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Why Does My Cat Need Mental Stimulation? 7 Vet-Approved Reasons

Written by: Jessica Kim

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat playing with a ball and a tunnel at home

Why Does My Cat Need Mental Stimulation? 7 Vet-Approved Reasons


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

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

Learn more »

Cats are quite curious and inquisitive by nature, so they require a significant amount of mental stimulation to satiate their curiosity and keep them happy. Along with keeping them engaged, mental stimulation can also boost a cat’s mood, increase their confidence, and help them maintain a healthy weight.

Mental stimulation is essential to a cat’s health and well-being. We’ll go over some specific benefits for cats that engage regularly in mental stimulation. We’re also excited to share some ideas and tips for adding more mental stimulation to your cat’s daily routine.


The 7 Reasons Why Cats Need Mental Stimulation

1. Helps With Growth and Development

Young kittens don’t just require a healthy diet and playtime. They also benefit greatly from being introduced to mentally stimulating activities early in life. Exercising your kitten’s brain encourages healthy mental and emotional development. Mental enrichment can also help your kitten establish good habits and maintain them as they go into adulthood 1. It can also help them regulate their energy better so that they are less likely to develop aggressive or anxious tendencies.

red leopard bengal cat plays with rubber bands
Image Credit by: ketlit, Shutterstock

2. Prevents Boredom

Providing plenty of mentally stimulating activities helps keep cats happy and prevents boredom. Bored cats are often left with a lot of pent-up energy and don’t have a healthy outlet to release this energy. Therefore, cats will eventually lean towards engaging in destructive behaviors if they’re not mentally stimulated over time. They can become stressed and anxious, which can lead to obsessive and repetitive behaviors like over-grooming 2. Some cats will become depressed as a result of boredom and may experience significant changes in weight, increased sleeping, and develop unhealthy eating habits.

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3. Prevents Aggression

Bored and unhappy cats can turn towards aggressive behaviors as a means of releasing energy and frustration. This aggression can be directed at people, other pets, and objects. It’s important to remember that cats are carnivorous predators, so hunting is a natural behavior 3. Hunting requires both mental and physical engagement. If your cat isn’t able to express these natural instincts through healthy mental stimulation, they can end up becoming frustrated and aggressive.

Tortoiseshell Cat playing on the cat tree
Image Credit: socreative media, Shutterstock

4. Engages Natural Instincts

As we’ve mentioned before, hunting behavior is a part of a cat’s natural instincts. When you think about it, hunting isn’t just a physical activity. It requires observation, spatial awareness, and tactful thinking to catch prey successfully. When a cat is presented with activities they’re naturally made to do, they’re more likely to be fully engaged during playtime. After a cat’s boredom is satiated, they will be led to feel more content and relaxed.

5. Increases Confidence

Mental stimulation also allows opportunities for cats to increase their confidence. Mental games can help cats explore and learn about their surroundings in a safe and contained setting. It’s important to be slow and gradual in introducing new stimulation to cats. If a mentally stimulating activity, like treat puzzles, is too difficult or overwhelming, it’ll discourage your cat from engaging with it and can make them feel more anxious. So, make sure to consistently gauge your cat’s comfort level whenever they’re engaging in a mentally stimulating activity or playing with an enrichment toy.

White cat playing inside cat tunnel
Image Credit by: habunman, Pixabay

6. Prevents Excessive Weight Gain

While your cat may not directly burn calories from playing with a treat puzzle or another enrichment toy, mental stimulation still has an impact on your cat’s physical health and well-being. It’s common for bored cats to start feeling disengaged and less enthusiastic about playtime. They can start to feel a general disinterest in things and choose to sleep more. They can also start to overeat. So, by providing a mentally engaging home environment, you can prevent other behaviors that lead to weight gain and obesity.

7. Promotes Healthy Aging

It’s important to provide age-appropriate mental stimulation throughout your cat’s entire lifetime. Senior cats do often sleep more and have reduced mobility. However, they still need their minds engaged to support healthy aging, as mental stimulation can counteract the cognitive decline in pets. Mental challenges can reduce the risk of age-related health issues, so finding creative ways to keep a senior cat’s mind active will still benefit their well-being greatly.

cat playing toy on the floor
Image Credit by: Lukasz Pawel Szczepanski, Shutterstock

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Mentally Stimulating Activities for Cats

There are several things that you can do to ensure that your home is eventually an engaging environment for your cat. Some of the best ways to introduce mentally stimulating activities to cats are through toys, cat furniture, and training sessions.

1. Toys

You can find many different kinds of toys that are both physically and mentally stimulating. Self-moving toys or wind-up toys are a great way to help your cat activate and engage their hunting instincts. You’ll probably find your cat stalking the toy and creating and looking for opportunities to pounce. Using a cat wand is a great way to encourage your cat to engage in similar behaviors while also increasing the amount of playtime shared between you two.

Many cats will also appreciate a treat dispensing toy or a food puzzle. These toys usually have treat compartments, and your cat has to come up with solutions to get the treats stored inside. If you don’t have a treat dispensing toy, you can always hide treats around the house to encourage your cat to exercise and use their sense of smell to locate these treats.

american shorthair cat playing
Image Credit By: MTS_Photo, Shutterstock

2. Cat Furniture

Cats and humans have very different definitions of what a comfortable living space is for them. In general, cats love a lot of vertical spaces and hiding spots, as these spaces help them to rest and observe their surroundings from a safe location.

Installing a cat tree can benefit a cat in many ways. While many people may think that cat trees promote physical exercise, they can also provide mental stimulation opportunities. For example, if you place a cat tree near a window, your cat is able to observe outside and will probably enjoy watching birds, squirrels, and other small animals that may run across the window.

3. Training Sessions

Despite popular belief, cats are trainable. Their training just may not look exactly the same as training a dog. Cats that are particularly food-motivated can learn different tricks by receiving treats as rewards or becoming accustomed to the sound of a clicker. So, if you have a particularly intelligent cat that’ll do anything for treats, you can teach them to perform all kinds of tricks. Training your cat will engage their mind by teaching them to guess and problem-solve ways to receive a treat.

young woman training cat in the kitchen
Image Credit: DimaBerlin, Shutterstock

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Mental stimulation is essential to a cat’s well-being, and cats need mental stimulation throughout their entire lifetime. Mental stimulation isn’t just found through toys. There are many other ways you can engage your cat and challenge their mind. It may require some extra creative thinking, but the benefits are so worth the effort, and life is always better when you’re living with a happy and healthy cat.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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