Cats are creatures of habit – most don’t stray too far from their own territories and homes. When they then come into the cattery environment, it can feel quite daunting and unpredictable to our little kitty friends.
In order to help them relax and to give them an element of security and control, we provide them with different types of environmental enrichment.
As humans, our minds often wander when we are bored, potentially going to places that can cause us anxiety and stress – and our feline friends are the same!
Environmental enrichment not only helps prevent cats from getting bored and allows them to burn energy, but it is massively important in helping to reduce their stress and anxiety levels. It gives them the opportunity to express their natural cat behaviours, which include playing, scratching and hunting.
Below you will find some of the ways we offer choice and enrichment to improve the wellbeing of the cats and kittens at The Stubbington Ark.
A Place to Feel Safe
High covered sleeping areas offer a feeling of safety and an opportunity to hide from fearful stimulus. We encourage our cats to settle in and wait for them to approach staff if and when they are comfortable (unless medical attention is required.)
The freeze and hide response is the safest option for most cats under perceived threat. Our maintenance manager has built additional shelving in the outdoor run section of our cat pens to offer safe settling areas at height. These also act as viewing platforms so that cat(s) can assess the potential threats from a place of safety. Scratch posts have also been added to maintain claws, and offer a place for visual and scent markers.
(All our cat carriers are bolted to the shelf to ensure the cats cannot fall and injure themselves.)
(Photo – Stan in his outside run.)
Play is a great way to bond with the cats currently at the centre. Individuals that are confident in their surroundings may feel comfortable to engage in play. This offers a natural outlet for the hunting sequence which consists of the stalk, chase, pounce, grab, kill and manipulate. Often we will allow the cats to play out this activity on a feather/toy trailing on a stick. After the ‘kill’ has been played out, a cheeky treat can be given to fulfil the desire to eat the catch.
We like to get our feline friends out everyday for a minimum of 30 minutes. Not only does this provide them with some well deserved play time and an opportunity to get out of their pod, but it offers the staff a chance to bond with them too (and to get in some extra snuggle time).
Image: International Cat Care, 2023
Outlet for Natural Behaviours
On site the staff make up daily enrichment activities for the cats in our care. We recycle cardboard toilet roll tubes, egg boxes, yoghurt pots and cardboard boxes. These are filled with a lunch time meal, catnip, new catnip mice toys, and a few treats.
The benefits of enrichment stations are as follows:
- They’re free! Made from recycled materials.
- They slow down the rate of ingestion.
- Offer a mix of easy to obtain resources to reduce frustration.
- Offer small meals to break up the day.
- Encourage the cat to work for their food.
- Offer mental stimulation.
- Offer sensory stimulation.
- Offer an outlet for the hunting sequence.
- Great for disease control in the cattery as they can be thrown away.
- Can be catered to the individual’s experience and abilities.
Above Picture 1 (left) Luna, Picture 2 (middle) Snowball, Picture 3 (right) Timmy playing with enrichment provided by the staff.
You can use the ideas above to help give your kitty some more enrichment at home. Not only will this help the physical and mental wellbeing of your cat, but it will offer some valuable bonding time between you – and you’ll hopefully get some extra head butts and purrs for your efforts.
All of the above information has been taken from:
The Staff & Animals at The Stubbington Ark RSPCA Solent Branch
The Cats Protection – The Behaviour Guide
The International Cat Care Website