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Meeting the Environmental Needs of Your Pet Cat(s)

Enrichment provides cats with ways to engage in natural behaviors. It improves their physical and mental health, alleviates stress and boredom, and improves their ability to cope with challenges. There are numerous types of enrichment, but perhaps the most basic and well-known is environmental enrichment. It will be the focus of this article.


Feeding stations should be located in calm and quiet areas that allow cats to eat in peace and without interruptions. This will help keep them from being interrupted or disturbed, which will in turn help prevent abnormal behaviors.

Ideally, cats will be fed at least twice a day. You can also accommodate your cat’s natural hunting instincts by offering food in puzzle feeders. The latter will increase a cat’s mental and physical activity, which might reduce obesity and other health problems.

Older cats are less inclined to drink water. You can increase your cat’s water intake by providing them with wet food and multiple water bowls. An elevated water dish or fountain might appeal to your cat.


Cats love to hide, and hiding places should be located in calm and quiet areas that allow cats to escape stressors such as other cats in the household, outdoor cats, dogs and small children, and loud noises from appliances. Research says that cats prefer open-sided boxes and comfortable resting options such as pillows and fleece beds.

orange tabby cat snuggled in bed, under a blanket, head on pillow
Research says that cats prefer and comfortable resting options such as pillows and fleece beds. (Photo by ModCatShop on Unsplash)

A cat tower is the most popular way to provide cats with both resting and climbing areas. Vertical space can also be provided in the form of window perches, cat shelves, ropes, and climbing poles.

Research suggests that cats prefer to keep a social distance of one to three meters, horizontally as well as vertically, when they share a room. Although cats will time share, or take turns using resources, it’s still important to provide multiple spaces to minimize competition.

Escape routes allow a cat to safely escape a real or perceived threat. The greater the number of pets and people in your home, the greater the need you’ll have for escape routes strategically placed throughout your house.

While hiding areas and climbing options can serve as escape routes, interior design should also be considered. Experts recommend pulling furniture away from walls to create additional paths for your cats, and placing litter boxes a foot away from walls.

It’s equally important to block some routes. They keep your cats out of restricted areas and keep dogs and small children from accessing cat food and resources.


Litter Box Setup

At least 10% of cats have litter box issues. If your cat falls into this category, have your cat examined by your vet, check your yard for potential predators (including outdoor cats), and evaluate your litter box setup.

When evaluating your litter box setup, you should provide one litter box per cat plus one. In addition, litter boxes should be scooped daily and cleaned at least once a month, located in a quiet and calm but also socially significant area, and be at least 1.5 times the length of your cat (not including the tail) with the sides at least six inches high. The litter itself should be less than two inches deep. Also consider whether your cat likes his litter and if there have been any recent changes in your household that might have caused your cat to stop using the litter box.

Scratching Options

Cats scratch because it improves their physical health, feels good, provides an emotional release, and marks their territory. The best way to provide cats with a scratching option is through a scratching post. Most cats like to scratch vertically on a sturdy post that is taller than their body length so they can fully stretch. If your cat is scratching your carpet try a horizontal scratching option too.

Sisal allows cats to easily dig their claws in and get an effective scratch. However, some cats prefer cardboard, carpet, cloth, or wood. If your cat is scratching door frames, try adding a wooden scratching post. Scratching options should be placed near preferred resting places in socially significant areas.

Chewing Needs

Cats chew because it improves their dental health, provides mental stimulation, and the texture feels good. One way to meet your cats’ chewing needs is to provide them with cat chew sticks and toys. The best chew toys will provide a safe and non-destructive outlet for your cat’s urge to chew. They might also support dental health and hygiene. Another way to meet your cats’ chewing needs is to offer a variety of cat-safe plants and grasses.


Your domesticated cat is still hard-wired with a prey instinct, which means the prey sequence is one to keep in mind at playtime. The prey sequence consists of four phases: stare, stalk, pounce, and bite.

Because different types of toys elicit different parts of the prey sequence, it’s important to provide your cats with a variety of toys.

  • Self-play toys include plush mice and crinkle balls, and primarily meet only the pounce and grab phase of the prey sequence.
  • Battery-operated and motion-activated toys simulate a more realistic prey-object, and meet the watch, stalk, and pounce part of the prey sequence.
  • Puzzle feeders, forage boxes, and tunnels encourage cats to mimic predatory behavior. When cats use their paws to tease a toy or kibble out of a puzzle hole, it’s similar to their manipulating a mouse.
  • Two of the most popular interactive toys are laser pointers and wand toys, also known as fishing poles or cat teasers, and can replicate the entire prey sequence. Always end laser-pointer games with a treat or toy so that your cat has “captured her prey.”
Fluffy black cat playing with a soft toy
Allow your cat to select a toy from a box to encourage seeking behavior. (Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash)

Other options to consider with regards to play are a cat wheel and children’s plastic play equipment. A cat wheel can be an exercise outlet, especially as indoor cats typically have limited opportunities to run, and can also be used to relieve frustrations or redirect energy.

An article published by the National Library of Medicine suggested the use of children’s plastic play equipment as an economic form of enrichment, readily available and easy to clean, that can be draped with beds and blankets to create areas for hiding and comfort.

More play tips to keep in mind include:

  • Allow your cat to choose a toy from a selection in a box to encourage seeking behavior.
  • Rotate toys each week to retain your cat’s interest.
  • When a play session ends, let your cat catch the toy and switch it with food to replicate the hunt-then-eat pattern from the wild.
  • Allow your cat opportunities to play on his own, so he doesn’t become reliant on you to stimulate his prey drive.
  • Use catnip spray to renew interest in familiar toys.

Enrichment gives cats the opportunity to have positive experiences in enclosed spaces. Meeting their environmental needs is a great place to start. I’ll cover other ways in future articles.

If you’re open to sharing info about your own personal feline enrichment experiences, please fill out my survey.

About the Author

Logo: Allison Helps Cats - Cat Behavior Consultant & Trainer
©Allison Hunter-Frederick

Allison Hunter-Frederick is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and Trainer. She is also the mother of three fur kids and several revolving foster cats, host mom to international students, and wife of a supportive husband. Through her business Allison Helps Cats LLC, she uses her knowledge of cats to help cat owners and animal shelters with their cat behavior needs. One of her passions is finding new ways to enrich the lives of cats!

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