Environmental Enrichment

By Aimee Castor, DVM
City Cat Mobile Vet Service

Environmental Enrichment

Indoor cats live longer and healthier lives because they are not exposed to the dangers faced by outdoor cats such as cars, predatory animals, and various illnesses. Being indoors, however, deprives cats of hunting, exploring, and social contact with other cats. The psychological stress of limited environmental stimulation can negatively impact cats, leading to problems such as inappropriate elimination, eating disorders, anxiety, aggressive behaviors, and urinary tract illnesses. Proper environmental enrichment can remedy this situation.

Feeding & Diet

In the wild, cats eat 10 to 20 meals over a 24 hour period. A mouse only provides 8% of the daily energy requirement that an adult cat needs, requiring cats to hunt repeatedly. Feeding cats multiple small meals throughout the day is more consistent with their natural eating bevahior.

Food Puzzles

There are also many ways to encourage cats to
hunt for their food as they would prey in their
natural environment. Hide dry kibble around
the house or toss kibble so your cat can chase
after the food. Also consider food puzzles, which require effort on your cat’s part to obtain a meal and provide mental stimulation as well. The following site provides food puzzle recommendations.

Food Location

It is best to provide at least one food bowl per cat to avoid competitive behavior and to place the bowls in a quiet and/or elevated area where your cat feels safe.

Mental Stimulation

Critter Watching

Cats love to watch their prey. Window seats with a view of bird and/or squirrel feeders are ideal. Consider placing birdseed outside the window, on a ledge, or in a bird feeder that attaches to the windows. Hummingbird feeders can be placed on balconies or hung from windows via suction cups. You can also try YouTube videos of small prey animals designed for cats to watch. Go to YouTube and then search “videos for cats”.


There are a wide variety of toys for cats. Attach your cat’s favorite toy to a fishing pole or try a laser light. Consider the Petcube laser, which you can operate from your smartphone at remote locations. petcube.com/play/

Most cats also really enjoy catnip. Catnip can be grown outdoors and harvested in the summer, ground in a clean coffee grinder, and sprinkled over toys. Make sure to rotate through different toys so that your cat doesn’t become bored.

Social Interactions

Cats need social interactions with their humans, such as brushing, playing, clicker training, or other activities your cat enjoys. We suggest spending at least 15 minutes twice a day with your cat. The following is an instructional video regarding clicker training your cat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6wgbCmaD8o


Perches & Catwalks

Vertical spaces decrease stress and anxiety because they give cats a sense of security and allow them to keep an eye on their surroundings. There are many ways that you can provide high places for your cat such as shelving, cat walks, or high furniture. Many scratching posts also serve as perches. Make sure that the perches are at least 5 feet high and place them near a window if possible so that your cat can critter watch and bask in the sun.

Scratching & scratching Posts

It is natural for cats to sharpen their claws and mark their territory via scratching. Protect your furniture by providing your cat with a place to sharpen his or her claws. There are vertical, horizontal, and inclined scratchers made from carpet, rope, corrugated cardboard, or wood. Try various types of scratchers to determine which one your cat prefers. Consider rubbing catnip on the scratcher or put treats or toys on it. Place the scratcher in your cat’s favorite area and praise him or her when she uses it. Never yell at or punish your cat for scratching. To

prevent cats from scratching furniture, apply double-sided tape or spray Feliway.


In the wild cats can hide from predators and stressful situations. Indoor cats also need a hiding place from perceived threats such as other pets, toddlers, nearby construction, or new people. Provide your cat with an escape or a refuge. This should be in an out of the way, but comfortable area. Ideally your cat will need access to food, water, a litter box, a perch, a scratching post, toys, and a hiding place, such as a box or kennel with bedding in it.


Catios are outdoor extensions of your home that provide your cat with an expanded environment and a safe way to interact with the outside world. Cats love catios! These structures can vary from small boxes attached outside of a window, to freestanding outdoor structures on a balcony, patio, or in your yard. By allowing your cat an outdoor space, you provide him or her with entertainment and stimulation otherwise not available to an indoor cat.

Other resources

Recommended Books

“The Cats' House” by Bob Walker

“Catify to Satisfy” by Jackson Galaxy & Kate Benjamin

“Cat Castles: 20 Cardboard Habitats You Can Build Yourself” by Carin Oliver

“Knits for Kitties: 25 Knitting Patterns for Making Cat Toys” by Sara Elizabeth Kellner

“Know Your Cat's Purr Points Art Of Cat Massage” by Margaret Woodhouse


Food Puzzles for Cats


The Indoor Cat Initiative


Adventure Cats


Catio Builders



Behavior Specialists

Dr Julia Dunn (Veterinarian)
Clinic Name: One Purr Away
Location: Serves Seattle and Surrounding Areas (Mobile) Cats only

Dr. Wailani Sung (Veterinarian)
Clinic Name: All Creatures Behavior Counseling Location: Kirkland, WA
Dogs and Cats

Bridget Lehet (Certified Advanced Feline Trainer & Behavior Specialist) Clinic Name: Feline Intuition
Location: Serves Seattle and Surrounding Areas (Mobile)
Cats only