Kitten Basics: Enriched Environments

The positive effects of an enriched environment for your new kitten can be beneficial to her health and development for the rest of her life.

While keeping kittens indoors has significant benefits, protecting them from a large number of dangers, it does require you to pay attention to the provision of enrichment opportunities. While kittens spend a great deal of their time sleeping, their periods of wakefulness can and should be used to stimulate psychological and physical activity. The natural predatory/play behavior of kittens is usually easy to stimulate with interactive toys, such as feathers on a string or flicking a laser dot along the floor and walls. One way to defeat the “nighttime crazies” is to have a pet owner engage in active, vigorous play before feeding your kitten at bedtime. This mimics the natural hunting-feeding-grooming-sleeping sequence of cats.

Kittens also can be trained. They will respond quite favorably to clicker training using a high-quality food treat as reinforcement. As with dogs, training sequences can be used to ensure that kittens are getting adequate physical and mental exercise. Many cats also benefit from social activity with other cats, especially if they were introduced to other cats early in life. Cats put a premium on managing space, so it is important that multiple-cat homes offer a variety of places to hide, sleep, and observe, using both the horizontal and vertical dimensions.

A greater challenge is providing enrichment opportunities for dogs and cats when a person or another pet is not present to interact with them. Kittens and cats will spend a great deal of time watching out windows, especially if there is a bird feeder or butterfly garden within view, so make sure to keep at least one window blind open—especially if it looks out to an area with frequent movement and activity.

Providing your kitten with enrichment opportunities helps to prevent stress and the development of abnormal behaviors. These abnormal behaviors, in turn, put a strain on the pet owner and can play a key role in eventual relinquishment. Enrichment also provides a context for physical and psychological exercise that supports the overall well-being of your kitten.