By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
A term one often reads about for indoor animals is “environmental enrichment.” It means providing an animal with the things to meet its needs for exercise, social and mental stimulation, and physical well-being.
You may wonder why that is important in the lives of our house cats. Our cats evolved from small, wild desert and jungle cats that were expert predators used to living solitary lives. They spent almost half of their time hunting rodents and other small prey. Since they were also prey for larger predators, they developed keen senses and skills to avoid being eaten. These are problem solving and independent living skills that our cats of today still have.
The indoor, well-fed cat no longer needs to use these skills to find food, water, and safety from other predators. Plus, the cat is left with large blocks of time that used to be spent hunting. We also often require our cats to accept life in close proximity to other animals, especially other cats.
Cats have relinquished control of the course of daily events in their lives, and what can result is a combination of boredom and anxiety. Studies show correlations between anxiety, stress, boredom, and an increased prevalence of chronic diseases and behavior problems in domestic animals.
Environmental enrichment seeks to reduce the situation of a pet’s stress response being stuck in the “on” position. If a pet is less stressed, it is better able to fight diseases and is less prone to develop behavior problems as outlets for its stress response. When faced with situations beyond its control, it is also better able to cope.
There are many dimensions to providing what your cats needs. There are feeding protocols that utilize your cat’s hunting skills to find its bowl of food or requiring it to figure out how to get food out of a feeding toy. There are also simple things you can do to provide safe resting and hiding places and bouts of exercise.
Current literature has many ideas to help you set up your own feline-friendly indoor home. Your veterinarian and technicians will have additional resources and ideas for you also.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.