Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. The trees start to bud, flowers bloom, and we humans like to do a little cleaning. But what about your cat? Is she getting the full springtime experience?
Your cat isn’t just stuck inside for the winter months. He’s stuck inside year round. With only four walls and the same old sights and smells, day in and day out, your cat is bound to be bored. Just like you, she’s craving the renewal of Spring and a little environmental enrichment.
But you don’t need to let your cat roam free to enjoy a little fresh air and sunshine. You can do three enrichment activities right now to improve your indoor cat’s life and give your feline friend a full sensory experience.
1. Bring outdoor fun inside for cat entertainment
In the wild, cats experience so much variety. Their environment is a wonderland of sights, smells, and sounds. But when we move them inside, they lose a lot of that variety. That’s why it’s so important to give them a taste of the outdoors from time to time.
Collect leaves, budding branches, and other fresh foliage
Offering variety to your cat can be as simple as collecting branches, sticks, leaves, plants and grasses to bring inside. They love to sniff, chew, and scratch anything new, so make sure you stick to cat-safe specimens.
Grasses such as oat, wheat, rye and barley are safe and offer your cat nutrients they don’t get from their carnivorous diets. Other cat favorites include catnip and mint, plus our favorite, silver vine.
Whatever you bring inside, you can keep your cat on his toes by varying the location you put his outdoor goodies. Or to make it extra fun, hide a leaf or a few blades of grass and let him sniff it out.
The ASPCA has a comprehensive list of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats on its website. Be sure to check it out before you give your cats any plants you’re unsure about.
Add climbing or scratching surfaces to your cat’s territory
Your cat has an instinct to hide, climb, and scratch. That’s great if they’re outdoors a lot, but it can be pretty damaging to our homes when our cats are kept indoors. To train your cat not to destroy your comfy couch or that family heirloom, you’ll need to provide her with options.
Start with a sturdy cat scratcher. Sisal and cardboard work best because your kitty loves the feel of it on her paws. I suspect it reminds them of tree bark with its scratchy, rough texture and the great sounds it makes when their claws dig in. For most cats scratching posts are a great option. Others prefer horizontal scratchers. Try both and see what your cat loves.
If you’ve got the room, look for ways to give them a few high perches. This is pretty easy if you have a tall cat tree, but you could also add a few sturdy shelves for your cat to explore. Make it extra fun with different levels and textures or by cutting holes in an old box. Simply add it to your cat’s favorite perch to create enclosed spaces where your cat can keep an eye on things while staying safely tucked away.
2. Get some fresh air and sunshine
It’s the start of spring and a great time to open windows or go outside. Plus, giving your cat a breath of fresh air is an easy, inexpensive way to provide enrichment.
Give your cat something to sniff at
A cat’s sense of smell is 40 times more sensitive than our own, so it’s no wonder they can sniff out that can of tuna from across the house. But it also means they only have so many scents within the four walls of our homes.
If you bring in outdoor plants like I recommended above, you’re already giving your cat some scent enrichment, but you can also create a foraging adventure for your kitty.
One of my clients recently noticed her cat digging in a box of recycling. I suggested she toss in a few treats so kitty could flex her foraging muscles. She said all of her cats had a blast digging the treats out. And it was just a box full of smaller, empty cardboard boxes and paper bags. Cat toys don’t get much easier or less expensive than actual trash.
Let your cat be a sun-bathing beauty
Want to make your cat happy with almost no effort? Open the blinds on your windows that get good sunlight. Your cat will love bathing in the sun as it moves around your house throughout the day. She’ll stay warm and cozy and you’ll know just where to find her. My cat loves to sit in the sun and watch the bird feeder. It’s great visual enrichment with minimal work for me.
Take your cat outside safely
I’m an advocate of letting your cat roam outside from time to time, supervised, of course. Cats love screened patios or you can also build a catio (a small rabbit-hutch-like enclosure) for your cats. Or, if you’re in a city or live in an apartment building, you can build a window box like I did. There’s a great guide in the book I wrote with journalist Laura J. Moss. Check out Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their World (Running Press Adult, 2022) for a fully illustrated tutorial.
3. Don’t forget your cat when Spring cleaning
When it’s time for spring cleaning, check your cat’s living spaces too. She’ll appreciate the refresh of her environment, and you’ll enjoy having a clean home.
Check for unused or broken items; clean the rest
Spring is a great time to toss out old or unused cat bedding and toys. Gather up their favorite blankets and beds for a good wash. If you care for any cat colonies, check that their shelter and food bowls are clean and in good condition.
Use cat-safe cleaners and air fresheners
Just like humans, cats can have allergies or get sick from breathing contaminated or stale air. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid perfumy air fresheners and strong chemical disinfectants as much as you can. But if you do need to use something stinky, open the windows to air the house out.
Create a year round sensory experience with toy rotation
When it comes to enrichment for cats, the simplest changes can have a dramatic effect. If your cat loves your Spring refresh, but has lost interest in play, he might be bored with his toys. Consider rotating his favorites for different toys. Wild cats don’t hunt the same prey every day, and your cat doesn’t want to hunt the same old mousey. Change it up once in a while by rotating his toys. It’s as simple as boxing up the toys he doesn't play with and pulling out the toys he hasn’t seen in a while. In a few months, repeat. Happy playing!