Get this: I want you to let your cat do things like scratch more, not less. And by doing so, your furniture will have a better chance of survival. Think I’m nuts? Read on.
In the United States, we are typically advised to house our cats indoors. This is recommended to decrease their risk of injury and disease. So, essentially, we are each running a tiny “cat zoo” in our home. And I use that word intentionally, because with all the scratching, vomiting, hair, and kitty theatrics… sometimes it’s waaaaaayyyy too much San Diego Zoo in the living room.
Cats who live with us will continue to display normal cat behaviors – stalking, pouncing, chasing, scratching, etc. So, unless we really like the look of shredded curtains and couch covers, it is up to us the owners to provide our kitties with “legal” outlets for these behaviors.
We do that by giving them “environmental enrichment,” which is — in scientific lingo — the active process of enhancing an animal’s environment in order to draw out species-appropriate behaviors. Basically, we give our kitties items, toys, and activities that let them tap into their “inner cat.”
Environmental enrichment should be regarded as an essential component of animal care. In fact, it is just as important as nutrition and veterinary care.
Enrichment can be divided enrichment into 5 (or so) categories:
Behavioral/ Social/ Cognitive
Food/ Feeding/ Nutritional
Our goal is to bring in key environmental features that allow the cat to express normal cat behaviors. So, what does this mean in the world of our cats?
Social Interaction – This might be with humans, other cats, or other animals in your home. I am going to lump training into this category, because that is also cat-human interaction. And it uses their brains – cognition.
Sensory - What does your cat see, hear, touch, smell during a normal day?
Environmental – What does your cat’s physical environment look like? Where are the hiding/climbing/sleeping spaces and what do they look like? How big, how sunny, how safe, etc.
Food & Feeding – This category will include what your cat eats, as well as how he obtains the food. Wet food? Dry food? Does he have to find it?
Toys – What types of toys are there around for your cat to play with? Balls, feathers, etc.
Now most of cat ‘play’ is part of their normal hunting sequence: Search – Stalk – Chase – Pounce – Capture – Kill – Eat. So most cat toys are designed to bring out normal cat feeding behaviors. I think you could make a strong argument for lumping #4. Food & Feeding with #5. Toys, especially for cats.
Wow! Look at all those options!! There are tons of ways we can tweak the environs of our personal “cat zoos!”
This week we’ll focus on increasing water consumption. Next week Food toys!
Increased water consumption is a key factor in the treatment of multiple feline diseases. These include kidney disease, constipation, urinary tract infections, and the big one – Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder (FLUTD). There are many diseases and conditions of the lower urinary tract that result in an increase in the amount of urine, the frequency of urination, or the character of urination. As astute cat owners, we need to be on the lookout for any straining, vocalizing, or other signs of discomfort. Some cats will go in and out of the box repeatedly, then actually urinate somewhere else in the house. Any sudden change in your pet’s urination habits should prompt a visit to your veterinarian to find out what is wrong. Do not delay.
All of these are abnormal:
Straining to urinate.
Urinating small amounts.
Frequent and/or prolonged attempts to urinate.
Crying out while urinating.
Excessive licking of the genital area.
Urinating outside the litter box.
Blood in the urine.
Conditions of the lower urinary tract always benefit from increased water consumption. This is true whether you are a person or a cat. A human doctor will tell you to drink more water to help speed recovery and ease your discomfort. As a veterinarian, I can definitely tell your cat about these benefits. However… yep… Cats are gonna do what cats wanna do.
Down below, I’ve put together some tips on increasing water intake in the course of your cat’s normal day. Please leave your pet’s normal water bowl exactly where it is when trying out any of these options. Some cats experience a major increase in stress when we change up their houses.
Here is the other cool thing about giving our cats multiple options – this gives them control over their environment. And while, it may sound pretty trivial to let your cat choose to drink from a fountain or a dish – it is not. Research shows over and over that animals (and humans) who exert control over their environments are happier; have increased brain activity and delayed onset of brain aging; cope better with stress and environmental changes; and display fewer abnormal, self destructive or obsessive compulsive behaviors.
Remember when I said that environmental enrichment should be regarded as an essential component of animal care? Well, your cat doesn’t need to have a disease before you consider environmental enrichment! So I challenge you to Water Your Cat differently this week.
Check Out How Zoos Provide Enrichment for Their Residents:
Habitat: Keepers can manipulate multiple aspects of the animals’ environment, such as adding trees, vines and perching, changing substrates, or providing new bedding and den options. This adds novelty and complexity to the animals’ lives.
Cognitive: Positive reinforcement training sessions are excellent cognitive enrichment; it gives the animals a chance to exercise their minds. Participation in research projects offers mental stimulation (i.e., foraging skills research with giant pandas, memory research with orangutans, color vision tests with monitor lizards).
Sensory: A keeper can introduce natural predator or prey scents, in addition to novel smells. Taped sounds or vocalizations can simulate things that an animal may hear in the wild.
Food: This is the most widely used form of enrichment. Keepers can present an animal’s normal diet as well as new food items in a variety of ways such as in a puzzle feeder, hidden, buried or scattered throughout the enclosure, or in frozen ice treats. It is important for the Zoo’s animals to work for their food, just as their wild counterparts do.
Toys: These items can include burlap bags, sheets, boomer balls, chew toys or hammocks. Often, novel objects will be combined with food-related enrichment.