All cats, but indoor cats especially, need enrichment and mental stimulation. Enrichment can increase activity (which can help with weight control) and prevent many behavioural issues related to low mental stimulation (things like inappropriate litter box usage, anxiety, aggression and attention-seeking).
Enrichment can come in a variety of forms, from food puzzles to scratching posts, and toys to catios. Over the next few weeks we will dig deeper into a few categories and give you ideas for how to use items you have at home, how to build projects from scratch and what to look for if you’d rather just buy something!
This week our focus is on ACCESS TO THE OUTDOORS. Whether it be an outdoor enclosure, a walk around the block, or just a nap by the window, the great outdoors can provide a ton of mental stimulation for your cat.
CATIOS provide your cat with a safe space to enjoy the outdoors with protection from other animals, cars, etc. There is a wide variety of enclosures that can be made or purchased – from elaborate, fixed-in-place catios to moveable or temporary ones – depending on the type that best fits your lifestyle.
Temporary catios are great if you have a small yard or if you are renting property. They also tend to be less expensive. This is one we made using 1” PVC piping and connectors, plastic netting and zip ties. We chose to use PVC pipe rather than wood to allow us to move the catio around the yard, as well as move a cat tree and other toys inside as needed. In this catio, the cats can’t enter/exit as they wish but it is great for wherever we are working or spending time in the yard.
Fixed or permanent catios are often more durable and therefore can allow your cat to be outdoors without supervision. They can also be great for those cats that try to escape every time the door opens! When we lived right next to a busy highway, we enclosed our deck using 2x4s and galvanized wire netting to ensure that if the cats snuck out the door, they couldn’t get any farther than the deck. It also provided a great space for us all to spend time with the cats outdoors.
Balconies can be a fantastic way to provide outdoor access to cats, however, they can also be very dangerous! Enclosing the balcony is the perfect way to allow your cat to spend time in the fresh air without the risk of falling or jumping off. We enclosed our balcony by building a wooden frame out of 2x4s and then hanging thick golf netting across the entire length using zip ties and heavy-duty staples. We leave the window in the spare room open so the cats can enter/exit as they please.
If an outdoor enclosure isn’t a great option for you, try HARNESS-TRAINING your cat. Keep in mind that fearful cats may be over-stimulated in an outdoor environment and get injured during episodes of panicking, therefore this isn’t a great option for everyone. Harness-training is best done at the kitten-stage. It is important to start slowly!!! Use a harness in the house without a leash first, then try adding a leash and then graduate to the yard. Cats may be comfortable enough to go on walks or spend time at the park, however, this is rare and should only be done if a cat has been harness-trained for a long period of time. Cats should also never be unsupervised when on a harness! Breakaway harnesses can result in lost cats and non-breakaway harnesses can cause injuries like strangulation or an inability to defend themselves against other animals.
Another way to provide outdoor stimulation for cats is simply through a WINDOW! Whether it be sunshine pouring in, birds flying by or squirrels climbing around, windows can act like television for cats. Try placing beds or cat trees by windows to allow them to spend long amounts of time in these areas.
By Dr. Tayler Belosowsky