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Why Environmental Enrichment is Important for Feline Health

Although the subject of behavioral enrichment, or mental enrichment, is often focused on the needs of our canine companions, it’s also vital to feline health and well-being. From obesity to unwanted “marking” and scratching, there are many problems that can develop in cats when mental and physical opportunities are limited.

The Secret Lives of Cats

While it seems like a cat snoozing in the sun couldn’t possibly want anything more than to lay around all day, you may be surprised. Cats are complex creatures who require outlets to express normal feline behaviors, such as stalking and pouncing.

As you may have witnessed with your own fur friend, cats are born to move. In fact, their bodies are designed to leap up to 5-7 times their height, and they can reach speeds of more than 30 miles per hour.

In the wild, the ability to move quickly and to contort their bodies are why cats reign as one of nature’s top predators. So while Mr. Fuzzbottom seems a far cry from a cougar, he does still retain the need for speed, precision, and stealth.

Domestic cats express these instincts by way of hunting catnip mice and leaping across the room after an imaginary bird. Since they also have superb low-light vision, you’ll likely notice your cat’s knack for expressing these wild behaviors around one o’clock in the morning.

Feline Environmental Enrichment

Because felines aren’t as demonstrative of boredom and stress as dogs (when was the last time your cat chewed up a pair of shoes?), they often get neglected in the enrichment department.

Since we hope our kitties remain safe and healthy, it’s understandable that we want to keep them mostly indoors. However, indoor cats are often subject to understimulation, boredom, and a more sedentary lifestyle.

This lack of space and environmental enrichment can sometimes result in numerous problems, such as:

  • Weight issues (loss or gain) and obesity
  • Muscle loss
  • Over-grooming (bald spots, skin irritation)
  • Chronic yowling or vocalization
  • Increased scratching or biting
  • Aggression between pets
  • Marking and other litter box woes
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Attempts to escape

It’s also important to have your pet examined if his or her behavior changes, as this can be indicative of an underlying health problem. When in doubt, simply schedule an appointment with the team at West Park Animal Hospital.

Enrichment Opportunities for Feline Health

The great news is that there’s no need for your cat to be bored. There are many ways to add enriching items and activities for your curious indoor kitty, including:

  • If your cat is socialized but currently an only pet child, consider adopting a buddy.
  • Add ramps, cat trees, cat posts, or window perches to provide opportunities for jumping, climbing, and bird-watching.
  • Stock up on new and interesting toys, such as an assortment of small catnip mice, self-entertaining toys (while you’re at work), and toys you can use to get your cat moving (like the Cat Dancer).
  • Spend at least 20-30 minutes playing and interacting with your cat each day.
  • Provide places for your cat to hide – like a cat cube or a small area in the closet.
  • If your cat is often alone, consider hiring a pet sitter to come by and play with your fur friend during the day.

Promoting feline health means supporting your cat’s need for mental and physical enrichment. We hope you find these tips helpful to keep your whiskered friend happy and healthy. For more recommendations, please give us a call!

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