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Home No. 30: What Feline Enrichment Steps Can I Begin Immediately, Before a Formal Program Is in Place?

Nov 08

No. 30: What Feline Enrichment Steps Can I Begin Immediately, Before a Formal Program Is in Place?

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What Feline Enrichment Steps Can I Begin Immediately, Before a Formal Program Is in Place?

Reader Question: I've noticed that several of the cats in my lab are listless, although our veterinarian says they're healthy. She recommends some animal enrichment programs. I agree with her suggestions, but it will take two to three weeks to get those in place. I don't want to wait that long for the cats to be more alert and active. Can you suggest any quick and inexpensive enrichment methods I can try?

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Expert Comments:

Providing these are research colony cats and are group-housed, I would suggest shelving for climbing and access to small hiding places. Cats also love a thick piece of cardboard, vertically as well as horizontally, tied to a stationary object. Dangling toys often add interest, but should be rotated. Cats lose interest unless there’s some novelty.

When it comes to toys, you need something you can wash or sterilize. Baby or parrot "links" and plastic toys are good because they can be easily hung up and also cleaned. Also, plastic milk crates or storage boxes, the open part facing up, are nice because cats can jump in and out. Paper bags are fun for the cats and disposable, but not sterile.

Expert comments by Ilana R. Reisner, PhD, DVM, assistant professor of behavioral medicine, Department of Clinical Studies, Ryan Veterinary Hospital, University of Pennsylvania.

Additional Comments:

Cats are interested in scents. Try swapping clean objects directly from the cages of their neighbors. They're curious about those animals. Also look for a novelty, like an object that makes a sound or has a furry texture, something with a lot of tactile, sound, and visual interest. Cats also like things they can destroy, like wads of paper, because these change shape as they play. But watch them to make sure they don't ingest or choke on something.

Make sure they have a refuge, too. They need a place to get away from you and from each other occasionally.

If enrichment items don't seem to interest, engage, or stimulate them, you should call the veterinarian again. The cats may not be sick yet — but ask the vet if they are any worse than when he/she last examined them. You and others who work with the animals on a regular basis are in the best position to pick up on subtle signs of early illness, and you should act on that before they worsen.

Expert comments by Emily Patterson-Kane, PhD, scientist in the Animal Welfare Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Shehas conducted animal enrichment research, primarily with rats, chickens, and swine.

Like this article? Get more in your FREE issue of Laboratory Animal Welfare Compliance.

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