Anyone who’s had to work a boring job or attend a mind-numbing class knows that being understimulated isn’t just boring, it can be downright stressful. Being bored is just as crummy for kitties as it is for humans, so I’ve been on a mission to help my babies, Ghost Cat and little Specter, live a stimulating and stress-free life through environmental enrichment.
While the term “environmental enrichment” sounds pretty high-level and scientific, it’s really not that intimidating. The fancy sounding phrase boils down to five little words: Make fun for your cat.
Amy Lockhart of Whisker Rescue in the city of Red Deer in Alberta, Canada, says the environmental enrichment in its foster program comes in many forms. It can be simple, such as dragging a string around for the cats, or high tech, like when one one volunteer created a Tupperware pond stocked with mechanical fish.
“The cats were entertained for hours, dipping their paws in the water chasing this little toy fish,” says Lockhart.
“Creating fun ways for your cat to play helps the cat expend some energy, but also creates bonding time between the owner and the cat,” Lockhart explains.
She says the effect of extra playtime on kenneled cats in rescues is very noticeable. Stress and panic seem to decrease when volunteers spend more time interacting with the kenneled kitties.
“All of our volunteers ensure the cats are getting playtime, leash walks, brushings, and snuggles.”
She says a bored cat can become unhealthy, stressed and destructive — and Whisker Rescue is doing everything it can to banish boredom from the lives of the cats in its care.
“We strongly believe that understanding cat behavior can prevent owner surrenders, declaw surgeries, and unnecessary discipline,” says Lockhart. “We may be biased, but we feel that a happy cat in his or her element is the best thing on earth!”
The kitties being fostered through Whisker Rescue are definitely in their element, and for a lot of them, that element is the outdoors.
“At our largest foster facility we have free-roam rooms with outdoor enclosures, shelves and large tree trunks for climbing. The runs have deck boards on the floor, so in the summer the cats are always lying out there sunning themselves.”
The foster cats are a lucky bunch, partaking in the catio trend that continues to sweep North America. While I can’t give my kitties an outdoor space quite as great as the one at Whisker Rescue, I do give them the run of my many-windowed sunroom.
The birds and passersby provide Ghost Cat and Specter with endless hours of entertainment in the almost-outdoor space. Thanks to my husband’s cat door project, my girls can get some fresh air whenever they want.
As for indoor playtime — I think Ghost Cat’s birthday present might have to involve some mechanical fish.
How have you enriched your cat’s environment? Got any good ideas to keep those kitty synapses firing? Let us know in the comments.
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +
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