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Why Mental Stimulation Is Important for Cats: 15 Vet-Approved Reasons

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

Vet approved

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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kitten plays with an interactive or puzzle toy

The roughly 32 million cats in the United States have it lucky. They have opportunities to interact with humans and enjoy the benefits of enrichment in many exciting ways. Pet owners understand the importance of good physical health for their animal companions. That’s why they spent nearly $35 billion on veterinary care and supplies alone. However, their mental health is also vital for their well-being.

Outdoor or indoor-outdoor cats have plenty of mental stimulation from their changing environments. It’s more challenging for indoor pets. While they like routines, it also sets the stage for boredom if nothing changes day-to-day. That makes enrichment critical for your kitty’s mental and physical health.

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The 15 Reasons Mental Stimulation is Important for Cats

1. Strengthens Survival Skills

Most animals engage in play when young. Puppies wrestle, kittens chase after imaginary mice; play teaches animals how to survive by developing skills in sort of a dress rehearsal setting. This is essential for wild felines. Knowing how to use your teeth and claws is vital for survival. They also learn social skills and how to fight. That is important for cats defending their territory or their young.

A small gray kitten plays with foil and a ball. Cat toys
Image Credit: Olya Detry, Shutterstock

2. Exercise Opportunities

Mental stimulation is an excellent way to encourage your pet to exercise. Whether it’s chasing a ball or rolling around the floor with a catnip toy, it gets your cat moving and burning calories. Adult cats sleep about 16 hours daily, which doesn’t leave them with a lot of time to be active. That’s why it’s essential to provide interactive toys for your pet—they challenge your pet to move.


3. Prevention of Separation Anxiety

People often think of separation anxiety as a canine issue. However, the fact remains that cats form attachments with their owners. Research shows that they also can develop this condition. It is more likely in strictly indoor pets with no other animals in the home and one owner. Mental stimulation can help a cat cope and prevent it from developing unwanted behaviors, like overgrooming.


4. Obesity Prevention

We mentioned exercise, and the extension of that health benefit is obesity prevention. This preventable condition can increase a cat’s risk of many chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. It can adversely affect your pet’s quality of life, making it difficult to jump from heights or even get in and out of their litter box. Mental stimulation provides the impetus to keep your kitty active and at a healthy weight.

Image Credit: marima, Shutterstock

5. Protection for Your Belongings

A bored pet is a destructive one. If you don’t provide a curious cat with something to do, they’ll surely find something to scratch. Remember that scratching is normal behavior for felines. They use it to mark their territories. It also allows them to stretch, particularly along vertical surfaces, like the arms of your sofa.

If you want to deter your cat from scratching your stuff, give them something they can use. A scratching post with a hiding place or dangling toys will give them something to do besides climbing your curtains. Of course, a sprinkle of catnip on the post will make it irresistible.


6. Wild Cat Indulgence

Mental stimulation allows your cat to be a cat. Interestingly, many pets hold onto their juvenile and wild behaviors into adulthood. They retain their hunting instincts when they see a mouse scurry along the ground or a bird go to a feeder. Toys that resemble mice or those that stir a feline’s prey drive will provide the welcome enrichment your pet needs to thrive, both mentally and physically.


7. Fear Prevention

Kittens weaned too early or rescue animals may be more prone to being fearful of new things. That can increase stress and anxiety in your pet if there is a break from the routine. Mental stimulation allows a cat to explore novel things in the environment at their pace in the safety of their home. Doing so will improve your cat’s quality of life and make them calmer.

tuxedo cat playing with a mouse toy with catnip
Image Credit: Suzanne Tucker, Shutterstock

8. Overcoming Aggression

Pets that lack mental stimulation may become aggressive. Instead of being bored, they may overreact to anything new going on in your home. Without the experience to know better, a cat may go on the defensive and become over-aroused at any unique sound or object in your home. It can also lead to other unwanted behaviors, like scratching.


9. Improved Social Skills

Mental stimulation can help a shy kitty become more sociable. Instead of fleeing when someone visits, they may venture out to see another friend and lessen their fears of new things. Of course, you benefit from your pet being around the family more. Your cat will also experience less stress and reduce the risk of sickness behaviors, like loss of appetite and lethargy.


10. Ensuring a Healthy Cat

Mental stimulation also offers physical health benefits. We mentioned stress and its effects. A loss of appetite can leave your pet vulnerable to other chronic diseases by affecting their immune system. Likewise, it can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting or obesity caused by overeating. It is essential for pet owners to ensure their animal companions have enrichment to keep them healthy overall.

Munchkin Cat Playing
Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

11. Reduction in Hiding Behavior

Cats are masters at hiding. They usually don’t show signs that something is wrong until they can no longer hide it. Mental stimulation gives them a reason to explore their world, especially if it involves treats.


12. Improved Mental Health

Enrichment offers an excellent way to prevent many mental health conditions that can plague pets lacking this vital element. Anxiety and other conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may have a genetic component. However, stress can trigger it and encourage unwanted behaviors like wool-sucking. Mental stimulation may spare your socks from your kitty’s weird obsession.


13. Cognitive Function

“Use it or lose it” applies to more situations than just your waistline. It also pertains to cognitive function. Scientists have documented the human brain’s ability to reorganize itself in response to injury or trauma, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Researchers have found similar traits in cat brains when the animals learn new tricks. The act stimulates the development of new neural pathways.

The same thing can occur when you provide mental stimulation. Perhaps that also explains why cats get bored with their toys. As any pet owner will tell you, it’s essential to swap out the things they can with to keep them engaged.

F1 savannah cat playing a toy
Image Credit: Katerina Mirus, Shutterstock

14. Prevention of Inappropriate Urination

One unpleasant sign of stress and separation anxiety is inappropriate urination. It’s one of the main reasons people relinquish their pets. While it can have physical causes, it can also occur as your kitty’s reaction to things going on—or not going on—in your household. Mental stimulation distracts your cat from whatever may upset them. This change of focus can make a world of difference.

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15. Bonding With Your Pet

Mental stimulation isn’t just putting out an interactive toy for your cat to find. It can also involve play between you and your pet. A wand toy is an excellent way to bond with your kitty while keeping them active. It can also support cognitive function and indulge their inner tiger as they try to catch their prey before it dashes away. But it doesn’t stop there.

This bonding time can improve your relationship with your cat. They will view you as something more than just a meal ticket—you’ll become a playmate. You’ll likely find that providing your pet with this kind of mental stimulation is priceless.

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Tips for Keeping Your Cat Content

As you’ve seen, mental stimulation is a vital part of pet care, particularly since its lack can increase the risk of a physical manifestation of the problem. Understanding that it involves more than tossing a few toys on the floor is essential. Felines are intelligent animals capable of learning their owners’ voices, their names, and new behaviors to match the household schedule simply by observing.

Simple ways to add mental stimulation into your cat’s world include the following:

  • Fill a puzzle toy with a favorite treat
  • Get a wand toy
  • Set out a cardboard box
  • Put out a scratching post
  • Put a window perch up
  • Make old toys new again with some catnip
Hand feeding hungry seal point siamese cat with treats stick
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Mental stimulation offers an excellent way not only to bond with your pet but ensure their mental and physical health. Even though cats sleep a lot, they still need things to do when they are awake to keep them physically and mentally challenged. Enrichment offers many health benefits. It also gives you the peace of mind that you are taking the best possible care of your feline companion.

 

Featured Image Credit: PxHere

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