Journal Scan: Environmental enrichment for cats: Tips for owners


Journal Scan: Environmental enrichment for cats: Tips for owners

May 14, 2014

Why they did it

“Behavior problems are a leading cause of pets being surrendered or euthanized,” according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM). These can include inappropriate elimination or aggression. In an effort to educate pet owners about ways to avoid behavior problems, the AAFP and ISFM have created guidelines to provide veterinarians and pet owners with practical tips aimed at improving the quality of life of household cats.


The authors describe the environmental needs of cats beyond merely the need for food, water, and shelter. Similar to their wild ancestors, cats today still feel the need express their hunting behaviors, mark their territories, and protect themselves from perceived dangers.

Some of the tips for environmental enrichment include:

  1. Provide a safe haven, preferably off the ground and sized to hold a single cat.
  2. In multicat households, provide multiple food and water bowls, litter boxes, toys, and rest areas.
  3. Provide interactive toys or food puzzles that mimic prey and encourage hunting behavior.
  4. Provide positive social interaction, but do not force it.
  5. Be aware of cats’ sense of smell and the importance of marking and pheromones.

These recommendations can be applied in both the home setting and clinic environment. For example, veterinary hospital cages should be large enough to allow physical separation of food and toileting areas and still allow a resting or hiding area.

Take-home message

These guidelines may help veterinarians counsel their clients on strategies that will improve their cats environment, lessen the risk of behavior problems, and improve the human-animal bond.

Ellis SL, Rodan I, Carney HC, et al. AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. J Fel Med Surg 2013;15:219-230.

Link to article:

Jennifer L. Garcia, DVM, DACVIM, is a veterinary internal medicine specialist at Sugarland Veterinary Specialists in Houston, Texas.