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(518) 439-9361

Delmar Animal Hospital

910 Delaware Ave.

Delmar, NY 12054

Frequently Asked Questions

Environmental Enrichment for a Happier Cat

Many indoor cats live in relative boredom and loneliness, contributing to stress that results in behavior disorders such as house soiling, urine marking, intercat aggression, owner directed aggression, and behaviorial overgrooming. Proper enrichment of the indoor environment gives the cat a more novel and complex life that encourages the cat to continue more typical species behavior leading to less behavior problems.


Things to consider about your indoor cats environment:

RESTING AND HIDING PLACES:

A normal cat uses a resting place as a place to observe the world via sight, sound and smell. For indoor cats, there is no diversity in the environment except for what can be observed through a window. Each room of your home should have a resting place for the cat, that if not by a window, is changed periodically in some way. Perhaps sometimes a TV or radio can be left on, even very quietly, for the cat to contemplate. The surface can be changed in some way. Catnip or food treats can be hidden in these resting places to be discovered by the exploring cat. A scented toy or cat safe spray can be sprayed there to be discovered. Again, this is not every day to every resting place, but randomly and surprisingly to change the cat's experience as it observes and explores its home territory each day.

Cats use hiding places to cope or nap. A hiding place is a more den-like resting place where the cat can "retire" from everyday stresses. Cats need options for tall hiding places, like cat trees or shelves, and small hiding places like paper bags, cardboard boxes or niches under beds or in closets. Again, hiding places can be made more enticing through occasionally hiding a food treat or catnip there.

OLFACTORY ENVIRONMENT:

Scent signals are an important part of cat communication and exploration. Cats exposed to new odors are more active and exploratory. Catnip, cat grasses, safe houseplants, herbs (cinnamon, cardamom), toys with owner's scent and pheromones such as Feliway all help encourage exploration and play. Again, switching the scents up and presenting them randomly add surprise and delight to the cat's daily exploration. Facial marking or bunting and rubbing are healthy and happy cat behaviors and can be facilitated by the owner but also by rubbing targets such as the Catit Cat Spa, made to be affixed to corners of walls as a bunting target.

A word of warning for owners of cats that are predisposed to urine marking. Adding new scents to the cat's territory may worsen marking behavior in cats prone to this behavior.

SCRATCHING ENVIRONMENT:

Scratching both vertical and horizontal surfaces is a normal cat behavior that leaves visual and scent signals and keeps the nails healthy. Cats should be habituated to scratching posts made of materials not normally found in the home like cardboard, rope or bark. Rug covered posts are not recommended becaue they encourage the cat to scratch fabric or material surfaces found other places in the home. Scratching posts should be in socially active areas, NOT just the basement. Playing with your cat at the scratching post or presenting occasional treats or catnip on the scratching post are ways to encourage healthy and appropriate scratching behavior. As cats age, some can no longer scratch and then need periodic nail trimming to keep their nails healthy and not ingrown.

LITTERBOX ENVIRONMENT:

In general, it is a good idea to have one more litterboxes than the number of cats in the household. Litterboxes should be in quiet, even private, but easily accessible locations. Most cats clearly prefer large (33 X15 inches), uncovered boxes with clumping litter of a sand-like texture. And at least 50% of all cat misurination problems start because the litterbox is not clean enough to be acceptable to the cat. Because the plastic eventually absorbs the smell of waste products, old litterboxes should be exchanged for new one every 1-2 years.

SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT:

Cats are social animals, but many are happy as single cats with the human as their social contact. Cats will also be social with dogs and other cats. But they need their space! When housing multiple cats it is ideal to have 107 square feet or at least 2 rooms per cat. Male cat may need more space, up to 4-5 rooms. Remember to increase the number of food bowls, water bowls, resting areas and litterboxes with each added cat.

HUNTING, PLAYING and EATING REQUIREMENTS:

In well adjusted cats, hunting behaviors take up 3.6 hours of their day, just above the 3.5 hours they spend grooming themselves. So if you see your cat cleaning themselves all the time and never "playing", they need more time hunting! Predatory behavior can be simulated in an indoor cat by dividing their daily food quantity and feeding at different food bowls in different areas of the house randomly. Feeding from food toys (IQ Treat Ball, Kitty Kong) and hiding portions of their meals at resting places, under furniture and rugs can simulate hunting. Cats have a need to chew that can be fulfilled with jerky treats and cat-safe grass.

Toys and playing with your cat will also simulate hunting behavior. Keep a wide variety of toys on hand and rotate them so there are 3 new toys per day per cat. Smaller toys and mobile toys with complex surfaces increase play behavior in cats. Many good cat toys are inexpensive or even free! Cats like to play with: ping pong ball in a bathtub, toys on wands, toys on stands, egg cartons with treats hidden inside, laser pointers or toys (frolicat.com), plastic rings from milk cartons, balled up pieces of paper, catnip mice or balls, golf balls, balls with bells, large fabric hair ties or hair bands, aquariums stocked with fish. Daily play time with your cat is a must, just like the daily walk for the pet dog!

Training sessions of 3 minutes or less, held before feeding, benefits the cat mentally and with owner bonding. Cats should be trained individually and using high value treats like Temptations. Clicker training can be very helpful (clickertraining.com). Cats enjoy learning entertaining tricks such as high 5, fist bumps, standing up or turning for treats.

Normal feline daily activity includes:

9.5 hours sleeping

5.3 hours resting

3.6 hours hunting (playing, training)

3.5 hours grooming

0.6 hours traveling

0.55 hours eating

0.33 hours other activities like scratching, smelling, etc


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