Many pet owners struggle with the decision of whether to keep their cat indoors or whether to allow them to spend some of their time outside. It’s a very personal decision that can only be made by pet owners themselves, but there’s no doubt that indoor cats are exposed to fewer risks and safety hazards than outdoor cats. Outdoor cats are at risk for contracting contagious diseases and pests/parasites, as well as injuries from other cats and wild animals. They’re also at risk for being hit by a car or wandering off and getting lost or stolen. There are a lot of great reasons to keep your cat indoors but without taking steps to enrich your cat’s indoor life, then there is a chance problems can arise. An enriched environment gives cats the opportunity to create their own positive experiences in an enclosed space and the goal is to create “an environment of plenty”. Follow these 10 tips to keep your cat happy indoors!
1. Provide options to encourage proper scratching.
Scratching is a natural instinct for cats and an important part of maintaining their physical and mental health. Cats scratch to help sharpen their claws, shed old cuticles, stretch, and to leave their scent behind. It’s important to give your cat plenty of options for scratching so they don’t turn their attention towards your furniture and carpets. There are numerous different types of scratchers available and each cat has different scratching preferences, so you might have to try a few different kinds of scratchers before you find the type your cat likes. There are traditional carpeted post scratchers, sisal scratching posts, cardboard scratchers, and more.
2. Find the best litter box for you cat and keep it tidy.
Ensuring your cat has only positive litter box experiences will help avoid unwanted behavior like urinating outside of the box. There are four important factors to consider when it comes to setting up a litter box: hygiene, litter box type and size, litter substrate type, litter box location and number of litter boxes. Litter box hygiene is crucial to ensuring your cat maintains good litter habits as cats are exceptionally clean creatures. In the wild, cats urinate in new clean spots all the time; if we want them to use the same spot each time, we have to keep it clean! Litter boxes should be scooped at least once a day and the boxes cleaned with mild dish soap once a week. Litter box type and litter substrate type will depend on your personal cat’s preferences. Some of the types of litter boxes include: covered vs uncovered, large vs small, automatic/self cleaning vs traditional. There are also countless types of litter available, including clumping and non-clumping clay, pine pellets, paper, and even natural litters like corn, wheat, and grass seed. You may have to try several different types of boxes and litters to find what works best for your cat. Litter boxes should be large enough for you cat to stand up on all fours and turn around in. Litter boxes should be kept in a quiet place away from anything that could startle the cat or make them feel unsafe and should be easily accessible. The golden rule is one litter box per cat PLUS one.
3. Provide plenty of perches and high places for your kitty to explore.
Cats need places that elevate them from ground level. Cats like to climb and perches provide them with a safe place to take in the action from above. The want to know that it’s safe and when they can see their surroundings in addition to being able to hear and smell them, they’re much more comfortable. Cats often like to seek refuge in a high place and it’s important that these spots permit the cat to feel safe from people, loud noises and other animals. A perch is anything that allows them to lie, sit, sleep or look outside from above. Many cat trees and towers provide perches at varying levels and there are also wall mounted shelving and other fixtures made specifically to give your cat a place to climb, explore, and observe. Some cats may even like to climb on top of refrigerators or cabinets, but it’s up to you to determine if those are safe places for your cat to be in your home. A perch is a must have for all cats.
4. Allow your cats to enjoy the outdoors – safely!
There are several ways in which you can allow your pet to watch or participate in the world outside that keep them safe. One option is to offer your cat plenty of places to watch the outside world from your windows. You can place a couch, chair, table, or cat tree in front of the window so your cats can post up and observe. This will keep your cat interested and engaged. You can even make the scenery more attractive for your cat by hanging a bird feeder to attract birds or planting greenery to attract bees, butterflies, and other insects. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can build or buy a catio! Catios are outdoor enclosures typically attached to the main house in some way that allow your cat to enjoy the great outdoors in an enclosed space. Catios come in all different shapes, sizes, and designs. They can be bought or built (if you’re building, you’ll want to ensure that the enclosure is secure). Most cats love being able to explore outside but you can rest easy knowing they aren’t being exposed to some of the risks that being outdoors brings. Some cats can even be trained to walk on a leash with a harness to explore the outdoors with their owner.
