An indoor cat lives a lot longer than one that goes outdoors, but life on the inside can be really boring! Cats have instinctual physical and emotional needs that don’t get met through the daily hum drum of indoor life. In fact, many cat behavior problems, like excessive meowing, scratching the furniture, or 3am play sessions, stem from boredom or a lack of suitable enrichment activities.
As cat guardians, we are responsible for ensuring our feline friends get the physical, mental and emotional stimulation they need to be well-adjusted and healthy. I cover 12 cat enrichment ideas in this blog, but first, let’s cover some ground rules for engaging with your cat:
Rules of Engagement:
Be Patient: Sometimes it takes a few tries before you find the right enrichment activities for your cat. If your kitty is newly rescued, you may need to help them build confidence before they are ready to let their inner couch panther roar.
Be Present: Put down the phone, turn off the television, and set aside a certain time of day specifically for engagement and enrichment. It doesn’t take much, but your cat needs and deserves your full attention. You are their world and they are relying on you to meet their physical and emotional needs. You will get it back 100 fold in good behavior and a strong, loving bond with your cat.
Plan at Least Two Play Sessions a Day: Play sessions should happen near dusk and dawn, if possible. Cats are crepuscular and tend to be more active at those times.
Keep the following in mind for playtime:
➤ Play means different things to different cats. Sometimes just getting a perk of the ears or a stillness in the body is an achievement! Other cats need lots of visual and auditory stimuli to get started.
➤ Some cats are scared of anything that moves too fast or makes too much noise. Take a slower approach with a cat that seems nervous or fearful during play time. Think snake slithering in the grass, or a mouse eating a piece of cheese.
➤ Try different toys, different speeds of play, and try to mimic something your cat might stalk in the wild. For example: A bird doesn’t just go back and forth, it lands, pecks, turns in circles, flaps its wings, hops, and may take short flight.
➤ Watch your cat carefully. If their ears perk forward and their eyes grow big, that means you are doing a good job. If their bum wiggles and they pounce, even better!
➤ Try to avoid hand play with your cats, especially if you have children. Cats will associate a hand with something to bite and kick and with the wrong human, it might not end well.
Adjust to Your Cat’s Needs:
➤ Some cats (especially cats rescued from chaotic living situations) get scared when voices are raised, even in excitement. So keep your voice at a level that makes your cat feel confident.
➤ Adjust the pressure you use for brushing and massage. Some cats love deep tissue massage and extra scritchy scratches under their chin, while other appreciate a softer touch. Duffy loves a good, hard brushing:
➤ Cats can get bored quickly, so remember to mix it up and try something new every few days.
12 Enrichment Ideas for a Confident, Happy Feline
1. Netflix and Chill for Cats
Cats are naturally curious and the movement of birds and other animals satisfies an instinctual desire to observe, as they are both predator and prey in a natural environment. Providing them with “Cat TV” satisfies this need.
➤ Cat TV: Place a bird feeder in front of a window where your cat hangs out. Or place a window shelf or hammock in front of a window with a view your cat would enjoy. At my previous apartment, my cats would sit in the window looking into the courtyard and watch the people and wildlife go by. Squirrels, mail deliverers, and birds alike were treated to the vigilant eyes of the Neighborhood Watch.
➤ More Must See TV: Caged crickets, a fish tank, or a tank with a turtle, salamander, snake, or gecko will keep a cat entertained for hours. If you don’t want to invest the time and effort into tanks with living creatures, try a fake aquarium with faux fish or jelly fish. In a pinch, even a lava lamp will do!
2. Build your cats a new space to explore
Your cat may not be able to go outside, but you can create new spaces to explore in your home or bring the outside in with the following cat enrichment activities:
➤ Remember how fun it was to build a fort when you were a kid? Well it is still fun and most cats love it! Use chairs tables, pillows, boxes, and blankets to create a new place indoors to explore. Stalking prey from a newly built hidey-hole taps into a cat’s predatory instincts.
➤ Bring in branches, leaves, or flowers from the outside (make sure they are not toxic to cats) or buy some artificial grass or a mat made out of tissue called a French fry mat (see @chesterthemagnificant above).
3. Provide a Catio or Outdoor Enclosure
Catios and outdoor enclosures are an excellent way to keep your cat happy. The outdoor sounds, smells, and the feel of the wind in their fur satisfy a cat’s need for sensory input. @thesauerkrautkitty purchased theirs from www.customcages.com. Be sure to check your catio or outdoor enclosure is secure every time. Some cats are escape artists. Tussetroll can be seen here leaping to freedom.
4. Create Vertical and Horizontal Space in Your Home
Making your home cat friendly is critical to your cat’s physical and emotional health. Is your cat a bush dweller or a conqueror of the tallest trees? It is important to know your cat’s default setting so that in times of stress or perceived danger, they have a place to retreat that fits their instinctual needs.
Bush dwellers like to chill in cubbyholes, beneath side tables, and in their carriers. Confident bush dwellers may brave desks, coffee tables, and counters.
