have one more box than you have cats. Problems like urine spraying can be prevented by providing multiple litter boxes. In a multi-level home, there should be a box available on each floor. Boxes should also be separate from each other.

6. Toys
Toys that most resemble prey and make noise like squeaks, chirps or move on their own are more likely to entice interaction. Rotate toys to keep them interested.

The Unique Feline.

The key to enjoying cats in our lives is to provide acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors and reduce exposure to perceived threats.

Cats Are Not Human.

Scratching Tips.

Most cats like a rough substance they can shred, like bark, rope, or sisal. Ensure scratchers or posts are tall enough so the cat can stretch up to scratch and sturdy so it won’t rock.

NOTE: Cats that tear up carpet may prefer a flat scratching mat.

  • Trim your cat’s nails at home or at the vet.
  • Cats like to scratch when they enter or leave a room. If they have a preferred post, get several. They should be placed in areas where cats congregate and along commonly traveled routes to food or litter boxes.
  • For inappropriate scratching, try covering the object they are using with double-sided sticky tape or aluminum foil.

A Happy Home.

It’s important to understand a cat’s natural behavior and what that may look like in a home environment. Often, a ‘problem’ behavior is really just a misplaced natural behavior that owners don’t understand. By providing an outlet for these normal behaviors, we can ensure a happy home for everyone.

Special thanks Dr. Tony Buffington for his guidance and input on this topic.

C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVN

Professor Emeritus
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences

The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center
601 Vernon L. Tharp St.
Columbus, Ohio 43210

The Indoor Pet Initiative
https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats