Tips for Creating a Cat Friendly Environment

Variety is the spice of life! This applies to dogs and cats as well as humans. People love to try new restaurants or go to exotic locations for vacation. Dogs walk around their neighborhood, ride in the car and sometimes, have play dates at the local dog park. What about cats? How do we give them the same opportunities to exercise their minds as well as their bodies all while keeping them safe?

Most cats live in homes that are set-up for human comfort.  This can make them pretty boring for cats. Scratching posts and toys are located in the corner of a room, water and food bowels are in the laundry and the litterbox is hidden out of sight.  Once the cat ‘furniture’ is arranged, it is rarely changed. This stagnant environment leads to stress and sometimes, behavioral problems.  The common complaints I hear are 1) failure to use the litterbox, 2) urine spraying, 3) fighting with other cats, 4) pulling out clumps of fur and 5) attacking other family members – dogs as well as humans. Unfortunately, many people fail to understand the reason for these behaviors and bring the poor cats to shelters.

Cats need an environment that accommodates their normal behaviors.  According to Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Lisa Radosta, a typical 24 hours feline schedule involves 9.5 hours of sleeping, 5.3 hours of resting (I am so jealous), 3.6 hours for hunting, 3.5 hours for grooming, 0.6 hours for traveling, 0.55 hours for eating and another 0.33 hours for miscellaneous activities – think litterbox. To make a cat happy, its environment needs to provide areas for all of these activities. Let’s examine each one in greater detail.

Sleeping: For a cat to sleep soundly, they need a place that is comfortable and makes them feel safe. A basket lined with a towel or a box with a blanket placed in a quiet area works well. Based on all the hair I see on luggage, I think closets are the number one resting spot. The small dark room filled with their human’s scent gives them a safe place for an undisturbed nap. There are also plenty of places to hide behind hanging clothes.  In the morning, my cats love to nap behind the curtain next to the sliding glass door  when the sun is strong. When the shade moves in, they migrate to chairs and beds.

Resting: Most cats like to rest where they can watch what is happening in their environment. My cats like the back of the sofa, a window seat or tables by windows. Think of high spots with good vision of the room. Kitty condos work well for resting spots as well as perches attached to windows. Remember, older cats often suffer from osteoarthritis which makes jumping painful. To reach high perches, set up a series of steps to allow access.

Hunting: Since most cats are kept indoors, it is vital to a cat’s well being to give them an outlet for this natural behavior. Play becomes the substitute for hunting. My cats love to chase feathers attached to a wand. I run around the house making them follow me until they are breathing heavily. I am not a big fan of lasers for two reasons. First, I worry about eye damage if the cat looks directly into the beam. Second, since the cat cannot catch and kill the dot, it can lead to a condition called ‘Frenzied Play Syndrome’. To avoid this, I recommend finishing a game of laser play by placing the dot on a real toy for the cat to attack. Here are a few ideas for cat toys 1) Feathers on a wand. My cats go crazy when I whip it in a circle overhead.  The feathers make it sound like a real bird. 2) Fake fur or feathers attached to a string. I drag the string around chairs and tables mimicking how a mouse would behave. 3) Ping pong balls -these work the best is small spaces like showers 4) Treat balls – there are several brands of toys that can be filled with food. When the cat moves them, the food falls out. 5) Boxes-cats love boxes of all shapes and sizes. Treats can be placed inside for added fun. 6) Toilet paper and paper towel rolls – stuff the inside with paper that has been treated with Feliway, cat nip or cinnamon to really excite your cat. Remember, to change out the toys every 2-3 days to keep the cat interested.

Grooming: Most cats follow a routine that is fairly consistent. After waking, they hunt around their environment in search of a meal. Once they have eaten, they groom then settle down for quiet time of resting or sleeping. Most cats go to a comfortable place to groom where they can stretch out to reach all the areas of their body. Therefore, a special grooming place is not necessary. I do recommend a hygienic shave on long-haired cats to make their job a little easier. Using a clipper, shave the area around their anus to prevent feces from sticking.

Eating/Drinking: Place food and water bowls in a safe place that allows the cat to eat and drink undisturbed. Cats like to drink out of large flat bowls not the small ones sold at most pet stores. My cats use a large soup bowl or my German shepherd’s water bowl.

Litter boxes: The rule is at least one large litter box per cat. Most cats like litter that feels like sand the best. Keep the box located in an open area that prevents a bully cat from surprising a more submissive cat in the box.


Radosta, Lisa, “Environmental Enrichment for Cats”, Clinician’s Brief, Sept 2014, pp 13-15.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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