Selecting the Right Environmental Enrichment for Your Cat

Cats, especially indoor cats, need stimulation and recreation to maintain good mental health. This is often referred to as “cat enrichment” or “environmental enrichment for cats.”

So, what does that mean exactly? It means that for some cats to be “happy” and to minimize behavioral problems of indoor cats or multi-cat environments, it is important that your cat have plenty of toys, places to hide, perch, sleep, places or things to “scratch”, things to “watch”, and opportunities to play. It is also important that cats have a place that they perceive as safe to eat, drink, and eliminate.

This can be accomplished by providing an environment with cat trees, perches, bags, beds, toys, and trusted spots to sleep, eat, and use the litter box.

The Keys to Environmental Enrichment for Cats


Small refuges where cats feel safe can be as simple as paper bags or cardboard boxes. Places to hide may be a favorite box under the bed, a pet taxi or carrier behind a chair, or on a towel on top of a dresser. Cats tend to prefer to be high where they can constantly assess their environment. They prefer to sleep and rest in areas where they feel safe and are comfortable.

In households with other cats or dogs, it is important that the cats be able to get away from the dog if they want to. This is especially true for litter boxes and food placement. They should be able to eat and eliminate without being bothered by dogs or other cats.

Cat Furniture or Perches

Some authorities estimate that cats need about 500 square feet per cat to minimize behavioral problems. One way to help make a cat’s environment richer, bigger, and safer is to give them some extra vertical spaces. Perches are simply a high area with a view or vantage point.

Cats love to climb, and high places make them feel secure. From a high spot, cats can watch their environment and identify both prey and predator. Although your cat may be indoors only and out of reach of prey or predator, cats don’t lose this instinct.

Cats feel most vulnerable when they sleep and generally prefer higher areas, such as a cat tree or perch, for their naps. Multiple perches or cat trees are ideal as some cats prefer to watch their environment from different vantage points. This is especially important in multi-cat households, as more than one cat can “perch” at a time. Windowsill perches are also good and are discussed under “Visual Stimulation”.

Cat trees and perches come in a variety of sizes, styles, and colors. The most common cat tree is made of carpet and some form of pegs to hold the horizontal surfaces. They can vary from a couple feet tall to 10 to 12 feet tall with lots of branches and spots to sleep, play, or rest. They can be combined with beds, attached dangling toys, and scratching posts. Perches can be in or on a cat tree, on a piece of furniture such as a dresser or bed, or on a table.

If your cat has behavior problems, click here to learn more about how pet insurance may be able to help.

Scratching Stimulation

It is important to have places in your home where your cat is welcome to scratch. This is especially important with claws; however, just because a cat does not have their claws, does not mean they don’t have the instinct to sharpen their claws, stretch, shed old nails, and leave their scent.

Consider what substrates or locations your cat likes to scratch? Do they stretch out when they scratch? Do they scratch on furniture legs, the backs of fabric chairs, or on the carpeted floor? This information can help you determine which substrate you might prefer, such as cardboard, fabric, carpet, or wood and the surface type, such as vertical areas or horizontal surfaces. If your cat stretches out when they scratch, make sure you choose a scratching surface that is tall enough to accommodate your cat.

Most scratching posts are made of tree material, cardboard, rope, or fabric, which can all work well. If you don’t know what your cat prefers, you may want to try a couple types to ensure your cat has a favorite. A good combination is a cardboard horizontal scratcher and a vertical carpeted post.

Multi-cat households should have several scratching spots. Make sure the post is secure and cannot be moved or knocked over, either hurting or scaring your cat. Because scent marking is a part of scratching, cats often like to scratch in common places in the house where you or other cats spend time. This may include doorways, bedrooms, kitchens, or living rooms and in areas where they spend their time, such as near favorite sleeping and eating areas.

Visual Stimulation

Cats are often stimulated by their vision. They love toys that swing and move. A window bed is often a favorite spot for cats to nap or watch the outside environment. This is especially good if they have a few trees or some natural elements, even birds. There are commercially available window beds, or you can move a chair, secure table, or bench next to a window for your cat. If a window is not an option, some cats like nature shows or videos.

How to Pick Perches and Playthings

First, let’s talk about cat enrichment activities. Consider your cat’s toy preference? Does your cat prefer toys that mimic birds, mice, or bugs? There are many types of toys made for cats and each cat has their own preferences as to what stimulates them to interact.

Favored toys mimic predatory acts that cats would perform if they were to hunt for their food. Although your cat may not need to “hunt”, they still enjoy the actions and movements involved with the process and create a form of play from this act.

Here are some tips to help you choose enrichment toys for cats:

Desirable Features

Ideal Choice

The best products to provide environmental stimulation may depend on your home, your cat’s preferences, and your budget.

Some good choices to enhance your cat's environment may include:

Shopping Tips

More Tips