Indoor Enrichment: Keeping your Cat Happier and Healthier at Home

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting home after a long day at work — maybe looking forward to settling in for a bit of binge-watching in a freshly cleaned apartment — only to find a tipped over garbage can, and your cat casually lounging on the shreds of your brand new couch cover. So there you are, frustrated and defeated, as you stare into the face of an undeterrable cosmic force and it meows back, “My dinner’s late!”

Cats have a knack for doing exactly as they like, and it can feel like training or solving behavior problems is an impossible struggle. Thankfully, there are a variety of strategies to encourage positive behaviors, as well as strengthen the connection between the two of you! In many cases, the key is simple: indoor enrichment.

What Is Indoor Enrichment?

Boredom and stress can lead to a variety of difficulties for indoor cats, from behavioral challenges to litter box problems (or even chronic urinary issues) to inter-cat aggression. As the name implies, indoor enrichment focuses on keeping your cat engaged and relaxed inside the home, by providing the right kind of environment and activities to stimulate them mentally, physically, and socially.

Most city cats have no, or only limited, outdoor exposure, only able to see the world through an apartment window. And while indoor cats do tend to live longer — since they’re more protected from injury and infectious disease — they may need some extra stimulation to stay happy and satisfied.

So what exactly can you do to enrich your cat’s life? Below are some of our recommendations. In general, these approaches appeal to various instincts handed down to house cats from their ancestors who lived outdoors in the wild. Remember: cats are individuals (as we all well know!) — so the process of finding out what works for your own feline friend may take some trial and error. With a little effort, though, even small changes can provide a real and noticeable benefit to your cat’s temperament and behavior.

Toys. It’s no surprise that most cats enjoy playing with toys that encourage stalking, chasing, and pouncing — their ancestors spent most of their days hunting for mice, birds, and other small prey. Your cat will have their own preferences, but in general toys or balls that squeak, chirp, or move like small prey are great choices. You can also try simple homemade alternatives like a crumpled up piece of paper, paper towel tube, or an empty milk jug. Try to follow a regular schedule for daily playtime, and rotate toys so your cat doesn’t become bored. (Adding catnip can also spice playtime up!)

Scratching. A cat’s instinct to scratch is natural — even for those who’ve been declawed. Providing your cat with dedicated scratching materials made from rough material like sisal rope, coarse fabric, or even just cardboard can do wonders for saving your couch covers! (Some cats prefer vertical scratching posts, others a flat surface like a mat.) Encourage your cat by offering plenty of praise and rewards when they scratch appropriately.

Perches and ledges. Cats love to be high up, a vestige of their instinct to have a good vantage point for spotting signs of danger. Carpeted cat trees, perches, and shelves are great options for most cats; placing them by a window or, if possible, moving them around your home to mimic a changing environment, can provide additional stimulation. Many cat trees come with built-in hiding spots, which is a great option for cats with a strong hiding instinct.

Dynamic feeding. A variety of products — like food balls, interactive toys, and puzzles — can make meals more stimulating for your cat. (Or, you can always craft your own food puzzles with a cardboard box, for example.) Hiding treats in different places around the house every day can also provide an exhilarating challenge.

Litter boxes. Cats are meticulously clean by nature, and they need a quiet, comfortable place to do their business — which is why we advise having at least one litter box per cat in the household, placed in a low-traffic area, and cleaned daily. Most cats prefer larger, uncovered boxes, but it may take some trial and error to find what type of box and litter your cat prefers.

Dedicated rest areas. It’s vital for cats to feel safe and secure while they’re asleep, so make sure that your cat has dedicated rest areas around the home — quiet and protected spots, whether it be a blanket on your bed, their own bed on a windowsill or other refuge, or up in a hidey-hole in their favorite cat tree. Ideally, these areas should have easy access to necessities like a litter box, food, water, and toys.