Creating friendly homes for cats
The equivalent of the term enrichment for us humans would be a home where we can be …. just humans That is, feel comfortable and happy, doing whatever we humans normally do. Similarly, cats need an environment where they can express their natural behavior as species.
Knowing the nature of cats is the first step to guarantee their feline behavior. Cats are adorable and mysterious creatures. Like dogs, we love having them around. Nevertheless, they should not be taken as small dogs or something of the sort and they should not be treated as such. Cats have a totally different nature, and their behavior responds to a different psychological mindset that calls for a deeper understanding of their needs.
In this article we will cover:
Cats: a little bit about the history of cats
What is cats’ nature? (General traits)
What is cat enrichment like (in general)?
How to enrich your cat’s life?
Indoors enrichment for cats How to enrich your cats’ indoor environment?
Outdoors enrichment for cats How to enrich your cats’ outdoor environment?
How to avoid cats endangering wildlife when outside?
Cats: Did we adopt them, or was it all the way around? (a short history)
Cats have been with us humans since ancient times. They have been even deified as is the case of Bastet, the ancient Egyptian Goddess of love and harmony that took the form of a cat.
According to the most recent studies of ancient cat DNA from all over the World, domestic cats loved by humans of all times, spread all around the world since Neolithic times from a common species, the North African / Southwest Asian wild cat (Felis silvestris líbica).
Unlike dogs, studies suggest that even after felines wandered into our lives, they remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, so that their nature and behavior today is not very different from that of their feline ancestors. In fact, DNA analysis provide clues that lead us to believe that cats lived very close to humans for thousands of years, even before they were even domesticated.
Apparently, cats began to be seen in humans’ daily life since the origins of agriculture. In this context, cats became useful as they started to approach human settlements looking for food. As good hunters, they wandered around crops after prey (e.g., rodents) that lived in the fields. Gradually, over time, cats were integrated into humans’ daily life until they became domesticated.
Due to cat’s nature and behavior, it is worth asking ourselves, did we really domesticate cats or was it them who adopted us? Whatever the case, certainly they took their time, as it is typical of cats, before deciding to jump on our laps.
What is cats’ nature?
There are so many adjectives that may describe what cats are like. Cats are cautious, a little skittish, distant, distrustful… there are never enough words to describe these wonderful animals completely.
To some people for whom cats may be the purr-fect pet, this intelligent animal can be inquisitive, friendly, playful, active, loving, calming companions, although on the other hand, to others, they are frustratingly independent, cool, and aloof.
Cats appreciate attention but only when they want it. In either case, it is important to address the true nature of the domestic cat in order to provide them with an enriching home environment in which they can have fulfilling lives while in captivity.
Cats, like dogs or even us humans, have different ‘personalities’ (cat-alities?) or temperaments. For instance, some of them are timid and cautious, others are bolder while others are more friendly and loving. Their behavioral differences also depend on other factors such as breed, the conditions under which they have been raised, the presence of other cats in the surroundings, and the conditions of the environment at home.
What is cat enrichment like (in general)?
Imagine for just a moment you spent your entire life in an empty house with nothing to do. Think about it, wouldn’t you get bored and depressed? Your cat could suffer from the same problem. Cats need an enriching environment that meets their physical needs while providing games, challenges, and tasks that keep their minds active. They also need privacy, open spaces, and access to resources that don’t involve competition with other cats. When you give your cat plenty of enrichment throughout the day, they’ll live a happy, fulfilling life well into their advanced years.
In line with their nature, cats have fundamental requirements for a safe space within the environment where they eat, sleep and play. They need spaces to cope with normal feline behaviors, such as marking and hunting. As an owner, you are advised to do your homework in order to plan and create a cat-friendly environment, or even may face the possibility of a makeover at home.
In general terms, cat enrichment of the indoor environment involves considering the requirements of space, availability of resources, and privacy so that cats may perform normal behaviors and hence have a rich healthy life.
