Young woman bonding with her cat in apartment

Feline Fulfillment: Mastering Cat Enrichment

Reading Time: 9 MIN


Hello, I’m Ingrid Johnson, and this is my talk on environmental necessities. I’ll explain the proper definition of animal enrichment, which enhances captive animals’ environments for their benefit. It’s about making changes to structures and care practices to increase behavioral choices and draw out species-appropriate behaviors.

Enrichment goes beyond toys; it’s about creating stimulating and safe homes for our pets. Cats can no longer roam freely outside due to safety concerns. Indoor living comes with a price, as it forces them to adapt to a human-centric world, setting them up for challenges.

Amazing domestic bengal cat with spotted fur lying on sofa and smiling In her sleep. Cat's dreams.


Cats thrive on routine and predictability, so we should ensure easy access to food, water, litter, vertical spaces, and safe napping spots. Cats are both predators and prey, so we must cater to their need for safety and their hunting instincts.

Balancing their environmental needs involves play and positive frustration, where animals solve problems for rewards, often food. Interactive toys, food puzzles, and playtime with other pets and humans all contribute to enriching their lives, with the degree of enrichment varying for each individual.

Maintaining a consistent schedule is crucial for cats as they thrive on predictability and routine. This reduces stress, especially during disruptions like travel, house guests, or changes in the home environment. Cats should not be made to eat together in a row, as they are solitary hunters and eaters. Feeding them in this manner can lead to aggression and competition.

Happy kitten likes being stroked by woman's hand. The British Shorthair


Cats typically eat nine to sixteen small meals a day, so feeding them twice a day like dogs can leave them frustrated. To avoid stress and overeating, create feeding stations and spread out food resources around the house, allowing cats to choose when and where they eat. Cats are grazers who prefer nibbling and coming back to their food, so the kitchen should not be the only place for food.

Place food in any room where you feel comfortable, as cats are three-dimensional creatures. No need to keep all the food on the floor; you can feed them up high on bathroom vanities, cat condos, armoires, or the top of the refrigerator to avoid interference from toddlers or food-stealing dogs.

Cats generally prefer their food separate from water, and it’s natural to offer choices. You can have a water bowl near the food dish and another water source like a fountain in a different room. Keeping the water clean is essential because some cats are picky about its taste.

Consider creative water games for enrichment, like filling a sink with large marbles or using ping pong balls to create a fun water game. Flavoring ice cubes with chicken broth can be a refreshing summer enrichment activity. Avoid overusing fish-based flavors to prevent urinary issues.

You can create fun ice cubes with chicken broth or tuna juice and a piece of chicken inside for a surprise treat. Avoid flavoring the water, and make sure to provide a separate water source. Use these ice cubes as enrichment, and you can place them in a bathtub or on a sheet pan to contain any melting mess.

Consider ceramic bowl beds for cats, as some cats enjoy the texture and cradle shape for sleeping.

Beautiful tabby cat sitting next to a food bowl, placed on the floor next to the living room window, and eating.

Interactive & Puzzle Feeders for Cats

Working for food is essential for indoor cats’ enrichment. Cats are natural hunters, so food puzzles can help stimulate their problem-solving skills. Wet food should make up the bulk of their diet, and using food puzzles can prevent overeating and boredom. Cats are obligate carnivores, so meat is essential for their diet.

Start with easy-to-use round toys with multiple holes for kibble dispensing, and use novel food to motivate them. Gradually phase out treats once they grasp the concept of foraging. Be patient, as some cats may take time to learn. Remember that not every hunting expedition is successful, and cats have different techniques, like using their paws or nosing the toy.

Cats have different foraging styles, and it’s acceptable for them to use their muzzle while foraging. Even cats with disabilities or health issues can enjoy foraging for food. Cats can continue foraging even when they are ill, like the 17-year-old cat with small cell lymphoma mentioned earlier. They can all benefit from foraging, whether they are blind, handicapped, toothless, or have other challenges.

Encourage Foraging

Increasing the challenge in foraging games is essential as cats improve their skills. Rolling puzzles, which have a single hole, opaque objects, and a lack of visual cues, provide a more significant challenge. Adding obstacles or doubling up puzzles can make it even more engaging. Dummy stuffing or using crinkled paper can also increase difficulty, but ensure that the food can still come out of the toy.

