The Best Indoor Cat Enrichment Ideas: Toys, Puzzles, and More

Posted in:
white-and-black indoor cat playing with a toy with colorful balls, one of many cat enrichment ideas

Cat enrichment means creating an environment for your feline friend where they have plenty of opportunities to express their natural instincts and behaviors in appropriate ways. Meeting your cat's mental and emotional needs will help them lead a happier, healthier life and have fewer behavior issues. And it can allow you to forge a stronger bond with your cat. 

There are many ways to enrich the life of an indoor cat, keeping in mind that every cat is an individual and might not always enjoy the same things as other cats. Here are some of the best indoor cat enrichment ideas.

Interactive cat toys

Interactive toys help strengthen the bond between you and your cat. They let you share fun and positive experiences, provide exercise for your cat, and allow your cat to feel like the predator they were born to be. All cats instinctively need to bite and scratch things, so providing appropriate toys for them to bite makes for a happy cat. Both you and your cat can have a great time playing with wand-type toys with toy mice, feathers, or fabric attached to the ends. One popular product is the Da Bird Feather Teaser. Just note that toys with long strings (i.e., many wand-type toys) should be used only with supervision. 

Some cats enjoy playing with laser pointers, chasing the point of light around the house. Make sure that your cat is eventually able to “catch” something while playing with the laser pointer, so they don't get too frustrated. Point the laser at a toy that your cat can then play with or a treat that they can eat. Also, make sure to keep the laser out of your cat's eyes, as it can damage their vision.

Low-cost (or no cost) items are often a cat’s preferred toys. Some suggestions are wadded-up paper (don’t use aluminum foil because cats dislike the sound and feel of foil), cardboard boxes, ping pong balls, and plastic rings from milk jugs. Throw a variety of objects to see which ones your cat is most interested in chasing.

Self-play toys for cats

Self-play toys are those that your cat can play with on their own. Toys that encourage chasing and pouncing are typically the most enjoyable for cats. Some simple and cheap options are cardboard boxes, large paper bags (with the handles removed for safety), and crumpled-up pieces of paper. Other options are catnip-filled toys, springs, and wall- or door-mounted toys. There are also several battery-operated toys on the market to provide your cat with plenty of enrichment when they're alone.

Remember to watch your cat for a while after you give them a new toy to make sure they're playing safely with it. When you notice your cat becoming bored with self-play toys, store them away in an airtight container with some catnip and rotate them in at a later date.

Cat food puzzles

Foraging toys (also called food puzzles, puzzle feeders, and treat dispensers) help satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for food. The basic principle is that you fill up the toy with dry kibble, wet food, or treats, and the cat learns to manipulate the toy to release the food. Some toys are stationary, and some are designed to move around.

You can also make your own food puzzles. There are numerous videos and articles on the internet showing how to make DIY cat toys or puzzle toys. One of the easiest DIY options is to “scatter feed”: Simply toss your cat’s kibble on the floor, and let the cat eat up all the pieces. To provide more of a challenge, hide small piles of the kibble around the house and let your cat search for their meal.

Vertical space for cat enrichment

Upright structures and elevated perches will serve your cat's climbing and clawing needs. To let your cat experience a bit of the outdoors while indoors, place perches, cat furniture (such as cat trees), or resting areas by the windows in your home. 

Cat furniture can be expensive to purchase, so you might want to try the DIY approach. Something as easy as clearing off the back of a couch that’s near a window can expand your cat’s horizons. A birdbath or bird feeder placed within sight of the window can increase your cat's enjoyment. (Don’t worry about the birds — they easily become habituated to their “admirers.”) One note of caution: Watch out for roaming cats in your yard; the sight of those other cats can trigger stress and possibly urine marking in an indoor cat.

Kitty comfort zones

Calming activities are just as much a part of cat enrichment as stimulating activities. Every animal needs a “comfort zone” where they can go to feel safe and relax. Closets, open crates, high shelves, cat trees, the space under beds, and rooms sectioned off with baby gates are great places to put a comfy cat bed or blanket to create a safe place. If your cat is resting in their safe place, make sure to leave them alone; this is their quiet time away from everyone. To enhance your cat’s comfort zone, you might want to add calming products. Some examples are a Feliway diffuser/spray or a NurtureCALM collar.

Catteries and catios

You can give your cat some outdoor enrichment time by building an outdoor enclosure, often called a cattery or catio. Once your catio is built, you can incorporate other sources of enrichment, such as toys and cat trees, into it. And don’t forget to routinely check the structure for stability and safety. 

Walking a cat

You can allow your cat to safely experience more of the great outdoors by taking them on walks, which are enriching both mentally and physically. First, you'll need to teach your cat to walk on a leash and harness. Be careful to fit the harness properly, so the cat can't slip out of it. Train your cat inside your house to be relaxed in the harness and on the leash before adding outside adventures. Another option for outdoor walks that works well for many cats is a pet stroller. 

Teaching your cat tricks

Teaching cues and tricks can provide great mental stimulation for pets. Cats can be taught to respond to any number of cues, from “sit” to “down” to “wave.” Using positive reinforcement is a great way to be successful with training your cat. Not only will it be more fun for both of you, but it’s also more effective and efficient. One of the best methods using positive reinforcement is clicker training

Environmental enrichment

More enrichment ideas that can improve your cat's daily life include:

  • Catnip: Treat your feline to some catnip and try catnip-filled toys, too. You can grow it fresh, but most cats prefer dried catnip.
  • Wheat grass: Grow wheat grass for your cat to chomp on to satisfy their instinctive need to chew. You can purchase pet wheat grass kits either online or at pet supply stores.
  • Cat drinking fountain: Consider buying your cat a drinking fountain. Some cats don’t like to drink water from a faucet, but they love their drinking fountain.
  • Music: Do a search online for “music for cats” to see what’s out there. Many cats seem to respond positively to soft classical music.
  • Reading to your cat: Read aloud or sing to your cats. Just remember that cats’ sense of hearing is many times greater than ours, so soft, soothing sounds are best.
  • Fostering or adopting a second cat: If you have only one cat, consider getting a second feline to give your cat someone to play with when you’re not at home. Try fostering another cat first if you’re not sure you want to adopt right away. If you foster, your cat can help choose the new family member.

Most important of all: Spend time interacting with your cat doing things you both enjoy. Maybe that's playtime or maybe it's gently brushing your cat. Indoor cat enrichment ideas don't have to be complicated to improve your cat's life.