Enriching the environment at home involves not only paying attention to the home itself but also the immediate outdoor. Confining cats in an indoor environment is extremely challenging in terms of providing appropriate mental and physical stimulation.
Outdoors wandering is not suitable for all cats. Cats that are meant to spend most of their lifetime inside the house need to have the proper physical conditions that will fulfill their needs. The situation gets a little bit more tricky when there is more than one cat at home. As domestic cats have evolved from solitary wild cats, they are very sensitive to stress caused by social factors. Although as a species they are highly flexible in terms of social organization and many individuals can adapt to group living, cats are not easy to get along with other cats when they are not linked by kinship.
In that sense, cats should be given lots of opportunities to climb and explore, since they are playful, curious, exploring fellows. Getting on top of things and hiding are important feline strategies that help them to cope with stress. So, they need hiding places, cat trees, and special toys designed for cats.
How to Give Your Cat an Enriching Environment?
Depending on your setup, you might be providing your cat with an enriching environment already. However, it never hurts to review your cat’s needs and see if you need to make any changes. Here are some tips on giving your cat an enriching environment.
How to enrich your cats’ indoor environment?
If you have an outdoor cat, they’re still going to spend some time indoors. And if you have an indoor cat, it’s even more essential that you meet their needs. Think about these factors when you create a home environment for your cat.
Space. Cats need plenty of space to roam around. You probably don’t want your cat walking on the kitchen table or counter but give them spaces where they can climb around without reprimand. This could include shelves, cat trees, stairs, tunnels, and other areas that your cat could explore. Some cat owners build elaborate setups that allow the cats to explore all over the house. In any case, don’t try to train your cat’s natural abilities out of them. You can train them not to jump on certain surfaces, but remember climbing and exploring are part of being a cat.
On another note, cats need access to places where they feel safe. This could be a shelf, cubbyhole, corner or another place where your cat likes to hide. Make the area comfortable with a cat bed, and make sure your cat has access to this space at all times. If you have more than one cat in the house, it’s important to give each cat a space where they can be alone.
Resources. Cats need immediate access to their resources. This includes water, a litter box, and a safe place to hide. When you feed your cat, they need easy access to their food bowl. Never obstruct their resources with obstacles or anything that might make your cat feel unsafe. Additionally, your cat needs a quick way to get in and out of their “territory”. If you’ve ever locked your cat in a room for a while, you know they yowl, paw at the door, and bolt outside when you open the door. Make sure the entrances and exits are open, visible, and easily accessible for your cat.
Similarly, you need to distribute the resources evenly with other cats in the house. Every cat needs food, water, a litter box, and a safe place to sleep. This may sound obvious, but some cats fight over resources, meaning that one cat gets less than the others. Other cats “guard” their resources and won’t give other cats access. Make sure that every cat has clear access to the resources in the house.
Privacy. Every cat needs a private, enclosed space away from doors and windows. If you try to give your cat a space near the window, they might be spooked by birds, squirrels, and other cats. Find a quiet space with minimal intrusions that your cat can visit any time of day. Similarly, give your cat an enclosed litter box in a quiet area where other cats won’t intimidate them.
Activity Areas. Obviously, you don’t want your cat to scratch the furniture. However, every cat needs a space where they can run, play, scratch, hunt and engage in wild behavior. This is easy if your cat goes outside, but if you have an indoor cat, you’ll need to provide a space for them inside your house. You could give your cat a separate room or place activity areas throughout your living space. At times, you might have to engage with your cat directly to satisfy their wild instincts.
Here are a few resources that your indoor cat needs:
- Scratching posts so your cat can stretch, scent mark, or burn off energy
- Stationary toys that keep your cat occupied
- Small toys that your cat can hunt, claw and bat across the house
- Space for your cat to run and jump around
- Periods where you engage in active play with your cat
How to enrich your cats’ outdoor environment?
