Enriched environment for a cat: what should be in the house?
According to statistics, in the UK most domestic cats have access to the street (Rochlitz, 2005): it is believed that this is natural for cats. 50–60% of cats spend their entire lives in the home (Patronek et al., 1997). American veterinarians strongly recommend that owners keep cats at home (Buffington, 2002), as many shelters advise. And in some areas of Australia, experts expressed concern that cats walking on their own harm the environment, there is even a law that restricts and sometimes prohibits free walking of cats.
Indeed, free-range purring is fraught with huge risks, so it is prudent to either keep the cat in the house or walk it in a safe, securely fenced place or on a leash. On the one hand, this seems to run counter to the concept of 5 freedoms, in particular, seriously restricts the freedom to carry out typical behavior. But on the other hand, free-range (and the risks associated with it) does not compensate for poor living conditions and, in turn, does not agree with freedom from injuries and illnesses.
What to do? Can cats feel good if they spend their whole lives indoors?
Maybe if you create an enriched environment for her. How to create an enriched environment for a cat living indoors?
- Scientists who study the behavior of cats, recommend that the purr access at least two rooms (Mertens and Schär, 1988; Bernstein and Strack, 1996).
- If there are several cats, each of them should have minimum 10 sq.m spaces (Bernstein and Strack, 1996). In this case, there is a chance that each of the cats will be able at any moment to find a suitable corner for relaxation or play, and they will not conflict. According to a study (Barry and Crowell-Davis, 1999), most of the time cats keep apart at a distance of 1 to 3 meters or more, and they should be able to not shorten this distance.
- However, not only the area of the room is important, but also the quality of its filling. Cats are active and adore climbing (Eisenberg, 1989), which means “upper tiers” as observation points and safe havens (DeLuca and Kranda, 1992; Holmes, 1993; James, 1995). Murlyks need to be equipped "Second", and even "third" floors. These can be special devices that are sold in pet stores, as well as shelves, window sills and other suitable surfaces.
- For most of the day, cats sleep or rest, which means they need to be equipped comfortable sleeping places with comfortable surfaces, such as pads (Crouse et al., 1995) or soft tissue (Hawthorne et al., 1995). Since cats are more likely to relax alone than in the company of other animals (Podberscek et al., 1991), there should be enough sleeping places in the room (standard formula: N + 1, where N is the number of animals in the house).
- Cats sometimes feel the need to hide, including to avoid contact with other animals or people, as well as in any stressful situations (Carlstead et al., 1993; James, 1995; Rochlitz et al., 1998). According to the results of the study (Barry and Crowell-Davis, 1999), 48 to 50% of the time cats spend hiding from prying eyes. Therefore, in addition to the usual sleeping places, “shelters” are needed where purrs can hide. Schroll (2002) believes that there should be at least two "shelters" for each cat. This helps prevent many behavioral problems.
- The house should be enough trays (standard formula: N + 1, where N is the number of cats in the house) located away from rest and feeding areas. The trays should be in a quiet place and cleaned at least 1 time per day. Keep in mind that different cats have their own preferences regarding the filler, and these preferences must be reckoned with. As with the preferences for the design of the "toilet" (open or closed).
- It is very important for a cat to be able to control the environment and not be bored (Broom and Johnson, 1993, pp. 111–144). Although staying at home is tedious if the owner does not provide enough variety (Wemelsfelder, 1991), cats do not like too much unpredictability, such as the appearance of unfamiliar animals and people, or sudden changes in the daily routine (Carlstead et al., 1993). The cat’s response to the number of stimuli or changes depends on many factors, including the cat’s temperament (Lowe and Bradshaw, 2001) and life experience. It is advisable to avoid extremes, but at the same time provide the cat with the opportunity control living conditions and make choices (for example, choose different toys or food options).
- A cat is a born hunter, which means it should be able to demonstrate such behavior. For example, in hunting games (ambush, tracking and catching prey, etc.)