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Enrichment for Household Cats
By Melissa Bain, DVM, DACVB
If you keep your cat inside for her physical well-
being, you need to be aware of how to provide for
your cat’s mental well-being. Since cats are both
social creatures and predators, they must have
opportunities to express their natural behaviors.
An indoor/outdoor cat is able to create these
opportunities herself, but if you have an indoor
cat, she needs some help from you to satisfy her
social and predatory drives. Not only does this
help your cat, it also helps you to forge a stronger
There are various ways to enrich an indoor cat’s environment. Toys are an obvious
method, both self-play toys (those that the cat can play with, without your involvement)
and interactive toys (those that are usually handled, at least in part, by you). Perches
to view the great outdoors and a cattery are other ways to make your cat’s life more
interesting. Any interaction you have with your cat is a form of enrichment, of course, but
another thing you can do is teach your cat tricks.
Self-play toys are especially good for cats who are left home alone while their people are
away. Most self-play toys dispense food, which motivates the cat to play with the toy. The
basic principle is that you fi ll up the toy with dry kibble, and the cat learns to manipulate
the toy to release the food out of a hole.
You can either buy food-dispensing toys or make your own. Examples of purchased toys
are Kitty Kongs and Roll-a-Treat Balls. A variation on this type of toy is the Deli Dome,
an electronic dispenser that releases a food-fi lled ball on a predetermined schedule. You
can make your own toys with such objects as racquet or tennis balls, or clean yogurt
containers with plastic lids. Cut a hole into the ball or container, fi ll it up with dry kibble,
and, presto, your cat is entertained. Another type of food-dispensing toy is Pavlov’s Cat,
which releases dry food when a cat scratches the toy.