My indoor cat likes to play occasionally, but I feel like she might be a bit bored. How can I use toys or food to help?
Enrichment for cats is so important, especially when they’re exclusively inside the home. Felines have an innate desire to hunt, play, and explore, so it’s essential to provide stimulation in these areas, allowing for the expression of natural behaviours.
Some cats may be active with toys – you can easily encourage this healthy habit, join in with games, and provide a variety of toys. However, you do have some indoor cats that may not be toy-driven. In these instances, using food as a form of mental enrichment can certainly help. Let’s explore how.
How to use food as enrichment for indoor cats
Indoor cats are not organically exposed to the good bacteria that occupy our microbiome. In contrast, wild cats have been shown to roll their meat in soil: it’s theorised that they do this to cultivate their digestive system with soil-based microbes (in other words, good bacteria) that guard the walls of the digestive system.
Why does this matter? Because good bacteria protects against the entry of ‘bad’ bacteria, pathogens, and inappropriate food particles into the blood and supports the absorption of immune-boosting nutrients. It cultivates a robust microbiome, which is essential for your cat’s physical and emotional well being.
To ensure your mog doesn’t miss out on all the fantastic bacteria she’d encounter hunting outside, you could try adding a broad-spectrum probiotic to her diet.
Although they are obligate carnivores, cats naturally choose to cleanse their digestive system by eating fibre; this is often in the form of grass or from the fur or feathers of prey. As indoor cats do not have access to this fibre, some end up resorting to house plants, which, in certain cases, can be toxic.
It’s a great idea to offer your friend fibre such as cat grass: you can either grow your own or stock up at most pet stores, where it’s readily available to buy. This is also wonderful for outdoor cats with a tendency to nibble on outside grass that may be chemically treated.
It’s a smart idea to mimic hunting scenarios. Cats love to chase and will hunt even if they’re not hungry for food: it’s an instinctive urge they are programmed to fulfil.
A recent study found that delivering meals to cats via a puzzle feeder led to reduced signs of stress, contributed to weight loss, decreased aggression towards humans and other cats, and lowered anxiety and fear levels. Consider feeding their meals in a puzzle feeder, so they have to ‘hunt’ for their meal – you could even provide an additional outlet by hanging a piece of air-dried meat or a treat from a string, just out of reach. I’ve even known owners to introduce live crickets for stimulation!
Depending on the diet your cat is fed, you could increase the length of mealtimes by feeding whole prey such as frozen chickens and meaty bones, such as chicken wings. This encourages house felines to chew much as they would in the wild and stimulates the mind.
Do note: if you give your cat a bone, it’s always crucial to monitor them and check they’re chewing on these safely, especially when they’re new to eating bones.
Cats have a strong preference for clean, flowing water due to their low thirst drive. Why not purchase a cat fountain to encourage drinking? The running water can be more enticing to felines than a still water bowl, which many don’t favour. The sound and motion of a water fountain are also very intriguing to mogs, especially the playful ones.
I hope these tips help and lead to one highly entertained cat!