Ask Ms. Kitty: Enriching your kitty’s environment
Enriching Your Kitty’s Environment
By Carole Galloway
Dear Miss Kitty,
My brand new sofa already has scratch marks on the arm rests, the toilet paper is unrolled on the floor every morning which is cute but getting annoying, and my cat, Monty, meows at me all day! Why is he such a brat? Am I doing something wrong?
Exasperated in Ellicott
It sounds like Monty is bored stiff! When cats are bored day after day they find ways to entertain themselves and sometimes we don’t like their choices. Cats are very intelligent, inquisitive beings who need varied activities every day. They are much like toddlers who need routines and an environment that is enriching, fun, and challenging.
The most important factor in Monty’s environment is you! We sometimes get so busy we forget to really interact with our fur babies. Monty may need some attention and the only way he can get this is to follow you around and meow! Getting up just 10 minutes earlier can give you time to spend with Monty.
Cats need at least 10 minutes of vigorous, interactive play with you twice a day. This is just as important to a cat as going for a walk is to a dog.
In the wild, cats have to fend for their meals every single day. They are hardwired to do these behaviors and we need to replicate this for them indoors. Think of how a cat hunts for prey and then mimic this during playtime so it is interesting and challenging.
Invest in 3 or 4 quality interactive toys. Play with the same toy for a few days and then switch it out for something different to prevent boredom, just like you would with a toddler.
Beware: Cats are known for chewing and swallowing pieces of toys as well as string, rubber bands, hair bands and ribbons. Serious injuries can happen that can require emergency surgery! Always put interactive toys away after playtime.
It could be that unrolling the toilet paper is the only interesting activity Monty can find at night while you are sleeping! Add toys he can play with on his own such as balls, fuzzy mice, fun shaped scratchers, and catnip-filled toys to chew on and bat around. Vary these toys every few days as well so kitty doesn’t get bored!
Environmental enrichment includes catifying your cat’s territory. This means creating spaces that feel interesting and safe to your cat, that he knows belong to him. Cat trees, shelves, scratchers, tunnels, boxes, and even paper bags (with no handles) can be added to enrich Monty’s habitat.
To determine what will best fit his needs, consider his age, physical condition, athletic ability, and personality. A cat who is 1 – 5 years old will have very different needs than a senior 10 years or older. Most youngsters will think the higher the better and will love the latest trend in cat trees that look like jungle gyms.
The senior cat will want a tree with good scratching surfaces and cubbies, beds, or hammocks for long winter naps. Several levels are great but make sure your older cat is still in good enough physical condition to reach higher spots.
Regardless of what you buy, make sure the tree is very sturdy and doesn’t tip over when your cat runs at full speed across the room to pounce on the top level! Also, look for quality trees that won’t fall apart after one year. They should last for years if built well.
Most cats like some sisal rope and some carpet to scratch, so find a tree with at least one post of each material. Finally, locate the tree by a large window or patio door so your kitty can enjoy the sunshine while he watches squirrels run up trees and songbirds snack at birdfeeders strategically placed in the back yard.
Cat trees, shelves, scratchers, and tunnels can be purchased at pet stores, online, or even made at home. Search for DIY cat tree plans online and thousands of ideas will pop up. Our own Happy Cats Haven offers cat trees, interactive toys, scratchers, balls, and mice.
Finally, set up a routine that you can follow most days of the week that includes time for Monty. Commit to 10 – 15 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening. He is worth it and you will find over time that he isn’t meowing at you all day or tearing up the toilet paper!
Ask Ms Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven, managed by Colorado CATS, and sponsored by Maddies’s Fund. If you need help with your cat’s behavior, go to HappyCatsHaven.org/helpline/.
Carole Galloway is the owner of Colorado CATS, a luxury cat only boarding facility in Colorado Springs that opened in 1995. Carole has cared for thousands of cats over the years and has worked as a professional Cat Behavior Consultant for the past 15 years.