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Foraging for food makes cats happy, can be a great form of enrichment

Cats are natural hunters, and playtime might not stimulate them enough. Having them search for their food can provide more, and possibly better, enrichment.
Cats are natural hunters, and playtime might not stimulate them enough. Having them search for their food can provide more, and possibly better, enrichment.Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Our cats need enrichment in their lives, and if they're strictly indoor cats, the right type of enrichment can be hard to come by. However, there is one good way that you can do it, and it doesn't involve actually dedicating time to play with your cat, or always being on the lookout for the next great toy that might capture your cat's attention. This method is simple: Find ways to let your cat forage for his food.

A story on NPR discusses the views of veterinary behaviorist Vint Virga, who works with animals of all types, pets and otherwise. Virga understands cats in a way that not many of us do, because he spends a lot of time studying zoo animals, and addressing issues with appetites, obsessive behavior, and even anxiety.

Speaking to "Fresh Air's" Terry Gross, Virga says that our furry feline friends are more fulfilled when they have to forage for their food. This is what they would do in the wild; they'd search out prey, hunt it, and kill it. Virga knows that we can't bring their prey into our houses for them to hunt, but we can still make them forage.

Virga actually teaches his clients how to get their cats to forage for their food. Even dry kibble can be hidden in different places around the house each day, which makes your cat search it out when he's hungry. According to Virga, cats find that very enriching, and very stimulating. It adds greatly to their quality of life.

This may also help keep your cat from eating too much if you free-feed, and will give him some exercise. Instead of knowing exactly where to go when he's hungry every time, and being able to snag a few bites and then go back to wherever he was lying, he now has to use his nose, and walk around the house more, to find his food. Because all his food won't be in one place, he'll eat what's there, and then he may or may not feel like hunting for another portion.

Virga's idea for enrichment has many potential benefits, particularly for indoor-only cats. You can try this on your own, or you can talk to a behaviorist about it, especially if you think your cat has other behavior issues.