Everyone thinks their cats live happy, stress-free lives, lazing about and conquering the day one sunny spot at a time. But cats are far more complex than our romantic notions might suggest. Such common environmental factors as solitude, inactivity, and subtle intercat aggression can exact an invisible toll on a cat’s psyche. 

For all the perils the outside world possesses, our outdoor kitties enjoy a far greater degree of engagement with their environment. And while our indoor cats aren’t longing to dodge traffic or fight for their food, they might miss the opportunity to climb a tree, chase a lizard, watch the neighborhood kids, or taunt an interloping cat. After all, indoor living can be boring compared with the excitement of the great outdoors.

Ultimately, our cats’ happiness depends on a term veterinarians and animal behaviorists call “enrichment.” Enrichment means giving animals opportunities to live a biologically appropriate existence consistent with their species’ normal behaviors. For indoor cats, this includes the kind of activities they might engage in if they had free access to the outdoors.

Enrichment makes common sense for indoor cats, and this notion has been gaining traction across a wide swath of the veterinary community. In fact, The Ohio State University’s Indoor Cat Initiative, a project designed to address all facets of feline enrichment, recognizes that “Poor mental health in pets can lead to behavioral disorders that, when left untreated, can be just as serious and disabling as physical diseases.”

If you’re ready to add a little adventure to your cat’s humble existence, check out these simple enrichment tips.


Finding interesting sources of food is a constant pursuit for outdoor cats, and we often underestimate the importance of this activity. Make finding food fun for your indoor guy by hiding small amounts in hard-to-find spots that he’ll learn to check time and time again. Using commercially made food puzzles that require your pet to find and retrieve food is another great way to stimulate his mind and body.


Running water can be infinitely attractive to some cats, but leaving a tap running for the sake of play doesn’t always make sense. Instead, consider a fountain-style watering bowl that runs like a faucet. These bowls provide visual and auditory stimulation, and some models even come with adjustable spout heads so you can change up the flow.


Let’s be honest, finding spots in which to pee and poop is a highly “entertaining” activity for lots of territorial species. Adding more litterboxes gives cats multiple destinations, and some enrichment experts advocate trying different litterbox sizes and litter substrates that offer different textures and smells.

Scratching and Clawing

Cats love to scratch for lots of reasons: to mark their territory, to rejuvenate and maintain their claws, and to stretch out their bodies. Giving them a dedicated scratching post with different materials and surfaces encourages this natural and fun activity.


Safe and cozy spots to sleep and hide — including cubbies, baskets, and soft beds — are critical to a comfy, enriched existence, especially if there are two or more cats in the household. Nervous kitties might appreciate having these quiet retreats in a number of locations.

Brushing and Petting

Believe it or not, brushing and petting aren’t just good for human–animal bonding and good coat and skin health, they’re also great ways to enrich a cat’s life. Once they get used to the brush, most cats consider this an unmissible opportunity for daily attention. 


Catnip and indoor patches of edible grass can be great fun for cats. It’s easy to bring outdoor greenery inside with tabletop growing kits that offer wheatgrass, oat grass, and other fiber-rich greens. And some cats simply adore catnip’s “stimulating” effects.

Training and Competing

Several groups throughout the country now offer cat agility training, and agility competitions are beginning to take the cat show circuit by storm. This type of activity not only offers tremendous physical enrichment but also requires cats to think and problem solve as they move through the obstacles.

Enrichment possibilities are endless, so go make your cat’s life richer!

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of HealthyPet magazine.