Stationary puzzles are easier and are suitable for beginners, handicapped cats, or senior cats. They are also great for wet food. You can make stationary puzzles from household items like egg cartons, muffin tins, or ice cube trays. Don’t hesitate to use dog toys for cats as long as they are an appropriate size.

The goal is to find your cat’s individual challenge level, which can vary from cat to cat. Some cats may never reach the most challenging puzzles, like flipping opaque cubes, and that’s perfectly fine. Cats often perform better on rug or carpeted surfaces when playing with cube toys to avoid frustration on hard floors.

Cat hunting to mouse at home, Burmese cat face before attack close-up. Portrait of funny domestic kitten plays indoor. Look of happy Burma cat preparing to jump. Eyes of playful pet wanting to pounce.

Starting with cube toys on carpet allows cats to learn to flip the cube. Adding a foraging ping pong filled with food inside the cube can increase the challenge, creating a double-stuffed toy. The Buster cube, a small dog toy, is one of the most challenging foraging toys, suitable for “master foragers” who have achieved proficiency with cube and double-stuffed toys.

In September 2016, a collaborative article with Dr. Michael Delgado, Dr. Leticia Dantes, and Dr. Tony Buffington highlighted the benefits of food puzzles for cats. It includes instructions on getting started and troubleshooting. A corresponding handout is available on the website, along with additional resources and DIY puzzle ideas. Enrichment involves more than toys, encompassing a cat’s overall environmental needs.

Litter Boxes

Litter boxes should be appropriately sized, one and a half times the length of a cat’s body, and uncovered. Clear storage bin-style boxes are recommended, offering privacy without the drawbacks of hooded boxes. These boxes are often referred to as “spray boxes” as they contain messes. Cats should feel safe during elimination, making proper litter box placement crucial.

Avoid placing litter boxes in inconvenient or hidden locations. The practice of “out of sight, out of mind” can lead to infrequent cleaning and deter cats from using the boxes. Litter boxes should be spread out, even if on the same floor, to provide multiple options. Cat doors and dead-end areas can be stressful for cats, making it difficult for them to use the litter box. These situations may result in resource guarding behavior.

Cat doors and hooded litter boxes can create problems in multi-cat environments. It’s crucial to maintain clean litter boxes and spread them out in the home. Cats prefer their resources scattered throughout the house rather than concentrated in one area, promoting natural behaviors and reducing conflicts.

Keep litter boxes clean by scooping daily, preferably twice a day, and deep-cleaning them every few weeks. Use unscented, fine-grain cat litter, as scented options are for humans and may deter cats. Replace litter boxes every two years and avoid offensive cleaners like citrus scents.

Cat Scratchers and Cat Trees

Vertical space is essential for cats to climb, perch, and feel secure. It increases usable square footage, even in large homes, and allows cats to survey their territory and establish hierarchies without physical confrontation. Provide cat condos near windows for bird and squirrel watching, and remember that hierarchy can change depending on the room and the cats’ positioning.

Scratching posts are vital for cats to scratch and scent mark. A six-foot scratch pole allows cats to groom their back nails, a task often neglected. You can build your own scratch posts or explore various options available online or in stores. Encourage cats to use designated surfaces for their natural behaviors rather than scolding them for choosing undesirable alternatives.

Visit the vertical space page on the website for inspiration and ideas on setting up vertical spaces in your home. Be creative and customize designs to suit your preferences. Building vertical spaces can be a DIY project or involve purchasing pre-made products, depending on your resources and preferences.

black and white cat sharpen claws at scratching post

Encourage brainstorming for vertical space and scratching ideas. Cats scratch for scent marking, grooming, and stretching. Scratching is a feel-good behavior. Choose tall and stable scratching posts, at least 32 inches high, with an abrasive surface like sisal. Cats prefer stable posts that don’t wobble.

Placement of scratching posts is crucial. Put them in high-traffic areas where cats and humans pass through daily. Avoid placing them near room perimeters, as that’s where cats tend to mark with urine and feces. Cat condos should also be located around the home for various activities, like bird watching and resting.

