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Environmental Enrichment for Cats: 12 Vet-Reviewed Tips

Written by: Chantelle Fowler

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cute gray cat on a cat tree

Environmental Enrichment for Cats: 12 Vet-Reviewed Tips


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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While indoors is the safest place for cats, it’s not always the most enriching. It’s important to remember that cats, at their very core, are wild animals. Their ancestors ruled the outdoors, hunting, exploring, and fending for themselves. While your kitty may be accustomed to the cozy life you’re providing, you can’t expect them to toss all their instincts out the window completely. You need to look at your living space from your cat’s perspective to provide an environment that caters to their instincts and keeps them stimulated.

Read on to find our tips on providing a more enriching environment to keep your little hunter happy and healthy.

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The 12 Environmental Enrichment Tips for Cats

1. Make Meals Feel More Natural

clever siamese cat playing with puzzle toy to get treat
Image Credit: Agata Kowalczyk, Shutterstock

Wild cats don’t adhere to strict meal times, nor are they provided with a bowl full of kibble when it’s time to eat. They need to use their instincts to find their next meal. While we don’t recommend letting your cat outside to mimic this behavior, there are things you can do at mealtime to encourage their natural behaviors. Try hiding their food ration in a new place in your home so they need to use their noses to sniff out their next meal. Boxes or bags with cut-off handles are great places to hide your pet’s food.

Food puzzles are another great way to encourage your kitty to use their foraging instincts. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery showed that cats who have food puzzles are not only more physically fit than those not working for their food, but they’re happier, too 1.

2. Buy a Cat Tree

Cat trees offer plenty of opportunities for your pets to practice their natural behaviors like climbing, hiding, and playing. They also provide your kitty with high places from which they can survey their environment. Cats enjoy being as high as possible as it gives them a good vantage point to watch for predators, providing the sense of security they crave.

The tree should be placed in an area of your home that is frequented by members of the family instead of hidden away somewhere to keep your space aesthetic. If the look of your home is important to you, you can find many absolutely gorgeous cat trees that function as a play center for your kitty and a decorative accent for your space. For example, this tree tower from InJollyLives combines a neutral pallet with beautiful wicker baskets that would suit nearly every home décor.

3. Provide Opportunities for Scratching

Orange cat lays on the scratching pad
Image Credit: NOKOEIDEH, Shutterstock

Scratching is a natural behavior observed in cats of all species (yes, even the big ones!). This normal and instinctive behavior helps cats express their emotions, mark objects with their scent, and keep their nails in tip-top condition. Cats not provided with a healthy outlet for their scratching desires will ultimately turn to your furniture.

Cat scratchers come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations. You may need to do some trial and error to find out what position your kitty prefers scratching from best, as some want to scratch vertically while others prefer horizontally. We like the Hepper Hi-Lo Scratcher for its neutral design that fits seamlessly into any home décor. This product is particularly unique as its positioning can be adjusted to suit your cat’s scratching preferences.

4. Grow Cat Grass

Cat owners need to choose their houseplants carefully to ensure they’re not keeping plants that can harm their pets. An easy plant to get is cat grass.

Cat grass is a grass mixture that’s easily grown indoors from seeds. It sprouts quickly and is easy to keep alive. Providing your kitty with cat grass not only acts as a deterrent, luring them away from your other houseplants, but eating the grass is a completely natural behavior your kitty will love, too.

While no one knows for sure why exactly cats seek out grass, several theories exist, according to Texas A&M University. One theory is that wild cats may eat grass to trigger vomiting or to rid their tummies of the non-digestible parts of the prey they’ve recently consumed 2. Since cat grass provides a source of fiber, it acts as a mild laxative and can sometimes trigger vomiting as cats don’t have the stomach enzymes to digest it.

5. Set Aside Time for Play

Image Credit: Kmpzzz, Shutterstock

Cats need appropriate outlets for their play behaviors that are closely related to their natural predatory sequence. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably seen your kitty engage in this sequence countless times before.

They begin by staring and crouching down low at their target. They then move very slowly and deliberately, getting into position to take off after their prey. Next, they’ll pounce and grab onto their target before moving into their finishing move: the kill bite. Your kitty will put their prey in their mouths, giving it a strong shake, or they’ll wrap their front legs around it and bunny kick with their back legs. The prey sequence is adorable when your cat practices it on their stuffed banana toy, but when practiced in the wild with real prey, it’s meant to break the neck and disembowel.

