Key points about cats:
Specific needs of cats:
Key points for owners:
The answer relates to the fact that cats are hunters. When they leave a place, they take a snapshot of what is there and store it in memory. They patrol a large area and remember these snapshots for each place. When they come back you will see them do a quick scan of the place and then go to examine anything that is new or out of place. In the wild this is used to detect prey (and also communications from other cats); anything new or that has moved might have something to do with a prey animal that has been in that place. The cat will sniff around and examine the new things, and if satisfied that prey has been in the area it will try to trace where it came from. The cat will often then go and sit quietly somewhere and wait. Anything that moves will draw the cats attention in the same way as a bright colour or vivid pattern would for us.
What does this tell us about how we should provide enriched environments for cats?
When we provide cats with things to do we should make sure we provide novelty and change. Get a big box full of toys such as bits of silver paper, rubber bands, ping pong balls with things drawn on them etc. Make up some boxes with different textures and materials that rustle and move when the cat gets in. Leave a few extra tasty treats inside the box. Keep these out of the cat's reach. At dawn and dusk, the times when cats are often looking for prey, litter the rooms with a variety of these things so that the cat will investigate them. The novelty will interest them, and they will have something to look at that is different from before. The simple act of providing them with variety will give them the opportunity to use some of the mental and visual talents that they have.
A final piece of environmental enrichment that can prove very enjoyable for cats is a laser pointer, again used at dawn and dusk. This must never be shone into the cat's eye, but is generally safe for play. Hide a few small pieces of extra tasty food around the room. Use the laser pointer to get the cat to chase and pounce in the way that it would when catching prey. The dot can be flicked behind furniture and made to wait out of reach until the cat becomes very excited and then flashed across the floor. Every so often let the dot end up in a place where the food treat is and switch it off so the cat can eat the food in peace. This recreates a perfect hunting sequence which resolves in catching the prey. Most cats can do without the food, but it adds to the reward. 20 minutes of play like this every day starting at kittenhood is likely to reduce hunting behaviour considerably, and perhaps totally. The cat becomes obsessed with clearing the infestation in its own home and learns to direct predatory behaviour to this lure rather than real animals.
© Jon Bowen 2000
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