Feline Enrichment
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2007
Steve Dale

Steve Dale's cat Ricky played the piano, and jumped through hoops--here's a cat whose life was totally enriched. Steve is certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior as a feline and also canine behavior consultant. He's spoken on this topic and others at meetings including the Conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Western Veterinary Conference and North American Veterinary Conference. He syndicated newspaper column is read in over 100 newspapers, and he is the host of three radio shows about pets and he makes frequent TV appearances.

He's won many awards including the AVMA Humane Award, and Winn Feline Foundation Media Award. His website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com.

Enrichment is quite the buzz word:



A matter of manipulating the environment to suit animals' behavior or the match the animal's behavior with the environment.

"Environmental enrichment is a process for improving or enhancing zoo animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitant's behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing the behavioral choice available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing their welfare. As the term implies, enrichment typically involves the identification and subsequent addition to the zoo environment of a specific stimulus or characteristic that the occupant(s) needs but which was not previously present."1

"The physical environment in the primary enclosures must be enriched by providing means of expressing non-injurious species-typical activities. Examples of environmental enrichment include providing perches, swings, mirrors, and other increased cage complexities; providing objects to manipulate; varied food items; using foraging or task-oriented feeding methods; and providing interaction with the care giver or other familiar and knowledgeable person consistent with personnel safety precautions."2

Zoos have long been interested and have participated in providing animals with behavioral enrichment, more than what our companion animals at home receive.3,4,5,48

Zoos feeding road kill, hiding food (under ground debris, in pipes, etc.) in exhibits, using 'giant buster cubes', operant conditioning, orangutan's who paint, chimpanzees who use computers--even allowing great apes to choose their own music. Simply allowing them to choose, indoors or outdoors. Rotating objects in the exhibit which seem stationary, but are not, places to sit to the vines. Choose to give themselves a shower if they so desire. If they pass by a motion detector, they get a shower. A light lets them know that food is in the termite mound, and a condiment inside for chimps varies (mustard, catsup, barbeque sauce, jams, etc). Optimum examples are chimpanzees in Chicago, who can blow air on the people.46,47,48,49

It's about offering choices and giving control.46 The secret is to think like a cat--lion or a domestic cat.

Using enrichment techniques, zoos have: Lessened stereotypical behaviors, increased animals 'natural tendencies', enhanced exercise (lowering number of overweight animals, or animals as overweight), slowed the aging process, lessened or eliminated anxious behaviors.47,48,49

Presumably if enrichment techniques can help zoo animals, they can help our companion animals.

Or simply, what grandpa said. "If you don't use it, you lose it." Millions of our purring pals are braid dead--they've lost it upstairs while at the same time they've gained it around their middles. And their owners have no idea because that is how they expect cats to be.

At least 30 to 40 per cent of pets are overweight; 25 per cent obese--and even greater number in cats. These tubby tabbies likely have:6,7,8

 Change in metabolism

 Significant health issues

The average life span of indoor cats is about 14 years--though this is reduced to 4 years in cats that are allowed to roam free, exposing themselves to the hazards of outdoor life.9,10,11,12


 Stray dogs

 Anti freeze


 Cold weather/car hoods


 Human cruelty: shooting, cat napping

 Infectious disease

"The truth is life may be more exhilarating for cats outdoors. However, as a veterinarian my job is to encourage safety and good health," Dr. Nicholas Dodman9

Millions of indoor cats are likely clinically depressed. Doing nothing all day, every day is not normal." Dr. Karen Overall15

Advantages of socialization classes for kittens:17,18,19

 Kitty Classes Saves Lives!

