Environmental Enrichment for Cats - Cat Info Detective

Environmental Enrichment for Cats

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings fellow detectives! Skye Blake here with a fun topic… environmental enrichment for cats.

Sounds rather scientific doesn’t it? But actually, it’s just a way of setting up a fun, happy world for both you and your cat.

Let’s discover more…

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet or behaviorist with questions about your cat’s individual needs. 

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet or behaviorist) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.

Sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.

What Is “Environmental Enrichment”?

photo of earth from space, world, globe, WSAVA, environmental enrichment for cats

Let’s start by defining “environment”…

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary shows a few different definitions of “environment”, but the one that best applies here is “the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded”.

This includes physical, social, and cultural conditions that affect both people and animals.

exterior of house

“Environmental enrichment” is “…any modification in the environment of captive animals that seeks to enhance its physical and psychological well-being by providing stimuli which meet the animals’ species-specific needs”.1 “How to improve housing conditions of laboratory animals: The possibilities of environmental refinement” by V. Baumans, P.L.P. Van Loo, Science Direct, The Veterinary Journal, Volume 195, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 24-32

In this case the environmental enrichment is specifically for cats.

That’s a fancy way of saying that cats need to be able to be cats where they live.

Environmental enrichment (a.k.a., “catification”) is simply making your cat’s world inviting, engaging, and safe.

Black cat sitting in chair at dining table, environmental enrichment

“Catification” is Jackson Galaxy’s term for making your home both cat and people-friendly using a few interesting concepts.

Look at your home through your cat’s perspective and blend that with your decorating taste and style.

Think about it… you want your home to be safe and have comfortable things you like your special chair, comfortable bed, and relaxing bathroom.

Your cat wants basically the same thing just in a few different ways… check out this video.

“What Is Catification and why it’s crucial for your cat-loving home!”, Jackson Galaxy, May 30, 2020

Why Should I “Catify” My House?

inviting living room; environmental enrichment for cats

What benefits do you get from “catifying” your house?

Many people react to the idea with… “But my house will be ugly and have cat things all over the place”.

The answer is it doesn’t have to be… you can enrich your cat’s environment using stylish shelving, furniture, and other things. You have options!

3 kittens sleeping together in chair

Having content, secure cats will make you all happier and avoid many problems like fighting and peeing outside the litter box.

On the other hand, if you just can’t bring yourself to “mess up your living space”, get a lovely feline figurine, not a living, breathing cat.

How to Enrich Your Cat’s Environment

cat on cat bed by window, environmental enrichment for cats

You’re probably asking “how do I do this enriching thing”?

Start by understanding how your cat sees her world.

Cats must own territory to be happy, which is everything they see and smell.

tabby cat sitting on spotted cat sofa

This includes a lot more than the floors of your house.

It’s the great outdoors around the house, the walls, furniture, ceiling, and anything else within that space, including you!

This becomes even more important when you have multiple cats in one house, each needing to know they own territory (which they’ll often share with accepted cats).

Check out this video…

“You Must Catify to Satisfy”, Jackson Galaxy, October 5, 2019

There are a number of things you can do that “catify” your home.

Here are some ideas, keeping in mind that cats are individuals, so they might respond differently to whatever you try.

Make adjustments for your cat’s preferences (and yours too!).

cat in bed, cocoon, environmental enrichment for cats

For example, is your cat shy?

Block off places where she hides and put out cocoons in the middle of bedrooms, living rooms, and other important social places.

She can feel hidden and safe in the cocoons but still be out with everyone, not hiding under the bed, which will help her gain confidence.

Experiment and have fun!

Create a Calm Environment

woman - yoga, meditation, calm, peaceful, enrichment

The fastest way to make a cat anxious and insecure is to bring them into an environment of chaos, noise, unfamiliar smells, and unknown people and animals.

Creating a calm, peaceful atmosphere will benefit everyone, which may take adjusting the behavior of you and your family members.

