I’ve long been an advocate for creating indoor enrichment for our feline companions. And now there’s evidence to suggest this also helps our cats fight inflammatory diseases, such as chronic urinary tract disorders.
In a study of cats with cystitis, Dr. Tony Buffington from The Ohio State University found that cats who were placed in their enriched cat colony showed improvement when they no longer experienced the stresses of a non-enriching environment. In other words, the chronic conditions may actually be, at least in part, caused by an inappropriate environment. Dr. Buffington calls this Pandora syndrome because the stress response seen in these cats is akin to opening a Pandora’s box of conditions.
The good news is, enrichment is easy to provide, and it could help prevent further problems down the road for your cat. Here some easy ways to provide enrichment for all five of your cat’s senses.
Break out the toys for this one. Cats love to watch their prey, so it’s easy to provide them with sight enrichment with a laser or wand toy. You can also give them a new hiding place to tap into their instincts. In the wild, cats love to sneak up on prey, and they do this by lying in wait before they pounce. Play tunnels work great, but even a simple box or bag can provide a place where they can observe their surroundings.
Cats are known for their eyesight but they also have powerful hearing. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than humans and up to one octave higher than dogs. Those are some sensitive ears. In the wild, cats will use this sense to help them find prey. Rustling leaves and scurrying feet are easily heard before they lay eyes on the critter. You can stimulate this sense by providing toys that make noise. Toys that are made of paper work great for this because they sound a lot like leaves. But you can also find toys that crinkle, jingle, and buzz. Try a few and see what your cat responds best to.
A cat’s sense of smell is 40 times more powerful than ours. They use their noses when hunting, when deciding where to use the bathroom, when deciding if they’re safe, and when to stay away. So this sense needs some serious stimulation. My top two ways to provide scent enrichment are cat attractants, like catnip and silver vine, and fresh air. Indoor cats need to smell fresh air, grass, soil and all the little outdoor critters. Let them experience it safely by opening your windows on a warm, sunny day.
If you’ve ever heard a cat start purring when you start petting her, you know how important touch is to your cat. So physical touch is an obvious way to stimulate your cat’s sense of touch. Learn her favorite spots and give her some love. But you can also introduce tactile materials that your cats will love, like paper, soft fabrics (or fake fur), plastic sheets or bags, wicker, or even warm laundry.
Cats are obligate carnivores. That means they need to eat meat to survive. But you can also provide them with some variety. I suggest introducing new foods frequently and even giving your pets a “people food” treat from time to time. Cats can safely eat unseasoned meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Even some vegetables and plants are safe for cats. You can easily find cat grass or fresh catnip at pet stores. Or you can grow your own.
These are just some of the ways you can improve your cat’s quality of life. Remember, indoor enrichment is so important for our cats. And now that we know it keeps them healthy too, it’s more crucial than ever.