How to enrich your cat's life with scent enrichment

two kittens standing in grass looking up at camera

For years, veterinarians, myself included, have been telling cat owners to keep our feline friends indoors for their own health and wellbeing. And while this practice definitely keeps kitty safe and healthy, it can limit their sensory experiences, especially when it comes to scent.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, I’ve talked about the importance of toy rotation to prevent toy fatigue and providing cats with bowls that eliminate whisker fatigue, but did you know it’s important for cats to experience a variety of scents as well? And just like having the wrong food bowl, the wrong indoor scents can cause some distressing issues in kitty’s world.

side profile picture of gray and white cat with nose tilted toward the sky smelling the air

First and foremost, indoor cats need to smell fresh air, grass, plants, branches, soil and other natural outdoor items. They’re animals.

Just like us humans, cats and kittens are adversely affected by a lack of fresh air and sunshine. Humans might experience something akin to “the winter blues,” while animals may simply become sedentary and indifferent to their surroundings. But the good news is, we can enrich our cats’ lives all year long by bringing the outside in.

Doing so could be as simple as collecting branches, sticks, leaves, plants, and grasses to bring inside. Just be careful what you grab. Some plants—like lilies, tulips, and sago palms—can be toxic to pets and you don’t want to accidentally introduce pesticides. If you’re especially wary, you can grow your own. Look for a mix of oat, wheat, rye or barley grasses. Or if you have a black thumb, you can pick up a pre-grown plant from the pet store. Many sell cat-friendly grasses or fresh catnip. Even mint is cat-friendly; plus, humans can enjoy it too.

But even few leaves on the windowsill to smell and knock off, or a branch placed on a table will give your cat something new to smell, feel, play and explore. By varying the item, smell, and location, you can give kitty new ways to smell the outdoors.

Of course, one of the easiest and most important things you can do to enrich your cat’s life is to open the windows and let the fresh air, sunshine, and street sound in. This is an all-around enriching experience for felines because cats can smell, hear, feel and see life outside.

ginger tabby cat standing on windowsill looking outside

Just remember, your fur babies are stuck inside with the same smells all day long, so anything you can do to vary that is going to keep them interested. But also be aware of chemicals and scents you bring into your home. The same scents that humans might love, such as laundry detergent or cleaning products, can be extra pungent to kitty’s sensitive nose. Some may even be dangerous.

cat with mouth slightly open and nose turned up

Just remember, a cat’s nose is 40 times more sensitive than our own. So make sure what she’s smelling is interesting, varied, and most of all, healthy.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some ways you’ve introduced new scents into your cats’ lives?


  • Sheila McDonald

    I brought in a few leaves for my indoor cats but they weren’t impressed! They want to go outside so badly that we take them out periodically and supervised.
    We’re trying to design a catio to work for us.

  • Harriet Merkel

    Pine cones are a hit in my house. Not only can Voodoo and Vader (my two house panthers) enjoy sniffing them, but they’re fun to bat around, as well. 😁

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