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Ask the Vet - Indoor Cat Environmental Enrichment

Updated: Apr 19

Dr. Lopez, DVM:

Veterinarian, Dr. Lopez smiling with cat in her arms

My indoor cat seems so bored and unhappy. How can I help her?

We love our feline friends, but are they really couch potatoes, or just bored? Is the naughty cat trying to be naughty, or are they just frustrated by their surroundings? Can some medical issues really be alleviated by modifying living spaces?  In recent years, we have learned more about what it means to be an indoor cat, and how we can better enrich their environment. 

Signs your cat could benefit from environmental enrichment

  1. Fighting with other cats

  2. Destruction of furniture (scratching couches)

  3. Urinating outside the litter box

  4. Overweight, but does not like to play

  5. Overgrooming to the point of baldness 

  6. Any cat can benefit, even if not showing signs of boredom or stress!

As always, consult with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems causing the above issues first!

But what is environmental enrichment? 

Environmental enrichment is a process utilized by pet owners to provide a positive, and species-appropriate environment that meets a cat’s physical and emotional needs. 1

So our goal is to make a cat’s environment interesting and comfortable for them, which is beneficial for both body and brain health. We can do this with a few simple things that address a cat’s basic needs. 

Simple ways to incorporate enrichment in your home

  1. Add height. Cats love perching, and watching from above. Adding a tall cat tree or cat shelves can give your cat a place to lounge, or remove themselves from stressful situations. Window perches also have the added benefit of watching the scene outside!

  2. Multiple scratching surfaces. Cats need to scratch to maintain nail health. Some cats will scratch any surface, while others can be picky. If your cat is not a fan of the typical scratching rug material, try the cardboard scratchers. Or, try on the ground vs vertically mounted on the wall. 

  3. Add warmth. This is especially helpful to our older cats in the winter, as a heating mat can increase comfort and help aching old joints. Ensure heating mat has a safe shut off so your kitty does not get overheated. 

  4. Different toys. Cats may gravitate to one type of toy, but it is nice to offer a variety. Do they have a wand toy? What about a ball, or mouse type? 

  5. Hunting. This can be tricky with multiple cats, but using a food puzzle or hiding food around the house can help fulfill their need to hunt. 

  6. Add a water fountain. These are great for increasing water intake, and can be a nice new way for a pet to stay hydrated. Ensure to clean regularly, and offer a normal water bowl as well in case your pet is wary at first. 

  7. Have multiple resources that are physically separated. Resources are things like food, water, litter box and resting areas. This is something to consider for solitary cats, but especially for multi cat households. In a two cat household, this may mean offering 2-3 areas for rest, food/water and litter boxes. These areas should be in different rooms (two litter boxes next to one another will equal one space to a cat). This prevents competition between cats, and can decrease stress. 2

This is just a quick list, but there are many ways to add enrichment! Any cat can benefit from a few small changes, leading to a more fulfilling and comfortable life. 🐾

Here are some wonderful resources if interested in more information: 



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