It might seem safe to assume that your cat has everything they need outdoors. However, you may need to make a few adjustments to ensure that your cat has an enriching environment outdoors. Here’s what your cat needs when they roam around outdoors.
Scratching Places. If you live in a rural area, your cat might have plenty of tree trunks to scratch. But if you live in the suburbs, your cat might not have anything to scratch in your backyard. Scratching doesn’t just release energy–it helps your cat mark their territory. Install softwood scratching posts in your backyard so your cats can engage in their natural instincts.
Enclosed Areas. Your cat might get stressed out or get into fights if other cats keep invading their territory. It’s difficult to keep other cats out of the backyard, but you could take steps to make it harder for them to invade your backyard. Plant trees and bushes around the edges of your property, build a solid fence, or use sprinklers or sound barriers. Some owners surround their property with plants that cats dislike. Just don’t use anything that might injure another cat–you’re trying to keep them out of the backyard, not hurt them.
Hiding Places and Vantage Points. Your cat needs a safe place to hide when they feel tired, threatened, or overwhelmed. If you don’t have a natural hiding space on your property, consider using patio furniture, large planters, shelves, and other places where your cat could hide. Your cat might hide under the deck if you have a back porch. If you have a shed, you could leave the door open to give your cat access–just make sure you don’t have anything in the shed that could injure your cat.
On another note, your cat needs platforms and vantage points so they can observe their territory. Make sure the vantage points face away from the house so other cats can’t watch your feline while they’re indoors. Your cat could use your deck or patio furniture as a vantage point; if not, you could build shelves and platforms outside.
Outdoor Toilets. When you live in a woodsy area, your cat has a natural place to do their business. Unfortunately, not everyone has a sprawling, grassy backyard. If you have a small, rocky backyard without a hiding space, your cat might make a mess in inconvenient places. Dig a latrine and fill it with gravel, then top it with white sand like a litter box.
Your cat can relieve themselves in this area and cover up the mess afterward. Replace the sand every two or three months to keep the area fresh for your cat (they really have a powerful sense of smell, similar to dogs’ and definitely dislike the smell of their own feces and even worse, from other cats).
Cats endanger wildlife (more often than you think)
Cat-friendly enrichment is not necessarily equal to wildlife wellbeing.
We praise cat hunting behaviors when we deal with unwanted mice, rats, and other plagues at home but when cats are outside that will be a totally different story. Cats can exert a heavy tax on wild species.
Birds frequently take the worse part when cats are in free-range mode outdoors.
Consider these figures:
There are 95.6 million cats in the USA alone.
2.4 billion birds are killed by cats per year in the USA! (Not counting other animals like squirrels)
Let’s face it, cats have very heavy hunting instincts. That’s their nature. Cat ancestors from northern Africa were not different from tigers or lions in terms of hunting behavior. It is not like cats are bad guys. They are just predatory animals by nature. If given the chance, a cat will hunt birds not necessarily to satiate hunger. Terrible as it may sound, cats kill many animals and leave them untouched in the hunting territory (aka for fun or playing).
What can we do about this as cat owners?
We can definitely diminish this animal slaughtering by cats.
Things you can do:
- Provide our cats with toys that calm the hunting need and keep them entertained
- Surround your property with cat anti-scape fences
- Have your cats wear anti-hunting collars
- Keep cats inside if possible or practical for you
- Ask your Vet about the possibility of neutering your male cats
- Follow the enriching recommendations mentioned in this article
Antihunting collars are very effective at preventing cats from killing birds. Animals can see the bright colors or listen to the sound produced by the collars and thus have a chance to flee.
Cats need more than a food bowl, a water bowl, and a place to use the toilet. They need an enriching environment that mimics what they might experience in the wild, albeit with fewer dangers. Since cats are territorial creatures, they need a haven where they can relax, observe, and watch their property without interference from other cats. Spaces, toys, scratching posts, and climbing areas help them burn off energy and keep their muscles strong. If you give your cat everything they need, they’ll be a beloved part of your household for years to come.