2011 Environment Enhancement of Indoor Cats
Cats are highly intelligent, naturally curious and active creatures that we have chosen to take into our homes as pets. In order to respect the natural behavioral tendencies of the cat we are obligated to provide a suitably stimulating environment. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) encourages appropriate environmental enrichment (EE) to obtain and preserve optimal physical and mental health of our feline family members. Providing the proper environment increases the chances of living in harmony alongside these phenomenal creatures for years of enjoyment. Another positive effect of providing EE is decreased number of surrendered/unwanted cats due to what may be undesired or perceived as inappropriate behavior(s).
Many behavioral and physical disorders that are seen in cats are often secondary to stress from lack of appropriate stimulation. Environmental enhancement should be part of the overall treatment plan for these disorders. As part of the wellness exam, it is the responsibility of the veterinarian to discuss the current state of the environment and to provide resources for EE to indoor cat owners.
It is well known that if an appropriate environment is not provided for indoor cats, they are at greater risk of stress induced illnesses such as the following:
- Feline lower urinary tract disease1, 2
- Different forms of aggression4
- Over grooming and other compulsive disorders5
- Upper respiratory infection6,7
In an attempt to prevent the above conditions, it should become routine for the veterinary team to inform owners of the importance of EE and to provide resources to owners. It is also important to consider EE in shelter cats for the same reasons.
In order to be successful with environmental enhancement, there are several things that must be considered. If the owner is already experiencing what they regard as behavioral problems, a thorough medical evaluation should be performed. Once any medical conditions have been ruled out, properly identified and/or addressed, then one can move forward with an EE plan. In order to design and implement an appropriate EE plan for an individual, the following should be considered:
- The life stage of the cat(s)8
- The degree of socialization of the individual(s)9
- If any medical conditions exist and if so the limitations/challenges of the condition(s) itself
- Determination of whether the cat reacts to a situation in an active or passive manner2
- Identification of whether the cat is frustrated, fearful, or anxious2
- Determination if any undesired behavior is a natural or a reactive behavior2
It is imperative to prevent stress in multiple cat households by providing multiple sets of essential resources. Essential resources would include but not necessarily be limited to:
- "Safe" places
- Vertical space
Once one has considered all of the above, visit some of these online resources for specific ideas on how to achieve quality feline environmental enhancement:
1. Buffington C A Tony, Westropp Jodi L. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis: Current understanding of pathophysiology and management. Vet Clin Small Anim 2004;34:1043-1055.
2. Ellis Sarah LH. Environmental Enrichment Practical Strategies for Improving Feline Welfare. J Feline Med Surg 2009;11:901-912.
3. Buffington CAT. External and internal influences on disease risk in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002; 220(7):994-1002.
4. Herron Meghan E, Buffington Tony C A. Environmental enrichment for indoor cats. Compend: Cont Ed Vet December 2010;32(12):E1-E5.
5. Landsberg Gary M, Hunthausen Wayne L, Ackerman Lowell J. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. Vol 1. Philadelphia: Elsevier,1997:195-204.
6. McCobb EC, Patronek GJ, Marder A, Dinnage JD, Stone MS. Assessment of stress levels among cats in four animal shelters. J Am Vet Med Assoc 15 Feb. 2005;226(4):548-55.
7. Edwards DS, Coyne K, Dawson S, Gaskell RM, Henley WE, Rogers K, Wood JL. Risk factors for time to diagnosis of feline upper respiratory tract disease in UK animal adoption shelters. Prev Vet Med 17 Nov. 2008;87(3-4):327-39. Epub 18 Jul. 2008.
8. Vogt Amy Hoyumpa, Rodan Ilona, et.al. AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 2010;12:43-54.
9. Crowell-Davis Sharon L, Curtis Terry M, Knowles Rebecca J. Social organization in the cat: a modern understanding. J Feline MedSurg 2004;6:19-28.
10. Buffington Tony, et al. "For Cat Owners". The Indoor Pet Initiative. 2008. The Ohio State University. 2 Jan. 2011. http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/
11. Llibertat Real Sampietro. Environmental Enrichment for Cats.10 Oct.2010. American Association of Feline Practitioners. 2 Jan.2011.
12. Antoniades Katina. Home Makeovers to Meow About. All Animals 2010; May/June:25-28.
Paula Monroe-Aldridge, DVM
Ilona Rodan, DVM, ABVP (Feline)
Carlye Rose, DVM, ABVP (Canine/Feline)
Corinne Thomas, DVM