It is not only important but necessary. In fact, before it was spoken of for cats whereas nowadays this expression is no longer used and there is simply talk of adapting the house to “meet the environmental needs” of cats (Ellis et al., 2013). The definition of environmental enrichment suggests that it is an extra, while, to be well, cats always need to live in a physical and social environment with certain characteristics.
And this is so because the degree of comfort of a cat in its environment has a direct relationship with its physical health, emotional well-being and behavior (Ellis et al., 2013). Numerous studies show that a cat living in an unsuitable environment is at increased risk of health and behavioral problems (Westropp et al., 2006; Buffington, 2002).
With regard to health, stress seems to be behind some very common medical problems in cats such as idiopathic cystitis (Buffington et al., 2006), respiratory tract infections (Tanaka et al., 2012), dermatological problems and some gastrointestinal disturbances, such as lack of appetite or an exaggerated appetite (Stella et al., 2011).
Regarding behavior, it must be taken into account that the cats that we adopt, even if they live only inside the house, maintain the natural behavior typical of the feline species: they scratch, climb, mark with urine, vocalize, explore with their mouths, etc. If they do not have the possibility of giving an adequate outlet to these tendencies, they will end up carrying out behaviors that their owner will consider unwanted and problematic (Landsberg et al., 2003; Pryor et al., 2001), or that will reflect the state of chronic stress that the cat has by living in an environment that does not allow it to “be a cat.”
Tips. All cats need an environment adapted to their needs, but environmental enrichment measures are even more important for those cats that, for whatever reason, never or almost never have access to the outdoors (Halls, 2004).
For a cat, living within walls will never be like living outdoors, but it also has advantages in less exposure to traffic accidents, some diseases, and fights with other cats or dogs. Environmental enrichment helps make the life of indoor cats, in addition to being safe, also entertaining and pleasant.
Buffington, CA, 2002. External and internal influences on disease risk in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 220, 994–1002.
Buffington, CA, Westropp, JL, Chew, DJ, Bolus, RR, 2006. Clinical evaluation of multimodal environmental modification (MEMO) in the management of cats with idiopathic cystitis. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 8, 261–268.
Ellis, S, LH, Rodan, I., Carney, HC, Heath, S., Rochlitz, I., Shearburn, LD, Sundahl, E., Westropp, JL, 2013. AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 15, 219–230.
Halls, V., 2004. The house adapted to the cat. http://www.isfm-national-partners.net/gemfe/articulos/casa-adaptada.html
Landsberg, GM, Hunthausen, W., Ackerman, L., 2003. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. 2nd ed. Elsevier.
Pryor, PA, Hart, BL, Bain, MJ, Cliff, KD, 2001. Causes of urine marking in cats and effects of environmental management on frequency of marking. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 219, 1709–1713.
Stella, JL, Lord, LK, Buffington, CAT, 2011. Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 238, 67–73.
Tanaka, A., Wagner, DC, Kass, PH, Hurley, KF, 2012. Associations among weight loss, stress, and upper respiratory tract infection in shelter cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 240 (5), 570-576.
Westropp, JL, Kass, PH, Buffington, CA, 2006. Evaluation of the effects of stress in cats with idiopathic cystitis. American Journal of Veterinary Research 67, 731–736.