 Cats must be vet checked before enrolling 20

 They are desensitized to the carrier

 Desensitized to travel

 Desensitized to strange people, species (canines)

 Learn about proper care--which may enhance health, such as clipping nails, brushing their coats and brushing teeth

 Prevent behavior problems, before they occur

 Understand what is normal cat behavior

 Subtle signs of illness21,24

 Feline heartworm22,23,25,26

 Provides a resource should problems occur later

 To boost confidence, and just plain fun for kittens and for people

"Having an activated prey drive is a requirement for all cats," Pam Johnson-Bennett 16

This is 'normal' feline behavior.27, 28

Behavioral/environmental enrichment:15,29,30,31,45

 Alleviate boredom

 Brain exercise

 Exercise / burning calories

 Prevent behavior problems

 Assist in dealing with behavior problems if they do occur

 Enjoyment / fun

 Slows onset cognitive changes

A clear link between lack of enrichment and stress, various health problems in cats including cystitis.31

Every house should have:15,29,30

 High places where cat is allowed

 Scratching post

 Window ledge (not only high--but view outdoors)

 A cozy place (a box, tunnel)

 Room with a view, place(s) to watch the outside world

Toy story:29,30,32,45

 Rotate toys

 Understand the kind of toys your cat likes

 Re-define toys--an empty box can be a toy

 More ideas: Empty box, bottle caps, corks, aluminum foil ball, walnut in bathtub, ping pong ball

Once a day with an interactive toy (with fabric, feathers, Cat Dancer)--that's the prescription32

 Laser light (pro's and con's)15

 Various other toys, balls, mice toys, etc.3

 Food games--feed from Play'n Treat Balls, Scent Games

Cats are not anti-social, aloof: In fact, they are social33,34,35

Other furry friends....¼ of cat owners have a dog; ¼ of dog owners have a cat ...living with another cat, or another pet.36,37,40,44

Training cats: a cat's mind is a terrible thing to waste:38,39,41,42,43

 Harness training




1.  American Zoological Aquarium Association Behavioral Advisory Group, BHAG, (1999.)

2.  United States Department of Agriculture 1991. Title 9, CFR (Code of Federal Register), Part 3. Animal Welfare; Standards; Final Rule. Federal Register 56(No. 32), 6426-6505.

3.  Behavioral Enrichment in the Zoo, by Hal Markowitz, (1982).

4.  The Zoo Book: The Evolution of Wildlife Conservation Centers, by Linda Koebner, pgs.. 86-90. (1994).

5.  American Zoos," by Steve Dale, (1992)

6.  Therapeutic Exercise and Weight Management, American Animal Hospital Association, (2005).

7.  Diet and Weight Control, www.healthypet.com (AAHA site).

8.  Purina® Study Confirms Link Between Body Fat and Certain Health Conditions, (2003).

9.  Dr. Nicholas Dodman, personal interview, (2003).

10. The TNR Handbook Bryan Kordis, Meredith Weiss, Anitra Frazier, Laura Burns and Susan Green, pgs. 1 to 7, (2004).

11. Berkeley, California Animal Services, http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/animalservices/feralpubsafety.html

12. American Bird Conservancy, Cats Indoors Initiative, http://www.abcbirds.org/cats/index.htm

13. Keeping Cats Indoors Isn't Just for the Birds, the American Humane Society, American Bird Conservancy and the Humane Society of the United States.

14. Facts on Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Bulletin 7148.

15. Dr. Karen Overall, personal interview, (2003).

16. Think Like a Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, pgs. 103 to 124, and personal interviews (2000 to 2007).

17. Feline Behavior Guidelines, American Association of Feline Practitioners, http://www.aafponline.org/, pgs. 22 to 24, (2005).