Your tree dweller can be found on top of the bookshelf or fridge. If your cat climbs curtains, screen doors, and ladders, you have a tree dweller on your hands.
Regardless of their natural tendency to be a bush or tree dweller, cats like to mix it up. So I suggest having a combination of spaces available for your cats. Fergie loves her cubbyholes, but will also climb to the top of the cat tree to watch the birds. Duffy, however, is pretty firm in his bush dwelling ways. He will occasionally jump to the top of the cat tree, but then will yodel for me to get him down.
Try the following “catification” ideas for each dweller type:
➤ Leave a space on your bookshelf open for cat lounging.
➤ Keep their carrier in a main space, so they can feel safe and still be social.
➤ Create a cubbyhole space or buy one of the various cat beds on the market, like the Catball. Place it in the central living space so your cave dwelling kitty will feel secure.
If you don’t want your bush dweller (or any cats for that matter) on your counters or dining room table, provide them with plenty of other options:
➤ Create a space on your desk just for them. Provide a bed, small bin, or basket for them to curl up in and give them lots of positive reinforcement when they choose that location.
➤ Build some multi-level cat shelves.
➤ Invest in a good cat tree. I think 99% of the cat trees out there are completely heinous. Plus, once a cat has scratched it up, it needs to be replaced. Spending a little more on a cat tree that doesn’t hurt the eyes, has replaceable parts, and meets your cat’s needs is completely worth it. Check out the sleek and modern Lotus Tower the cats from @i.pawd are enjoying.
➤ Finally, concede to some areas. Squish used to tap dance on my counters when I wasn’t home. We had a tacit agreement that she would stay off them when I was present, but that agreement ended once I left the house. I only caught her on the counters twice in 10 years.
Cats who are tree dwellers may also need more stimulation and exercise. Try and create a space for both from the floor to the ceiling.
➤ Add shelves at varied heights and distances apart that have different textures and materials like a plush cushion vs carpet or bare wood.
➤ Provide scratching posts at different heights and place treats and other toys on higher shelves to pique your tree dweller’s interest.
➤ You can buy ( or make) stairs, bridges, and tunnels to place on the walls and across archways.The difference in height and terrain will keep your tree climber happy.
➤ Create spaces up high for your cat to relax in and while they keep watch over the house. Check out @talktothepaw on a leafy shelf made by @on2pets.
➤ Invest in a cat tree that engages your tree dweller’s desire to jump, climb, and reach the top.
Visit Catastrophic Creations and you will see some amazing home catification ideas.
5. Grow Cat Grass or Install a Water Fountain
Grow your own cat grass or purchase some fun water features. Believe it or not, some cats really enjoy splashing around. Plus, cats have a low thirst drive so placing a few water features around your house is beneficial to their health.
6. Train Your Cat Do Tricks or Become an Adventure Cat
Spend time training your cat to do tricks like shake hands, play dead, or fetch. I know of cats that use a human toilet and fetch mail! The Purrington Post is doing a series on training your cat to be an “adventure cat” and will be taking a course to learn to become a cat trainer.
7. Take Your Cat on a Walk
I have had pretty good success with leash training, but taking your cats out in a stroller or backpack is also a great way for both you and your cat to get some outside time.
8. Socialize with Your Cat
If your cat is outgoing, confident, and doesn’t mind meeting new people and animals, go to some cat meet-ups or take your cat to a local café. Just be sure to watch your cat for signs of stress.
Fergie has been to several meet-ups and loves to go to Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. She has even walked the red carpet at a movie premier! Duffy is a little more reserved, so people usually come to us if they want to meet him.
9. Create a Cat Toy Chest and Familiarize Yourself with Your Cat’s Play Preferences
Do you have a toy chest for your cat? This could be a box or basket filled with catnip toys, cat wands, and balls that crinkle or jingle. There are toys that a cat can play with by themselves, toys for human-cat interaction, and lots of DIY, low cost/no cost options.
Self-Play Toys for Cats
These toys are especially beneficial if you are gone for long hours or have an independent kitty. Fergie’s favorite self-play toys are jingle balls and mouse shaped toys that rattle. She also likes to drag wands with toys on the end from one end of the house to the other like a predator dragging a fresh kill, much like Hank from @omgdeedee pictured here.
➤ There are apps made for cats that you can put on your phone, tablet or laptop with fish, mice, or birds for them to paw and and pounce on.
➤ Phone operated laser toys are serious fun for kitties.
➤ Battery operated toys like the PetZone Fly by Spinner, which replicates replicates the lifelike motion of a real butterfly in flight, engages cats both mentally and physically.
➤ A cat scratcher or a bouncy, feathery toy hung from a doorknob can alleviate boredom while you are gone.
➤ Any toy that has a ball that moves when batted or nosed can provide lots of stimulation for a kitty. The Turbo Scratcher has a channel for a small ball your cat can nudge with its nose or shove with its paw. Click on the picture to buy one from the Cat Connection using my affiliate code.
Food Motivated Play for Cats
➤ You can hide a few smelly food treats in your general living space. Just be sure to make a note to yourself as to where you left them, in case your cat gives up the chase too soon.