What toys will bring out your kitty’s inner hunter will depend on your pet’s individual personality. Some like wand toys, while others prefer playing with balls or springs. Incorporate structured play time of at least 15 minutes two or three times daily.

6. Provide Safe Spaces

Cats need hiding spots around your home so they can retreat to feel safe. Your cat’s wild ancestors sought out secluded spaces to birth their kittens and seek shelter. While your kitty may not be due to give birth, nor are they at risk of falling prey to big predators, their innate desire to hide still prevails. You’ve likely witnessed this when your cat sniffed out a freshly emptied Amazon box from your latest online purchase and hunkered down for a good nap. Cats love cardboard boxes, and for many of them, the smaller the box, the better. Cardboard may not seem comfortable, but it’s a good insulator, so boxes are always cozy and warm.

If you don’t want to leave a bunch of boxes around your home, consider buying enclosed cat beds. If your kitty isn’t into those, you may find them retreating to hidden corners of your home when they need some time to themselves. They’ll go under your bed, burrow under the covers, or hide in a closet. As long as you know they’re not hiding away because they’re unwell, leave them be. Giving your kitty a place they feel they can hide safely provides them with the sense of security they crave.

7. Let Them Outside…Kind Of

Cat spending play time in cat patio
Image Credit: SariMe, Shutterstock

Even though your cat stays indoors predominantly, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t allow them access to the great outdoors ever. There are a lot of sights and sounds in your backyard that will entertain your cat for hours on end, but you shouldn’t allow them to roam freely as they could escape or hunt the wildlife in your yard. Instead, provide them with safe, supervised outdoor time.

Catios—or “cat patios”—are enclosed spaces that provide cats with the enriching experience of being outside in a safe and controlled manner. They are typically placed near a window in your home so you can open the window and allow them access to their outdoor space.

If a catio isn’t in the budget, you might consider investing in a pet stroller to take your cat for walks. The most motivated kitties can even be leash-trained!

8. Set Up Window Perches

If you know that seeing the goings on the outside won’t stress out your kitty, you might consider buying window perches for them. The perches come in countless styles and designs, so you can choose the one that works best with the configuration of your windows.

Even if you don’t have a suitable window to install a perch, you can strategically place other cat-friendly furniture near the window for your kitty. Consider putting their cat tree nearby or even stacking wooden crates or cardboard boxes.

9. Game With Your Cat

cat is watching smartphone
Image Credit: Kichigin, Shutterstock

Technology can be an awesome outlet for indoor cats. There are numerous gaming apps designed specifically for cats. These games encourage them to “catch” their “prey” by tapping your phone or tablet screen with their paw.

You can also check out the many cat game YouTube videos to keep your cat occupied. We do not recommend turning these videos on if your TV is not secured to the wall. Some kitties may get a little too into the game and may attack the screen.

10. Utilize Your Home’s Vertical Space

You already know that cats love to be up high, so why not utilize all the vertical space in your home to create a playground for your kitty? Wall-mounted cat shelves are a great way to boost physical and mental enrichment.

11. Implement a Daily Routine

Man holding bowl with feeding for his hungry domestic cat
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Cats enjoy having a predictable and consistent routine as they’re creatures of habit. They have an internal clock that adapts to the life you create for them, so your schedule ultimately decides your cat’s routine. Try to create set times for feedings, play, and cuddles so your cat knows when to expect their favorite parts of their day.

12. Train Your Cat

While dogs often take the spotlight when it comes to pet training, cats can also be trained to do tricks and perform tasks. Training will not only keep boredom at bay, providing much-needed physical and mental stimulation, but it can also strengthen your bond.

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Why Is Enrichment Important for Cats?

Providing your kitty with an enriching environment not only increases their physical activity to keep their weight (and health) in check, but it also decreases mental stagnation and prevents behavioral issues. A bored cat can become destructive, aggressive, anxious, stressed, and even begin to isolate themselves.

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Final Thoughts

Physical and mental enrichment is important for cats as it prevents unwanted behaviors and promotes happiness and healthfulness. Our tips above are tried-and-true methods to increase the enrichment you and your home provide, thus improving your cat’s overall wellness.

Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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