When indoor cats watch birds and other critters outside the window, is that really environmental enrichment, or is it just torture?
It’s often recommended that people with cats put a bird feeder outside their window, but in doing so, some have wondered if they’re driving their pet crazy. It’s understandable. Some cats make a chirping sound when they see birds, and it’s hard to tell if they are feeling excited or thwarted. Likewise, cat lovers have asked whether whipping around a feather on a string is enjoyable for cats to chase, or simply frustrating.
The answer: The chattering sound some cats make when watching birds outside the window is a sign of excitement, according to the Humane Society — although there might very well be some frustration built into it. But that, in turn, is part of the excitement! Animal behaviorists have noted that the special sound is similar to the noise that goes with a bite to the neck when a cat kills a small bird or rodent.
Chattering or not, on balance, watching birds at a feeder outside the window or nearby in trees is probably reasonable environmental enrichment for a cat, even though she doesn’t get to complete the feline process of hunting, killing, and eating. House cats lead pretty dull lives, relatively speaking. Looking out the window at something enticing spices things up. And the cat can always walk away if she wants to.
That said, if your pet acts aggressively upon watching birds outside, perhaps taking a swipe at you or another animal in the house or immediately going to scratch or chew furniture, perhaps she is experiencing more frustration than thrill. You’ve got to play it by ear a little bit.
As far as chasing toys inside the house, it’s a good idea to let her finally pounce on the object she’s after. She won’t be able to do that with a laser beam, but you can make sure she gets to catch the feather, toy mouse, or whatever other enticement you’ve got dangling at the far end of a string. Sometimes that itch to pounce successfully simply has to be scratched.