Cat Environment Enrichment

Maine Coon cat on screened deckMost of us with cats at some point face the conflict of whether or not to allow our precious friend to play outdoors. We want the environment they live in to meet their needs, and at the same time, we want to keep them safe. I recently compromised with my clowder by having the deck screened in, including the top. There has definitely been a noticeable change. One evening after finishing cleaning the kitchen I decided to join the girls on the deck. Four of them were lined up staring over the edge. I walked over to see what was so interesting, and discovered a squirrel had raided the bird feeder and was on the ground right in front of them. All of the kitty noses were going a mile a minute. While they have always enjoyed window views, it was obvious another of their senses was in action here.

Safe Outdoors

When I get home from work, whether just for lunch or for the day, someone is at the door to the deck. On the weekends they expect the door to the deck to remain opened. Savannah would live on the chairs out there, only coming in to use the litter box, if given a choice. I'm sure she'd be happy to have her meals served on the deck. Maggie has started pawing at the door when it is closed to make sure I notice this oversight. Vivo loves to sit on the extra-wide rail.

There can be a downside. The first time I mowed the yard, I thought they would all go inside away from the noise. Instead, I had a crew of supervisors. I felt like I was in a cartoon show with the cats lined up on the deck, all sitting perfectly still except for the heads going back and forth in unison as I went back and forth across the yard.

Recently I planted a young tree in the back yard. It is a variety that some birds like to nest and perch in. With every shovelful of dirt I moved, I heard Maggie's voice calling from the deck. Unfortunately, I cannot understand “meow”, so I'm not sure if it was praise or criticism I was receiving for my efforts. I decided to interpret it as praise.

During a week of much rain, Cadi decided she just didn't care that it was wet. She sat under the eaves right outside the door. At bedtime, I had to pick her up and carry her in. On clear nights she will lay on her back gazing at the stars. One evening I laid down next to her and enjoyed the view. It reminded me of lying in the yard as a child looking up at the sky. Except on the screened deck, there are no bugs biting me! Awesome!

Getting Started

Cat environmental enrichment is something the veterinary profession is taking seriously, and  there are many things we can do to enrich our cat's environment. Most of them can be done simply and inexpensively or more elaborately depending on your time, budget, and desires. There are many great ideas available on the internet. The place that I started was the Ohio State Vet School's Indoor Pet Initiative. The American Association of Feline Practitioners also has great information on environment considerations for cat owners. Armed with the knowledge of cat environmental needs, we can find plenty of resources and ideas to improve our cats' lives.

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