As a devoted cat owner, you strive to provide your feline friend with the best life possible. Yet, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget that your cat needs more than food, water, shelter, and cuddling on the couch. Allowing expressions of natural behaviors is not merely for an indoor cat’s entertainment, but crucial for their overall health and wellbeing.

Help your cat embrace their wild side and enjoy a greater quality of life with this guide from the Just Cats Clinic team.

Naturally speaking: Why instinctive behaviors are key to cat health

Imagine being confined to a small space with little to do—you would inevitably become bored and frustrated. Depriving indoor cats of their natural behaviors, such as hunting (i.e., stalking, chasing, and pouncing on moving prey), climbing, and scratching, can make them similarly bored and lead to significant stress. This stress creates serious emotional and physical health changes, including behavior issues, obesity, and other health problems such as feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC).

By encouraging these behaviors in a safe and controlled environment, we can help our cats lead happier, healthier lives.

Is it stress? How to recognize boredom or stress in cats

Is your cat’s life lacking enrichment? Although cats tend to hide their emotional side, experts have identified common stress signs in cats, which include:

  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Unexplained aggression
  • Compulsive habits (e.g., scratching, licking, chewing)
  • Over- or under-grooming
  • Withdrawing or hiding

In addition to boredom, stress can cause serious problems, including undiagnosed pain or illness. If your cat is demonstrating unusual changes in behavior or appearance, contact Just Cats Clinic to schedule an exam. Once health causes are ruled out or addressed, your veterinarian can advise you on environmental enrichment strategies you should try first.

Express yourself: How to enhance your indoor cat’s environment

Fortunately, you don’t have to create a simulated hunt in your living room or turn your foyer into a jungle forest to satisfy your cat’s instincts. Here are some simple and practical ways that allow your cat the safety and protection of an indoor lifestyle, while also letting them walk on the wild side—behaviorally speaking.

  • Provide vertical space — Vertical spaces, such as cat trees, shelves, and window seats, allow cats to climb, perch, and survey their surroundings. Hard-to-reach places also help cats feel safe from danger—real or imagined. Create vertical spaces in high-traffic areas and quiet spaces of your home. Use a mixture of cat-specific structures (e.g., cat trees, window perches) and regular furniture. Ensure all surfaces are non-slip to prevent injury.
  • Offer interactive toys to stimulate predatory behavior — Mimic the thrill of the hunt by engaging your cat with interactive toys, such as feather wands, laser pointers, motion-activated toys, or puzzle feeders that release treats or dry food when your cat plays with them.  
  • Designate scratching surfaces  Scratching is a natural and healthy behavior where cats stretch their muscles and maintain healthy claws. Place multiple scratching posts or pads throughout your home, stationed near other resources (e.g., food, litter box) and your cat’s favorite places (e.g., window perch, bed). Offer different textures, such as carpet, sisal, or cardboard, to cater to your cat’s preferences and encourage appropriate scratching with cat-attractant products such as Feliscratch.
  • Create hiding spots — Cats seek hiding places for play and rest, so provide cozy hiding spots such as cardboard boxes, tunnels, or cat caves where they can observe their surroundings in secret or retreat when they need alone time.
  • Rotate toys and enrichment items to create variety and interest in the environment Novelty is the spice of life. Keep your cat stimulated by regularly rotating their toys and periodically introducing new ones. You can also create visual enrichment with bird feeders outside windows, access to fresh cat grass, or a fish tank. Check out our previous blog post to learn how you can make DIY enrichment toys for your cat.

  • Spend time with your cat — Although cats are independent hunters, they need and crave social companionship. Regular positive interactions with your cat strengthen your pet-owner bond, decrease stress, provide a sense of safety, and may help you recognize subtle health changes before they become significant. Each cat’s level of social interest will vary—some prefer close contact with their owners, while others are satisfied with cohabitation and gentle praise—so observe your cat’s behavior to determine their preferences. Avoid handling-related stress or anxiety by respecting your cat’s body language and always allowing them to opt out of social interactions.

Your cat may be a domesticated pet, but they still need to exercise their natural instincts to live a full and healthy life. Modern enrichment strategies allow you to unleash your cat’s wild side, without exposing them to the hazards of the outside world. By incorporating these simple techniques into your cat’s daily routine, you can help them enjoy a fulfilling and enriched life indoors and a better bond with you, their devoted owner. 

Do you need help deciphering your cat’s quirky behavior? The knowledgeable Just Cats Clinic team can help. Contact us to discuss your cat’s needs, schedule an appointment, or learn more ways to turn your indoor space into the purr-fect feline habitat.