As you look at your tubby tabby lounging in the windowsill, you probably think your cat has the life—every day they have a full food dish, endless cat naps, and a handy servant who scratches behind their ears. Your feline friend may appear content, but as time goes on, they pack on the pounds and become quite pudgy, struggle to groom and maintain proper hygiene, and develop inappropriate elimination issues. With such an easy life, how can your cat be experiencing any issues?

While such a carefree lifestyle seems idyllic, lack of environmental enrichment can lead to a variety of behavior and physical health problems. Cats without adequate enrichment can suffer from not only obesity, but also numerous conditions caused by stress and boredom. Cats’ physical health is closely linked to their mental health, and they rarely suffer one without the other. To keep your feline friend in peak mental and physical health, try the following five ways to enrich your indoor cat’s life.

#1: Feed your cat from food puzzles

A cat’s natural behavior encourages hunting up to 20 small meals per day, so a bottomless food dish is essentially unnatural for your feline friend. Cats should spend the majority of their time procuring their next meal, and you can help your kitty cater to their normal habits by investing in or creating a variety of food puzzles, like snuffle mats, cardboard boxes with paw-sized holes, or plastic bottles with tiny holes that allow kibble to fall out. Assess your cat’s preferences for a food puzzle that encourages batting, reaching with a paw, or moving the puzzle with a nose, to find the best fit. Some food puzzles can be used with wet food, such as LickiMats. Better still, feeding your cat from a food puzzle is likely to cut down on those 2 a.m. yowls for a refill. 

#2: Engage your cat with interactive toys

Choose toys that appeal to your cat’s natural predatory instincts, to elicit the most interest and interactive play. Toys like robotic mice, feather wands, fishing pole toys, and any that encourage stalking and pouncing are ideal. Engage in brief play sessions throughout the day to help your cat remain active, but keep in mind that most cats prefer shorter play sessions than dogs.

#3: Allow your cat to practice nail care in appropriate areas

You may think your cat is out for revenge when they scratch your new leather sofa, but they are simply practicing natural behavior. Scratching on a variety of surfaces is vital for your cat’s health, as it not only allows for good claw care, but fulfills their need to leave scent markings, stretch, and exercise. If your cat is scratching inappropriate surfaces, place a sisal scratching post next to the off-limits surface, and apply Feliscratch, an attractant pheromone proven to reduce unapproved scratching. Cats need scratching posts at least as tall as they are when they stretch out, but they also benefit from horizontal scratching surfaces, so offer your feline friend multiple options for maximum happiness. 

#4: Create lofty perches for your cat to survey their domain

As both a predator and prey species, cats have an innate need to be up high, surveying their domain for potential threats and meals. Fulfill this essential need by installing climbing towers, lookout posts, and lofty perches for them to scale. Situating a perch next to a window that overlooks a bird feeder or other area of interest will provide hours of stimulating, safe enrichment.

#5: Provide plenty of hiding spots for your cat

Multicat homes have the potential for bullying situations, and cats in single-cat homes may also be motivated to hide, because they are sensitive to loud noises, changes in schedules, or the environment, or simply need to rest and relax. Some cats like to lurk in closets, under beds, or behind furniture, leading their owners on an endless game of hide-and-seek. Allow your cat to engage in their natural hiding behavior by offering cozy hidden areas outfitted with beds and blankets. 

Without adequate enrichment, your indoor cat is at a higher risk for developing chronic lower urinary tract issues, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and joint issues, but a few easy changes in your kitty’s living situation can help prevent these conditions by boosting activity, encouraging mental stimulation, and reducing anxiety and stress.

Need more ideas on keeping your cat exercised and entertained while living solely indoors? Schedule a consultation with one of our veterinarians at Best Friends Veterinary Care to discuss your feline friend’s personalized enrichment program.