15 Easy Ways to Enrich Your Cat's Life
As a human who belongs to a cat, it's your job to make sure that the home you share is a happy, healthy space—and that goes beyond providing food and health care. Cats need stimulation to keep their minds healthy and curb bad behaviors. While puzzle-based interactive toys are a great way to keep your kitty engaged, you don't need fancy gear to enrich your cat's life.
Check out these 15 easy ways you can entertain your family feline. They'll definitely thank you for your efforts!
1. Make a Fort for Kitty
When you make the bed, fluff up the sheets and blankets so they settle down gently on top of your cat. You'll end up enjoying this chore as much as kitty will.
2. Share (Nontoxic!) Kitchen Herbs
Basil, dill, and rosemary are safe for your cat to munch. If they're amenable to sharing, you can also use these herbs for cooking! Animal behaviorist Julie Posluns, ACAAB, owner of Cat School, recommends giving your kitty catnip and cat grass.
3. Rearrange Furniture
Strategically placed furniture allows your cat to jump progressively higher. Imagine the athleticism it takes to go from the floor to the back of an armchair to a bookcase shelf to the very top of the breakfront!
"Rearranging furniture is also a great way to know how your cat responds to changes in the environment," Posluns says. "Are they excited and eager to explore or more suspicious about the change in their surroundings? Knowing this info can help you customize your cat's enrichment to fit their personality."
4. Play Hide and Seek
Another great cat enrichment activity is to lay an opened magazine or newspaper on the floor and make a cat toy dart under it, then back out again, to simulate the way small prey animals dart in and out of the grass. Your cat will be mesmerized.
Posluns also suggests another game: you hide, then shake a treat bag so kitty can follow the sound to find you. When she does, reward her! "As your cat gets better at playing hide and seek, you can call out their name as a way to help them locate you. The most advanced version of the game is when they have to use their excellent sense of smell to find you," she adds.
5. Leave Out Boxes
Shopping online? Leave the delivery box out for a few days before you recycle it—kitties are drawn to confined places where they can hide or sleep. Leave the top open, or close it up and cut a big hole in the side of the box. (Keep your camera handy because photos of cats in boxes are what Instagram was made for.)
6. Take a Nature Break
Bring in something from outside, such as a branch, a rock, or fresh leaves (only nontoxic and pet-friendly plants, please!). Cats read the outside world when they sniff something new and earthy.
7. Create a Scratcher Adventure Course
Buy or build vertical and horizontal scratchers for your feline (unless you know your kitty prefers one over the other). Make sure the vertical ones stand at least 3 feet tall and the horizontal ones are at least 1 foot wide for easy scratching.
8. Have Some Snuffle Mat Fun
Here's a simple DIY cat enrichment tip: Fold up a towel, hide some treats among the folds, and place it inside a box or big paper bag for your cat to explore. Posluns also suggests stimulating a cat's natural foraging instincts with a grass box with treats tucks between the blades, or placing a snuffle mat inside their carrier so they have to "hunt" for their meal.
Set up an outdoor bird feeder just outside the window to create a cat TV, guaranteed to get good ratings! The right window perch provides hours of prime viewing time.
10. Go Fishing
Fill a large mixing bowl with water and add a rubber duck or small wind-up toy. Place the bowl on a towel or tray on the floor and enjoy watching your cat splash. Make this an interactive activity by nudging the toy around to keep your cat engaged.
11. Clicker Training
Clicker training is a wonderful bonding activity. Many kitties are quite good at it, and yours might amaze you with how many tricks she learns.
"Teaching your cat a new trick like a high five is an excellent way to give them much-needed mental stimulation. Cats love learning, and little pieces of food are fantastic prizes for their hard work," Posluns says. "There's an abundance of skills and tricks you can teach your cat. Build their repertoire of behaviors and show off your cat's brilliance to your friends and family."
12. Chase the Treats
If you feed your cat dry food, ditch the bowl and add some excitement to feeding time by throwing pieces for kitty to chase. (Although some cats won't want to work for their food!)
"Many cats love chasing after treats, and this can be such a fun and easy way to keep them busy," Posluns says. "If your goal is to burn more of your cat's energy, try tossing treats up or down stairs."
13. Go for a Leash Walk
Most domestic kitties yearn for wild adventures, so prompt all their senses to tingle by taking them on a walk. Posluns recommends first training your feline friend to accept a leash and harness. Then, pick a safe place to practice, such as your garden or yard.
"Leash walking is one of the best ways to enrich your cat's life. Once your cat learns to accept a harness, you can enjoy the outdoors together," she adds. "If leash walking isn't for your cat, consider backpack training."
14. Try Target Stick Training
Have you heard of this? Add a little ball to the end of a dowel stick (Posluns says you can purchase one, too). Train kitty to touch their nose to the ball, and it becomes an easy way to guide them from point A to point B. She also suggests using the target stick to navigate your cat around a furniture agility course, including over, under, and around objects.
15. Gradually Introduce Different Cat Enrichment Activities
Just as you have to get used to your kitty's unique body language and what their unique meows and purrs mean, Posluns says some cats might need time to adjust to something new.
"When a cat's first response to enrichment is negative, we might assume it's not the right match for their personality. In reality, they probably needed a slower introductory process," she advises. "For example, many people struggle with harness training their cat and conclude they'll never accept it, but I believe every cat can learn to wear a harness with a step-by-step training plan."
So have patience with new activities, and help your kitty move forward one paw at a time. "The goal is when we introduce cats to new enrichment opportunities, we use an approach that allows them to see that it's an enjoyable activity," Posluns says.
A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2019 by writer Beth Adelman.