October 12, 2023

The Importance of Mental Stimulation for Indoor Cats

Mental stimulation can help your cat be more content, and reduce unwanted behaviours. It will also help tire them out, which is great for young, active, indoor cats. Mental stimulation will keep cats alert and happy while improving their health – both physically and mentally.

Every cat is unique, but there are signs you can look out for that may suggest there's something not quite right with your cat. As a cat owner, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your cat's behaviour, as any changes could be a sign that they're upset, bored, sick or injured, stressed or frightened

Request Cats Protection's “Managing your cat’s behaviour guide” and their “Understanding your cat’s behaviour” guide today. These guides provide information and advice about what are normal cat behaviours, ruling out veterinary causes for behaviour change, and how best to manage these behaviours to help you and your cat be happier.

If your cat is stressed or afraid, you might notice them:

  • Grooming themselves a lot more than usual

  • Changing their feeding and/or toileting habits

  • Sleeping in a hunched-up position

  • Hiding

  • Spraying indoors

If your cat is in pain or frightened, you might also notice them:

  • Adopting new, unwanted habits, such as aggression

  • Disappearing or avoiding people

If any of these symptoms become an ongoing problem, consult with a vet or animal behaviourist (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors member)

Being an indoor cat doesn't mean they're leaving the hunting days behind. Healthy cats are physically and mentally active well into their golden years which is why providing the right type of stimulation to your indoor cat is essential.

How can you mentally stimulate an indoor cat? 

  • Let them hunt for food.

  • Use cat wands and teasers. Help cats feel like the predators they were born to be through interactive playtime with a wand (fishing pole type) toy.

  • Feather toys: These are designed to satisfy the feline's desire for hunting. Balls: As the ball moves across the floor, it mimics the behaviour of prey. A ball with bells attached to it provides extra stimulation to your cat. Catnip: Some toys include compartments where you can hide catnip.

  • Provide puzzle toys.

  • Rotate their toys.

  • Place a variety of cat scratchers, trees and perches in the room.

  • Grow cat-safe plants and grass.

  • Build a cat playground.

How often should I play with my indoor cat?

A good place to start is two 15 – 20 minute sessions each day, which you can increase as they get fitter and more enthusiastic. Make sure you keep play sessions short and always give them enough time to rest in between. Never force your cat to do anything they don't want to.

How should you arrange toileting areas for indoor cats?

Indoor cats need several options for toileting. Allow for one litter tray per cat plus one, placed away from each other in areas where they won’t get disturbed.

Litter trays come in a variety of sizes, and can be open or covered if you want to provide your cats with more privacy.

How should you feed your indoor cat?

Most cats will have always been fed from a bowl. Try stimulating your cat by hiding treats around the home for them to find, this will make feeding time more fun! You can also buy or make special feeders like puzzle feeders or treat balls. Introduce these gradually and remember some cats will always prefer to eat their food from a bowl. 

How should you prepare drinking water for indoor cats?

Keep food and water bowls separately. Cats will often only drink from something that their whiskers don’t have to touch (this is why they often drink from a full glass of water).

Encourage your cat to drink by offering larger water bowls, water fountains, or a running tap, as these stimulate your cat’s desire to drink and are a great way to keep them occupied.

How can I improve relaxation and sleep for an indoor cat?

Quite often cats like places out of the way or high up. On top of the fridge or underneath a chair are often favourites, so they’re well protected and undisturbed whilst they sleep. Provide your cat with a nice comfy bed in the areas of their choice. Also consider cat beds that incorporate perch and hide opportunities, like a radiator or covered beds.

Why is hiding and perching important for indoor cats?

Your cat should have the option to hide and perch.  If possible, there should be hiding and perching options in all rooms and floors of your cat’s home.

Why is an outdoor space important for your indoor cat?

Providing some space outside will allow your cat to express their natural behaviours in a more natural environment. They may also like this space to sunbathe in sunny weather.

If you have a balcony, you can make it part of your indoor cat’s territory. Cat-safe garden fencing and outdoor runs mean your cat can enjoy the garden without the chance of escape. Window covers give your cat access to fresh air while keeping them safely inside.

While in most cases cats can benefit from having outdoor access, in some circumstances this isn't always possible. Many cats can lead happy and healthy indoor lives if they are given the right environment.

Medically reviewed by: