Cats confined to an indoor environment generally stay healthier and live longer than those allowed outdoors, but they are also at higher risk for certain behavioral problems. Cats who have no opportunity to express their predatory nature can become bored and frustrated, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and unwanted behaviors, such as excessive vocalization, eliminating outside the litter box, scratching furniture or carpet, excessive grooming, and aggression. In addition, cats need mental stimulation to prevent cognitive decline as they get older. Our Just Cats Clinic team wants to help by offering ways to help keep your indoor cat happy.

#1: Make your cat’s mealtimes more entertaining

In the wild, cats spend much of their time stalking and chasing their prey, and your cat can become bored easily if they don’t have to work for their meal. If possible, divide your cat’s food into three or four servings to space out their meals and make them more similar to their natural environment. Tips to make your cat’s mealtime more entertaining include:

  • Using food puzzle toys — Feed your cat using a food puzzle toy, so they have to use their brain to access their food. These toys can be purchased at a food supply store, or you can make your own by cutting holes in a plastic bottle and placing your cat’s food or treats inside to challenge your cat at mealtimes.
  • Hiding your cat’s food — You can also hide your cat’s food around the house, so they hunt for their meal. Finding new hiding places at every meal will keep your cat interested. 

#2: Ensure your cat has adequate vertical space

Wild cats are prey for larger animals and predators to mice, birds, rabbits, and other small animals, which means they instinctually need to observe their world from a high vantage point. A high perch helps them see potential prey and observe approaching predators. A lofty spot can also provide a private, calm space in a busy home, and lounging in the highest spot can be a status symbol and indicate dominance in a multi-cat household. Tips to provide vertical space for your cat include:

  • Clear off your shelves — Clear areas on shelves, so your cat can find a high resting spot without knocking down your valuables.
  • Install a window perch — Install a comfortable window perch, so your lounging cat can view wildlife in your yard.
  • Purchase a cat tree — Consider buying or building a cat tree or climbing post that fits your home’s size and style.

#3: Ensure your cat has appropriate places to scratch

Cats need to scratch. Scratching is a normal, instinctual behavior that they use for numerous reasons, including expressing emotion, scent-marking objects, stretching, and removing dead nails. Providing appropriate scratching posts helps ensure your cat’s scratching won’t destroy your carpet or furniture. Tips to ensure your cat’s scratching needs are met include:

  • Provide enough scratching posts — You should have at least one scratching post per household cat, plus one extra. Try to place scratching posts throughout your house so your cat has options. 
  • Provide variety — Scratching posts come in different materials and orientations. Try posts with a variety of scratching options to find the one your cat prefers.
  • Make the scratching post desirable — When introducing a new scratching post, put your cat’s favorite toys on the post to help attract their attention or catnip to encourage their interaction.

#4: Make your cat’s playtime fun

Your cat will get bored with a toy that they have to play with all the time, so rotate your cat’s toys to help keep them mentally stimulated. Cats particularly enjoy human interaction, and rotating your activities together will keep your cat entertained. Try to play with your cat at least five minutes twice a day. 

#5: Teach your cat a trick

Many people think cats can’t be trained, but teaching your cat a trick can help stimulate their mind and deepen your bond. Examples include teaching your cat to sit, give you a high five, and come when called. Tips to make the process easier include:

  • Provide plenty of treats — Cats respond better if they receive frequent rewards when learning a trick.
  • Keep the sessions brief — Repeat the trick only four to six times per session to prevent frustration or boredom. Brief sessions two to three times a day work better for cats than one long session.
  • Be patient — Be calm and patient throughout your sessions, and never punish your cat for doing a trick improperly.
  • Don’t force the issue — If your cat walks away during a session, consider practice over for now, and try again later. 

#6: Play videos for your cat

You can find many cat-specific videos online that include footage of birds, squirrels, mice, and fish, and will keep your cat intrigued and entertained. 

Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to provide a long, healthy life, but you must ensure they stay entertained and happy. If your cat is exhibiting concerning behavior issues, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Just Cats Clinic, so we can determine whether a medical problem is behind their actions.