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7 fun cat enrichment ideas to stimulate your kitty’s mind and body

Cat hiding in a paper bag with head poking out
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having some good cat enrichment ideas up your sleeve is essential for ensuring your feline friend stays happy and healthy at every age and stage. Not only will providing your kitty with the best cat toys and other exciting and novel activities help keep them physically fit, these things will also engage their brains, helping to ensure they stay mentally sharp as well.

While cat’s often exude an air of independence, just like us humans, they still crave stimulation and enrichment that taps into their natural instincts and gives them the mind and body workout they need to thrive. You’ll notice that without this, your feline friend may become bored and frustrated, which is where cat behavior problems start to emerge.

If you’ve noticed that your cat has been engaging in destructive behaviors while you’re out of the house, such as scratching the sides of the couch or urinating outside their litter box, providing some enriching experiences could help put a stop to these. And even if your feline is super well behaved, enrichment activities can help prevent any unwelcome behavior from developing in the future.

Cat enrichment comes in all sorts of types, including environmental, cognitive and social but activities that stimulate the mind and body don’t need to be expensive, in fact, many of the best cat enrichment ideas are simple and easy to put together, requiring very little time, effort or money. Let’s take a closer look…

What is cat enrichment?

Before we look at the types of enrichment and some easy enrichment ideas that you can create at home, it’s worth understanding what exactly cat enrichment is and why it’s important. 

Cat enrichment is basically any kind of activity that allows your kitty to use their body, mind or both in a way that’s interesting, exciting and challenging. It comes in many forms and can be administered in lots of different ways, so there are always plenty of new opportunities to keep things fresh and fun. 

This is super important because if your cat was living in the wild, they’d be surrounded 24/7 by things in their environment that stimulated their minds and bodies. Nature’s backyard is an abundant amusement park for cats that’s full of things that tap into their instinct to stalk, chase, pounce and play. 

But for cats that aren’t being raised in the wild and don’t have access to the great outdoors, enrichment opportunities are far more limited so they’re very reliant on their humans to provide these for them.

Cat playing with toy

(Image credit: Getty)

Types of cat enrichment

When it comes to the types of cat enrichment on offer, you really are spoiled for choice with a range of different modes of delivery that will ensure your kitty is endlessly surprised and delighted.

1. Food enrichment

Always a firm favorite with our feline friends, food enrichment involves making mealtimes more fun and challenging by getting your kitty to work for their food. 

Your cat might need to perform tricks in order to get a few of their favorite cat treats or you might choose to hide food in a treat ball. You can also pop food in various locations around the house or use a puzzle feeder. For food motivated cats, this kind of enrichment can be hugely rewarding. 

2. Environmental enrichment

There are so many ways that you can offer environmental enrichment for your cat, which is basically a way of making their surroundings more interesting for them and providing opportunities to actively engage. 

Environmental enrichment may look like purchasing one of the best cat harnesses and walking your kitty around your backyard if you have one or it might be investing in a cat tree or a few quality cat scratching posts so that they have something new inside the home to engage with.

3. Social enrichment

There’s no denying that our feline friends are more independent than our canine companions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy interacting with their humans. In fact, quite the opposite - many social cats love spending time with their people, especially when that time involves playing together or being groomed. Teaching your cat tricks or petting them also counts as social enrichment. 

4. Cognitive enrichment

When it comes to cognitive enrichment you’re looking for activities that will really engage and challenge your kitty’s mind, such as the best interactive cat toys, puzzle feeders, and even cat apps that will have your bundle of fur using their paw to hunt mice and birds on a screen. 

5. Sensory enrichment

Sensory enrichment is anything that taps into your cat’s senses, which includes sight, smell, taste, and touch. You might make a cat window box that lets your kitty watch what’s going on in the world around them in a safe and secure way or when you’re out of the house, it could be that you pop on one of the many videos for cats available on YouTube. 

Sensory enrichment also includes spritzing your cat’s favorite toys with catnip or providing your kitty with different textured surfaces to scratch or rub up on. 

cats playing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

7 cat enrichment ideas

Enrichment provides cats with the opportunity to express the behaviors that would be a natural part of their day to day life if they lived in the wild. And, as we mentioned earlier, putting together enrichment activities doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

1. Muffin tin cat puzzle

This is a popular game for dogs, but it works really well for cats too and the best part is that it will take you less than five minutes to put together. You’ll need a muffin tin, some small fluffy balls or other toys, plus some cat treats - although you could easily substitute treats for dry cat food if you don’t have any. 

You’ll want to put the kibble or treats in the muffin tins and then cover them with the fluffy balls or toys. Your kitty will then need to move the toys out of the way in order to get to the treat. As they get the hang of the game, put the treats into only half of the tins to make things more challenging. If you don’t have a muffin tin, use an egg carton - it works just as well. 

2. Slow feeder 

We almost feel slightly mean for putting this one in here because it’s fairly challenging, but then again, if you need to keep your kitty occupied and amused for a while, this feeder could well be a lifesaver! Here’s how to make it:

What you’ll need:

  • 3-4 toilet paper rolls
  • Shoe box with lid
  • Pencil or pen
  • Sharp knife
  • Cat treats or kibble

Instructions:

  1. Using a pen or pencil, trace the end of the toilet paper rolls on top of the lid; repeat in different locations on the lid, one outline for each roll.
  2. Using your knife, cut the holes out on the lid. Make sure to cut along the traced lines – if the hole is too big the roll will not be sturdy.
  3. Slide rolls into each of the holes, and place kibble or treats into each roll. Give to your cat!

Cat using slow feeder

(Image credit: ASPCA)

3. Invest in a laser toy

Laser toys for cats are a great way to engage your cat’s mind and body in short bursts of fun that will give them a great workout. Trust us, they’ll sleep well after using one of these! We recommend you look for an automated version that turns itself on and off, offering around 15-20 minutes of play interspersed with 2-3 hours of rest. 

4. Build a cat house

We’re so in love with this epic cardboard cat house and we’re pretty sure your feline friend will be too. It’s a well known fact that curious cats adore having a cardboard box to play in and this house will certainly provide hours of amusement. This is a great enrichment idea either for your cat to use alone or for the two of you to engage with together - you’ll find that running a feather wand around the openings of this box will definitely delight your kitty. 

5. Set up a cat agility course

Not just for dogs, agility courses also work really well for cats and they provide an outstanding way to really challenge your feline friend's mind and body. You’ll want to start off nice and slowly to give your kitty time to learn the ropes, so begin with something simple, like getting them to retrieve a treat from a paper bag. 

You might try a pop-up mesh tunnel after that and use a feather wand to entice your cat to move through it to the other end. After that, get your cat to walk through a hoop and weave around poles. 

6. Blow bubbles

We know, this one sounds strange, but bear with us! If you’re looking for a close to free enrichment activity, why not indulge in some child’s play? Cats absolutely adore bubbles and love chasing them, plus this is a fun one for you too as it will help you tap back into your own inner child. You can blow bubbles the old fashioned way or, if your budget allows, you can get an automatic bubble blower.

Cat chasing bubbles outside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

7. Let your cat safely explore the outdoors

If you have a backyard, it’s well worth investing in one of the best outdoor cat enclosures that will allow your feline friend to get all the benefits of nature without having to worry about any of the risks. 

You could also use a cat harness and take your fur baby for a walk if you’d rather not use an enclosure or if you don’t have an outdoor area that you can give your cat access to, why not set up a cat tree somewhere in the house that has a good view or make a window box. 

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.