Scratching behavior can be easily redirected to appropriate posts. Use a fundamentally feline scratching post and follow the how-to video on the website for guidance.


Enrichment isn’t just about toys; it involves meeting your cat’s environmental needs comprehensively.

Some Recommended Cat Products

Puzzle toys

DoyenWorld Treat Dispensing Toy

DoyenWorld Treat Dispensing Toy - DoyenCat White


DoyenWorld Treat Dispensing Toy - DoyenBunny Tangerine

Messy Mutts Interactive Slow Feeder Bowl

Messy Mutts Interactive Slow Feeder Bowl - Gray

Pet Dream House Lick Pad


Doc & Phoebe Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder

Doc & Phoebe Cat Feeder Toy - Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder

Hyper Pet Treat Mat

Hyper Pet Treat Mat - Reward Orange

Hyper Pet Treat Mat - Duo Banquet Blue


Nina Ottosson Cat Puzzle Melon Madness

Nina Ottosson Cat Puzzle Game - Melon Madness


Drinkwell Seascape Pet Fountain

Drinkwell Seascape Pet Fountain - Automatic Waterer View Primary Product Image Drinkwell seascape pet fountain - automatic water Dog drinking from drinkwell seascape pet fountain - automatic waterer Drinkwell Seascape 70oz water capacity Drinkwell Seascape Whisper quiet Drinkwell Seascape Easy to clean design Drinkwell Seascape Dimensions Drinkwell Seascape Fresh, filtered water Drinkwell Seascape Pet Fountain - Automatic Waterer

Drinkwell Butterfly Pet Fountain

Drinkwell Butterfly Pet Fountain

PetSafe Seaside Stainless Steel Pet Fountain

PetSafe Seaside Stainless Pet Fountain

Drinkwell Stainless Steel Pet Fountain

Drinkwell Stainless Steel Pet Fountain - 360


Drinkwell Platinum Pet Fountain

Drinkwell Pet Water Fountain - Platinum


Petmate Kennel – 2 Door Top Load

Petmate Kennel - 2 Door Top Load


Grooming supplies:

Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial Ophthalmic Gel

Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial Ophthalmic Gel - Pet Eye Ointment

Furminator Cat Deshedding Tool Short Hair

FURminator Cat Deshedding Tool - Short Hair

ZYMOX Enzymatic Ear Cleanser – Hydrocortisone Free

ZYMOX Enzymatic Ear Cleanser - Hydrocortisone Free

Safari Soft Slicker Pet Brush

Safari Grooming Pet Brush - Soft Slicker

Cat Scratchers 

SPOT Cat Scratcher Wave

SPOT Cat Scratcher Wave

SPOT Cat Scratcher Ramp

SPOT Cat Scratcher Ramp

Ware Cat Tree Kitty Cave and Cradle

Ware Cat Tree - Kitty Cave & Cradle



Go Cat Da Fur Thing

Go Cat Cat Toy - Da Fur Thing

From the Field Ultimate Blend Silver Vine Catnip

From The Field Cat Toy - Ultimate Blend Silver Vine & Catnip

Hauspanther Modkicker Catnip Toy 

Hauspanther Cat Toy - ModKicker Catnip Toy Assorted Color

KONG Refillables Feather Mouse

KONG Cat Toy - Refillables Feather Mouse

From the Field Shelby Hemp Mouse

From the Field Cat Toy - Shelby Hemp Mouse

From the Field Catnip Rejuvenator

From The Field Cat Toy - Catnip Rejuvenator

Pawbreakers Catnip Ball

Pawbreakers Catnip Toy - Catnip Ball

Ethical Colorful Cat Springs Wide Cat Toy

Ethical Cat Toy - Colorful Cat Springs Wide-10 Pack

Go Cat Catcher Wand

Go Cat Cat Toy - Catcher Wand

Go Cat Da Purr Peller Teaser

Go Cat Cat Toy - Da Purr Peller Teaser

Go Cat Da Fish Teaser

Go Cat Cat Toy - Da Fish Teaser


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