Before I write about this I want to say two things:
I normally don’t really think too much about enriching my indoor environment with respect to my cat’s needs.
I am writing on this subject with reference to an article about enriching the environment of captive wild felines.
Clearly what zoo keepers should do to improve the environment for wild cats is different to what we could do to improve the interior of our home so that it is more responsive to our cats. It is a bit extreme to equate wild cats with domestic cats. Or is it? We all know that domestic cats are not far from their wild cat ancestor with regard to behavioural characteristics. Certainly the deeply embedded need to express stalking and handling prey behaviours are the same as for wild cats. When my cat starts to place his paw forcefully on the bed and jump around having slept there for a long time he is catching prey. He is playing. Almost all domestic cat play is a substitute for stalking and hunting. The reason why our cats sleep for such a long time is because they are acting like wild cats, conserving energy for the moment when energy is expended rapidly (fuel guzzling use of reserves) in a high powered and athletic pursuit of prey. The cat is a high energy burning athlete.
My conclusion therefore is that we can equate domestic cats to wild cats and we can look at the interior of our homes and ask the question, “does my cat exercise some control over it and does he interact with the indoor environment?” The answer is invariably no. Unless the cat’s caretaker has:
- modified the interior of his home so that it favours the needs of his cat and not him;
- has built a nice catio or patio or cat enclosure that is responsive to the cat’s needs or;
- lets his cat outside where his cat can revert to the wild temporarily.
The goal in enriching a captive wild cat’s environment is to allow the cat to engage in modified forms of stalking, chasing prey and food consumption behaviours.
I don’t expect anyone to modify their home to make is a mini-jungle, ideal for a cat with a steady supply of mice. But if we did, I have a feeling our cats would love it! Think of an extension to our home where a cat could enter a safe but utopian world of excitement and stimulation. Do you think he would be healthier mentally and physically? I do.
The most stressful sort of jobs that people do are those where the employee has no control over his work. He has no choices and the work is demanding – conveyor belt manufacturing or packaging comes to mind. That sort of thing.
A environment where our cat is faced with an unresponsive (no prey, no unknowns etc.) environment over which he has no control is potentially stressful. Where natural behaviour is unexpressed stress levels go up. Where a cat can behave naturally stress is reduced.
A classic case is probably a cat in an apartment with the owner working long hours. That is potentially stressful for a cat. The cat will show signs of stress (e.g inappropriate elimination, cystitis, anxiety, abnormal behaviour and a possibly a compromised immune system, which can lead to all manner of unresolved and undiagnosed health problems).
I do not expect anyone to do anything based on what I have written here. It just makes me think about my cat’s emotional needs more. Little is written about how to meet our cat’s emotional needs with regard to creating an environment in which he can freely express a full range of natural behaviour, which invariably centres on stalking and catching prey. Writers write about buying a cat condo or other cat furniture but that does not go far enough is we are to set high standards.
One useful and very simple way to enrich our cat’s environment is for us to interact with our cat; to be there a lot. That is why senior citizens are potentially the best cat caretakers. This is not satisfying deep seated drives but it is a form of domestic stimulation which is better than nothing.
In general, I don’t think we do enough to enrich our cat’s life and I include myself in that assessment. Perhaps one caveat is whether we have so domesticated and conditioned our cats that they have lost the desire to express natural behaviour.
Link to photographer’s Flickr pic.