While cats who live indoors are safer from outdoor hazards like predators, trauma or injury, and infectious diseases, they are also more prone to behavioral issues. These problems, such as anxiety, attention-seeking, aggression, and urinating or defecating outside the litter box, may stem from boredom, so providing mental and physical stimulation can stem these behaviors. All cats need mental stimulation, and especially indoor cats. 

An enriched environment allows your indoor cat to create their own positive experiences in a safe, enclosed space. At Colony Veterinary Hospital, your cat’s health is our top priority, so we want to share our best advice.

Cats have evolved from their ancestors with certain behaviors that were natural in the wild. You can contribute to your cat’s mental health and happiness by creating an indoor environment that offers natural behaviors, such as the following: 

  • Vertical spaces — Cats are natural climbers who like being up high, and need several perching options throughout the house to survey their surroundings. If you have the floor space, a cat tree with a flat perching spot and an enclosed hiding space is a great investment. If you don’t have the space, vertical wall shelves can serve a similar purpose.
  • Resting spots — Cats like comfortable resting places, such as soft cat beds, pillows, and cat trees with a nesting place. Window perches where your cat can see outside, and regularly moving beds and perches to mimic a changing outdoor environment, provide mental stimulation. If you have multiple cats, you need multiple spaces to eliminate competition. 
  • Hunting opportunities — Cats are natural hunters, and allowing them to replicate this behavior indoors can help prevent mental stagnation and behavior issues. Use food puzzles, interactive feeders, or food balls, rotated as needed. You can make your cat an interactive feeder by cutting holes in a cardboard box and placing their food inside. 

You can also replicate “the hunt” by dividing your cat’s meals into three or four portions that you hide on shelves, in corners, or behind furniture. You can hide a special treat in the same place for several days so your cat gets used to the “search and reward,” and then move the treat. Your cat will quickly grow accustomed to their daily hunt. 

  • Scratching spots — Wild cats scratch trees to mark their territory, and because stretching their bodies and claws feels good. Provide your cat with appropriate scratching areas, such as a vertical post or two tall enough for them to stretch to full length—this will not only satisfy your cat, but also help prevent them from scratching your furniture. Train your cat to use their post with treats and praise, and keep treats, catnip, and toys nearby to encourage its use.
  • Playtime — Encouraging your cat to play is an important part of their indoor enrichment. Cats’ play often mimics the hunting sequence of stalking, chasing, pouncing, and biting. Encourage safe play with toys like feather wands, balls inside a bathtub or box, catnip-filled items, and light-beam pointer games, always giving your cat a treat or reward afterward, to prevent frustration.
  • Together time — Contrary to popular belief, cats are not solitary creatures, but need social interaction to thrive. Your cat may love their scratching post, but they also crave your time and attention, so spend time every day petting, snuggling, and talking to your cat. They’ll be a happier cat. 

Minimize stress for your indoor cat

Your cat may not be showing actual signs of stress, but behaviors such as urinating outside their litter box may indicate they are stressed. It’s important to first rule out any medical cause, so schedule an appointment for a physical exam with our Colony Veterinary Hospital team. 

Stress can be minimized by:

  • Keeping to consistent feeding and play schedules, because cats like routine.
  • Providing quiet resting places to escape the commotion in the rest of the house, especially households with dogs or children.
  • Providing multiple litter boxes, separate eating areas, and multiple resting spots for multiple cats, to avoid conflict, reduce competition, and encourage all the cats to stay active. 

Indoor cat owners need to provide ways to stimulate indoor exploration, social contact, and mental and physical exercise each day to help ensure their cat stays happy and healthy. However, If your indoor cat is exhibiting inappropriate behavior, we are here to help. If you have any questions or concerns about your indoor cat, do not hesitate to contact Colony Veterinary Hospital.