Posts Tagged ‘environmental enrichment for pets’

Admit it: your cat has an awesome life. And now that you’ve added food puzzles and the perfect scratching post, your cat’s life is darn near perfect.

But is it possible to improve upon perfection? Your cat says, “Yes!”

Here are 4 more ways you can improve your cat’s life today:

  1. Multiple litterboxes. This is especially important when living with several cats or other pets in the house. Cats often won’t cross a “barrier” created by another cat or pet blocking the litterbox. Having extra litterboxes in different areas of the house (including on each floor of a multi-level home) gives your cats choices and helps prevent accidents.
  2. A safe space. Cats like to hide out and nap in private spots, without worry of being harassed by pets or people. Popular hiding spots include an empty box, dark closet, beneath furniture, and high up on cabinets. If your cat doesn’t have a hiding spot, try to provide one, such as a covered cat bed.
  3. Play time. Cats are natural hunters, so look for toys they can “chase.” Pick up some cat-safe toys that require your involvement, and get silly with your cat.  Bonus: Play time helps your cat bond with you and burn calories.
  4. Calming pheromones. Cats can feel more relaxed and less territorial when they are exposed to pheromones (chemical signals) just like the ones they secrete from glands in their face (which they love to rub on you and everything in their environment.) Try Feliway plug-ins to send a chemical message to your cat that says, “Relax.”

It’s your cat’s home — you’re just living in it!

Tips for this blog post are based on advice by feline care expert Dr. Ilona Rodan, via dvm360 Magazine.

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Your cat has a good life — no doubt about it! Here are two things you can do today to make your cat’s life even better:

Find the perfect scratching post. Cats are naturally wired to scratch objects in their environment — even declawed cats exhibit this behavior.

Scratching serves several purposes, according to feline practitioner Dr. Elizabeth Colleran: “visual signaling [to other cats], conditioning of claws, scent signaling with sebaceous glands of the feet, and stretching.” In short: cats scratch objects because it is good for them. But it’s not so good for your furniture, so finding the right scratching post will help keep the peace.

Look for a scratching post that is taller than your cat when she is stretched to full height, for vertical scratching and stretching; also look for a post that has “scratchable” material as the base, since some cats scratch horizontally. Be sure to either secure the post or look for one that your cat can’t pull over. Place the post (or multiple posts) in your cat’s favorite areas of the house. Reward your cat for using the scratching post (or lure him to it) with treats. [Hint: some cats respond very well to catnip.]

Make feeding time a challenge. Cats are predators that benefit from the mental and physical stimulation of hunting and catching their prey (i.e., food.) Placing a bowl of food in front of a cat short-circuits the hunting instinct, which can lead to boredom. A bored cat can become overweight or exhibit behavior problems.

Food puzzles (also known as foraging toys) can satisfy your cat’s need to “work” for its meal. You can find more information about food puzzles for cats here, and be sure to check out their How To Guide which explains how to successfully introduce food puzzles.

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If you have a multi-cat household, you may have witnessed aggression (sometimes mild, sometimes wild) between the cats, even if they get along most of the time. Is there anything you can do about it? Dr. Jill Sackman, DVM, DACVS, PhD, of BluePearl in Michigan, believes there is.

In the Summer 2017 issue of BluePearl’s Companion, Dr. Sackman writes,

“By nature cats prefer not to fight! Domestic cats are solitary hunters. Social behaviors have evolved in cats to avoid conflict; this strategy is very different from humans and dogs. Once cats are aroused, they have very poor skills for resolving conflict, unlike dogs.

“Passive avoidance is a cat’s first response to an uncomfortable situation; just leave the room. Setting a household up for peaceful feline living includes enriching the environment with an abundance of toys, resting places, litter boxes, food and water bowls distributed throughout the house; there is no need for anyone to fight over anything.
[Emphasis added for this blog.]

“When dealing with feline behavioral health, always ask, ‘Am I meeting the needs of this animal based upon his/her behavioral evolution and natural needs?’ The answer is often ‘no.’ Many home environments are often sterile and non-stimulating for cats. Treatment of aggression in cats frequently includes environmental enrichment, providing opportunities for cats to exercise their predatory behavior with acceptable toys, etc.

Environment Enrichment
“To ensure healthy behavior and treatment for many forms of aggression in cats, it is important to first look at the home environment. Start by making the cat’s indoor space more like a natural space. Suggestions include visual stimulation with fish tanks, bird feeders outside windows, even robotic prey-like toys (www.Hexbugs.com). Add perches and cat trees; introduce novel toys (wand toys are particularly interesting); and satisfy the predatory needs of cats. Hunting instincts can be satisfied by putting dry food in puzzle feeder balls or tubes instead of dishes.”

Note: Your veterinarian is the best source of information on dealing with aggression in cats. An examination and testing may be necessary to discover underlying physical problems that may be at the root of feline aggression. To avoid injury to yourself or others in the household, talk to your pet’s veterinarian, or ask for a referral to an animal behavior specialist.* (*Not available in all areas.)

Coming up next week: More from Dr. Jill Sackman about cats and aggression. Watch your inbox!

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