18. Training Your Cat, Dr. Kersti Seksel, Hyland House Press, Flemington Victoria Australia, pgs. 39 to 41, (2001).

19. Kitty-K: www.stevedalepetworld.com

20. American Association of Feline Practitioners 2006 Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel Report, http://www.aafponline.org/

21. Dr. James Richards, director Cornell Feline Health Center, at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY, My Pet World syndicated newspaper column, Steve Dale, (August, 2006)

22. American Heartworm Society, http://www.heartwormsociety.org/FelineHeartwormInfo.htm approved by the Executive Board of the American Heartworm Society (Dr. Charles Thomas Nelson, Dr. Donald W. Doiron; Dr. John W. McCall; Dr. Sheldon B. Rubin; Dr. Lynn F. Buzhardt; Dr. Wallace Graham; Dr. Susan L. Longhofer, Dr. Jorge Guerrero, Dr. Carol Robertson-Plouch; Dr. Allan Paul)

23. http://www.vetmed.auburn.edu/distance/cardio/, Dr. Ray Dillon

24. American Association of Feline Practitioners, "Healthy Cats for Life" http://www.aafponline.org/, http://www.catwellness.org/

25. American Association of Feline Practitioners 2006 Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel Report, http://www.aafponline.org/.

26. World Veterinary Conference Proceedings, 2003, Feline Heartworm, Dr. Clarke Atkins; https://www.vin.com/proceedings/Proceedings.plx?CID=WSAVA2003&PID=6533&Category=978&O=Generic

27. Feline Behavior Guidelines, American Association of Feline Practitioners, http://www.aafponline.org/, pg. 9, (2005).

28. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall, Mosby, St. Louis, MO, pgs. 45 and 76, (1997).

29. Environment Enrichment in Cats, proceedings AVMA 2006, Dr. Kersti Seksel

30. Environmental and Social Enrichment for Indoor Cats, proceedings AVMA, 2004, Dr. Vint Virga.

31. Indoor Cat Initiative, Dr. Tony Buffington, www.indoorcat.org/feline.php.

32. Think Like A Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, pgs. 102 to 123, (2000).

33. Social Cats, by Susan Milius, Science News, Sharon Crowell-Davis, (2001)

34. Social Organization In the Cat: A Modern Understanding, Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery, Volume 6, Issue 1, pgs. 19 to 28, Sharon Crowell-Davis, (2004).

35. The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior, edited by Dennis C. Turner, Patrick Bateson (2000).

36. "American Pet Product Manufacturers Association National Pet Ownership Survey," 2005/2006.

37. U.S. Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, American Veterinary Medical Association, (2002).

38. Training Your Cat, Dr. Kersti Seksel, Hyland House Press, Flemington Victoria Australia, pgs. 49 to 53, (2001).

39. Clicker Training For Cats, by Karen Pryor

40. PETiQUETTE: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi Pet Household, by Amy Shojai (2005).

41. Cat Agility Show Cats OnLine by Lee Harper http://www.showcatsonline.com/x/cat_agility.htm

42. Cat Fancier's Association Fance Mews Cat Agility by Karen Lawrence http://www.cfa.org/ezine/archives/agility.html

43. Cat Guide at Discovery.com http://animal.discovery.com/guides/cats/training/strategies.html

44. Cat vs. Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, (2004).

45. Age Associated Behavioral Changes, Dr. Gary Landsberg http://vet.purdue.edu/vcs505/lec9.pdf

46. Steve Ross, behavior research specialist Lincoln Park Zoo personal interview, 2004

47. Shepherdson, D. 1989. Stereotypic Behaviour: what is it and how can it be eliminated or prevented? Ratel, 16:100-105; 1998; Introduction: Tracing the Path of Environmental Enrichment in Zoos. Pp. 1-14, in Second nature: environmental enrichment for captive animals (D. J. Shepherdson, J. D. Mellen, and M. Hutchins, eds.). Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, District of Columbia, 350 pp.

48. Proceedings North American Veterinary Conference Post Graduate Institute, Craig Schultz, United States Department of Agriculture, "Behavior Techniques in Zoo Animals," 2004.

49. Manufacture, Selection, and Responses to Habitat Enrichment Items for Captive Nonhuman Primates, Mary Baker (et. al). http://faculty.ucr.edu/~maryb/enrichment.htm, (in conjunction with San Diego Zoo).

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Steve Dale

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