Cats have extremely sensitive hearing which can be bothered by anything from humming electronics to loud televisions to screaming kids (and you yelling).

Pheromone Sprays & Plug-ins

pheromone spray, air freshener, environmental enrichment for cats

Pheromone sprays and plug-ins help to calm cats, so they don’t feel the need to pee mark.

Some cats respond more to them than others and it’s best to use them along with other ideas for catifying your space.

Spray the pheromones on or plug them into an outlet near areas where your cat formerly marked.

Curious cat coming through hole in wall

These are usually spots on wall corners, doorjambs, chair legs, etc.

Put them at cat height (6-8″ above the floor).

Cat “Basecamp”

Cats are very territorial and need a safe place where their scent is everywhere. This reassures each cat that “yes, I own this place… and all is right with the world!”.

Jackson Galaxy explains how to set up a great basecamp, whether you have one or multiple cats. Take a look…

“Basecamp THE Secret to Your Cat’s Happiness, Jackson Galaxy, May 25, 2019

Provide More Space

cats playing by cat bed, environmental enrichment

Provide more spaces for your cat in important social areas, like the living room, bedrooms, family room, or sunroom.

You can accomplish this by putting beds on shelves or furniture in front of windows, giving each cat caves, boxes and scratchers.

Anything that makes him able to feel covered (even partly so) and have his scent makes him say, “oh yeah, I own this spot and I’m safe”.

The Superhighway System

automobile on a winding highway

Some cats love being up high where they can watch what’s going on without having to be trapped in the middle of it all.

Giving them a “superhighway” around rooms is a great use of vertical space.

The idea is to give them a way to get all the way around a room and even into other rooms without touching the ground and have exit ramps to get off.

living room - chairs, shelves, cat superhighway, environmental enrichment

Having ways to get off the highway if another cat is coming is important because we cats are happiest when having the choice to leave rather than fight.

This is one of the best means of providing environmental enrichment for your cats.

It’s especially important when you have shy cats and multiple cats that don’t get along well.

If your cats prefer being on the floors and furniture, don’t worry about having to have anything available up high.

Superhighway Ideas
highway traffic in city

There are many great ideas for creating kitty superhighways from DIY projects to high-end stylish walkways, shelves, and cat globes.

It can even be done just with furniture if you can’t attach things to walls.

An example is having cat trees on two ends with a credenza, end table or desk in between that they can walk on.

persian cats on cat tree, environmental enrichment for cats

You can find ideas for creating cat-friendly rooms you both can love at Hauspanther, Tuft & Paw, YouTube videos, and other social media.

You don’t have to spend much money.

It depends on how much style you want… your cats don’t care!

Here’s an amazing cat superhighway that’s stylish and fun…

Brands and products mentioned on this page are for your information and convenience only. I make no money from them.

“Man Turns His House Into Indoor Cat Playland and Our Hearts Explode, HouzzTV, December 20, 2014

They also have a website where you can buy kits to build some of the featured catwalks and other items like beds and caves to enrich your cat’s world (proceeds go to FIP research).

Check out this DIY video…

“DIY Cat Wall Perch/Hammock/Shelf | Easy Step by Step Tutorial”, Aaron Fixes Stuff, June 7, 2020

Cat TV

kittens looking out the window, cat tv, environmental enrichment

Whether on the floor or up high, we cats LOVE to watch birds, squirrels, chipmunks… the great outdoors.

No outside cats, though, thank you very much… they threaten our territory!

This is known as “cat TV”… stimulating the mind and helping relieve boredom.

black cat looking out window, cat tv

There are also fun videos made for cats to watch. Some people put them on while they’re out of the house.

This is an easy way to bring environmental enrichment to your cats.

Discover more at “Great Cat TV“.

Catios

Catio built by Zamanta Arange, environmental enrichment for cats
Catio built by Zamanta Arange

“Catio” is simply a patio, sunroom or other structure that allows cats to be outside in a controlled environment.

Some people get very fancy and build cool structures, others use a large dog crate with a comfy bed their cat can use to sun themselves on a balcony.