➤ Toys that require your cat to search, paw, or roll the toy in order to get the treat inside are great self-play ideas. These type of toys are also good for cats that eat too fast or need to lose weight. Click on the picture of the Catit Senses Food Tree to check it out on Amazon.com, tested and approved by @mollytabbymunchkin:
Interactive toys are the true secret to winning the heart of your cat, especially if they are newly adopted and feel unsure bout their new environment. It is an opportunity to bond and helps your cat build confidence and expend physical energy.
➤ Cat wands, dancers, and teasers: You can find this type of toy with feathers, strings, toy animals and butterflies, and teaser strips in leather or cloth. The wand can be stiff with something fun at the end or it may have a long string or wire with a feather or animal attachment that can simulate the movement of a bird or mouse.
➤ Cat toys to chase and fetch: Throw crinkle toys, jingle balls, and catnip plush toys for your cat to chase and catch. You can even teach your cat to play fetch!
➤ Laser pointers: Laser pointers can provide an easy way to exercise your cat while activating their natural hunting instincts. You can aim a laser pointer in any direction, use different speeds, and move it up and down or around and around. Try and mimic the movements of something they might naturally chase in nature, like a bird or fly.
➤ Blow bubbles: Most cats love to watch and chase bubbles. Catnip scented bubbles are especially fun for cats.
➤ Cat tunnels: Encourage your cat to run through a tunnel by waving a favorite toy at one end. Your kitty will come shooting through to catch it.
Low Cost/No Cost Play Items
Cats get bored fairly easily, so my advice is to stock your toy chest with a variety of toys and cruise your local 99 cent stores for affordable options. The following every day home items will also keep your cat entertained without breaking your budget. Be there to supervise if the “toy” poses a choking or suffocating hazard.
➤ Bread clips, milk tops, straws, plastic and paper bags, hair ties, and paper clips.
➤ Cardboard boxes in different sizes and shapes.
➤ A flashlight or a mirror to reflect the sun are nearly as fun as a laser pointer.
➤ Take a piece of jewelry wire (maybe 20 gauge) with some beads on it attach it to a wall. It will bounce up and down on its own if the kitty paws it, which encourages them to paw it more. (@sabidarake)
➤ Make your own food puzzle using a cardboard tube, egg carton, ice cube tray, or used drink container.
➤ Or provide your kitties with supervised time in a secure yard to play outside in the grass.
I would love to hear what low cost/no cost, DIY items your cat loves to play with. Leave a comment and I will add it to this list!
10. Engage Your Cat’s Sense of Smell
Cats have a sense of smell that is better than most dogs. According to Wikipedia, a cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times as strong as a human’s. Cats also have a scent organ in the roof of their mouths, which you can sometimes catch them using when they open their mouths to smell something especially stinky or interesting. Engage a cat’s olfactory senses using aromatherapy, catnip toys or spray, and pheromones.
Focus on Your Cat’s Emotional Needs
Cat enrichment isn’t just about addressing the natural instinct to hunt prey. Cats need to feel safe, secure, loved, and connected to their guardians. The following enrichment ideas are aimed at satisfying that need.
11. Brush Your Cat Regularly and Give Kitty Massage a Try
Regular brushing not only keeps the cat hair from taking over your house, it can be a chance for you to bond with your feline friend. Like humans, cats carry stress in their neck and shoulders. You can watch videos and read instructions online or just start slowly with your cat and see how they respond. Watch Brimley receive a massage here:
12. Talk, Sing, or Read Out Loud to Your Cat
I’m a little embarrassed to admit how many songs I’ve made up for my cats. Cats know when you are focusing on them with your voice. Here Max gives @stabbytabby a few slow, lovey blinks to show his appreciation:
13. Engage Your Cat in the Enrichment Activities They Like Best
Provide your cat with the kind of enrichment they most enjoy on a daily basis. Duffy would spoon six times a day if I had the time. Fergie loves to “help me” make the bed, so I am always sure to call her when it’s time. @homer_le_cat is obsessed with socks, so his human indulges him. Remember different strokes for different folks…err cats.
The goal is to set aside time each day to do exactly what your cat wants to do and let them dictate the pace. Creating a routine around the activity your cat most enjoys will reassure your cat that you are reliable and that your behavior is predictable, thus strengthening the bond between you.
Leave a comment to let me know what your cats enjoy most!
Links to Enrichment Items and Toys I use
I use this bird feeder from Amazon.com because it keeps out the squirrels:
The Cat Ball sent me one of their beds for free. You can find many fun styles on Amazon.com:
The Vesper High Base cat tree in black, which was sent to me for free in return for reviewing it on Instagram. You can purchase one at Amazon.com:
I won this Kitty Walk Stroller in a contest. There are several options available through Amazon.com that I link to through the Squish Delish Product Review page:
I buy jingle balls in bulk because they are Fergie’s favorite and always get lost. Here is a link to a pack of 18 for only $8.99:
Kitnipbox.com has sent me two boxes of cat nip toys for free. My cats love them: