The five pillars of cat enrichment
We all want the best for our pets. At home this can mean providing them with a suitable environment that suits the lifestyle of our pet. An appropriate environment can reduce stress and the risk of stress-associated health and behavioural problems. Environmental enrichment is especially important in cats living indoors and in multi-cat environments. The Animal Welfare Act states that owners have a duty of care which includes allowing the cat to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. Signs of stress in cats can be very hard for us to recognise. Stress-associated issues include lower urinary tract disease, over-grooming, diarrhoea, vomiting and even diabetes.
An article in the Veterinary Times, tells us about the Five Pillars that are the keystones of a healthy feline environment.
Provide a safe place
Cat's do not like intruders they like things to be routine and familiar, strangers and different sights, sounds or smells can upset a cat. A cardboard box is an ideal, and affordable, tool that can be used as a safe place for a cat to retreat to when it feels uncomfortable, placed at height the cat can feel safe and hidden. You can consider a perch or shelf if it is wide and long enough to for the cat to stretch out. In multi cat homes safe places should have more than one access point so that a cat can not be trapped in by another cat, consider a microchip cat flap so that other cats cannot enter your house. There should be as many safe places as the number of cats in the household, if these safe places are comfortable it will reduce competition for resources. A cat carrier that is always left out can become a safe haven and this has the added benefit of minimizing stress with transportation or change of environment, placing a blanket with the cats' own scent can reduce stress as can spraying the box with the cat pheromones.
Provide multiple and separated key environmental resources
Cats are solitary survivors and need access to food, water, litter trays, scratching post, play, rest and sleeping, these resources should be available in multiple locations and ideally one for each cat. This will allow privacy which helps prevent stress from competition from other cats, reducing fear and giving a sense of control to the cat. Cats going off their food can simply be due to an environmental threat.
Provide opportunity for play and predatory behaviour
Cats are hunters and they need to hunt to be happy, this can mean toys that they can catch or even laser pens that provide hours of amusement, for the cat to get the most satisfaction a "kill" reward such as a tasty treat should be given at the end.
Provide positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interaction
Cats are companions but we all wonder sometimes if we own the cat or the cat owns us this is because a happy cat is one who's owner understands how and when it likes attention and affection. Many cats prefer little and often when it comes to social interaction with humans. In multi cat households each cat should have its own time with you but remember as they age the developments in their body can change what interaction they enjoy, predictable and consistent is they key.
Provide an environment that respects the importance of a cats sense of smell
A cats sense of smell is about 14 times better than ours, if their senses are being overwhelmed it can impede their ability to sense danger and threats you should avoid scented products and leave footwear
and the like at the door this reduces the amount of outside smells coming in to the home that can confuse the cat and helps keep things familiar. Cats leave their scent everywhere through scratching and rubbing, these marks should not be cleaned so that the smell lasts. Synthetic pheromones can reduce anxiety and stress associated behaviours as well.
The full article, written by Vanessa Biggle, can be read in the June 2015 issue of The Veterinary Times