This is a great way to let cats be in their natural world without all the dangers of roaming free.

enclosed patio/sunroom, catio, environmental enrichment for cats

If you’re lucky enough to have a sunroom with sturdy, well-secured screens, you can open the windows and let them enjoy the smells, sun and cat TV.

Add cat friendly shelves and furniture, some cat grass, or whatever you’d like that you’ll both enjoy.

There are lots of ideas from the simplest to the most elaborate catios online, especially YouTube.

Here’s one example about what to know when planning…

“DIY Cat Enclosure – TIPS for Success! – Start here “, Our Catio Home, May 26, 2023

Litter Boxes

2 cats looking in litter box, environmental enrichment

Yes, litter boxes are an important part of enriching the environment for your cats.

Putting the right number of litter boxes spread out through the house in areas where your cat lives is important for their sense of ownership.

Don’t stick boxes together in the garage or basement.

kitten in litter box

These are not good locations and putting boxes together turns them into one giant box that a cat can guard.

Make sure you have one box for every cat plus one extra. The more cats you have, the more important this is.

1 cat = 2 boxes. 2 cats = 3 boxes, etc.

Discover more at “The Cat Box – Location, Location, Location“.

“Catifying” for Renters

apartments, environmental enrichment for cats

Many people rent apartments and houses where they can’t attach things to the walls or have a small area that doesn’t lend itself to full-on catification.

Here are some great ideas for making sure your cats get the environmental enrichment they need within these limitations…

“Best Apartment Cat Tips”, Jackson Galaxy, December 11, 2021

Cat Food Puzzles

kitten playing with toy, food puzzle

Ever heard of cat food puzzles?

They’re a great way to include feeding your cat as part of enriching her environment.

Puzzles satisfy the hunting need… most cats love working for food.

Discover more at “Cat Food Puzzles“.

Tunnels
Black & White cat looking out from tunnel

Tunnels are a great addition to your cat’s world and add to the fun of playing.

Cats love hiding places, so tunnels in their living areas add another dimension to the play experience.

They use hiding spots to keep their prey from seeing them while calculating their next move in the hunt.

black kitten in play tunnel

You’ve probably seen this when they hide behind a chair before butt wiggling and pouncing on a toy.

There are many different types of tunnels… from T-shape to circular to A-frame, some with exit holes or dangling puff balls.

curious cat watching kitten walk into play tunnel

Some are simple and others are tunnel systems. Some have scratching surfaces on the sides, and many are collapsible.

You can make your own tunnels from cardboard boxes and any tubing that’s big enough for a cat to go through without getting stuck.

Conclusion

calico cat lounging, sleeping, dangling back leg, environmental enrichment

Now that you know what environmental enrichment is for your cats, go forth and “catify”!

Have fun making your house enjoyable for both you and your cats.

Oh, and it doesn’t have to be all done at once.

Start small with things like putting cat beds in front of windows and grow from there.


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines” by Sarah L H Ellis, BSc (Hons) Dip CABC PhD Guidelines Co-Chair, Ilona Rodan, DVM DABVP (Feline) Guidelines Co-Chair, Hazel C Carney, DVM MS DABVP, Sarah Heath, BVSc DipECAWBM (BM) CCAB MRCVS European Veterinary Specialist in Behavioural Medicine (Companion Animals), Irene Rochlitz, BVSc MSc PhD MRCVS, Lorinda D Shearburn, DVM, Eliza Sundahl, DVM DABVP (Feline), Jodi L Westropp, DVM PhD DACVIM, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2013) 15, 219–230

“Decoding Your Cat”, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Editors: Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, pp. 165-189

“Environment” definition, Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“Environmental Enrichment” definition, “How to improve housing conditions of laboratory animals: The possibilities of environmental refinement” by V. Baumans, P.L.P. Van Loo, Science Direct, The Veterinary Journal, Volume 195, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 24-32

“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com

“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011

“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017

Updated April 12, 2024

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