5. Provide multiple resting areas for your cat to curl up comfortably.
It may seem like your cat sleeps a lot and that’s becuase they do! On average, cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day and as they get older, that number may even increase. Cats sleep and wake frequently throughout the day and night. It’s important that cats have a quiet, comfortable place to go, especially when they’re spending so much of their day resting . While cats are sleeping, they’re at their most vulnerable, so providing rest areas where they feel safe and secure is very important. Desirable rest areas are usually in quiet, less-traveled areas of the house where cats can escape from the rest of the family, including people and other pets. There are a variety of cat bed options available, from a traditional cat bed to a covered and enclosed hut, but many cat enjoy curling up on a towel or blanket just as much and on the plus side, they can be easier to wash.
6. Make playtime a routine part of your day.
It’s important to keep your cat moving and active every day. Not only is it great for their physical health, it’s also an important part of their mental health as well. Play encourages your cat to be active, helps maintain a healthy body weight and keeps muscles toned and strong. Activities that let your cat express their natural hunting instincts also help keep their mind alert and active. Cat ancestors had to hunt insects, birds, mice and other small animals to survive and while indoor cats today don’t have to do these things, they still possess a natural instinct to hunt and pounce. Each individual cat may have a different preference for the types of toys they enjoy playing with but keeping a variety on hand is recommended. Some of the more popular options inclue wands with toys attached by string, fuzzy critters that squeak and make noises, and balls/pom poms. Cats also enjoy playing with really simple things like a crumbled up wad of paper, the plastic rings off milk jugs, and q-tips. Using catnip is also a great way to enhance the playing experience.
7. Spend quality time with your cat doing what they like.
The bond between cat and owner is an important one. While pet cats display affection differently than dogs, a recent study shows cats can bond just as strongly to their humans as dogs can. Spending quality time with your cat is an important part of fostering the bond between cat and human. Just by providing your cat a safe and happy home, you’re bonding with your cat. If you take good care of your kitty, keep them nourished and safe, and respect their unique personality you will not only be an excellent cat owner, you’ll also likely become their favorite person. Another way to bond with your cat is through playtime, as mentioned in the previous point. Playtime combines attention and exercise, creating feel-good hormones and boosting the connection between you and your cat. Another way to bond is through feeding. Being the one to provide food can bring favor to you and a cat is more likel to bond with a person who they know is providing for them. Lastly, get in those snuggles! Every cat is different in how they like to show and be shown affection, but just by spending time petting, brushing, and rubbing your cat, you’re fostering a bond.
8. Make sure your cat has access to fresh food and clean water.
Because indoor cats are more sedentary than their ancestors and outdoor counterparts, it’s important to monitor how much a cat is being fed. An indoor cat’s nutrition needs are less and it can be easy to overfeed them. Consider feeding scheduled meals as opposed to free feeding so you can ensure your cat only eats what it should. We also recommend considering canned food over dry food. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, with canned food having a much higher moisture content but dry food being much more affordble with a longer shelf life. Fresh, clean water is another important aspect of your pet’s overall health and wellbeing. Like so much of what we’ve already discussed, each cat has different preferences when it comes to drinking water. Some cats prefer to drink from a water bowl while others prefer to drink from a faucet or fountain. Some will not drink water that is nearby a food bowl and others have preferences on the type of bowl their water is in. Figuring our what works best for your cat is sure to enrich their life. You can order your cat’s food online at Pro Plan Vet Direct (https://www.proplanvetdirect.com/customer/account/create/?to=clinic&clinic-id=TMFHI) for free shipping on every order!
9. Don’t make sudden changes.
Change is a part of life, but cats are very sensitive to it and typically don’t like sudden or unexpected change. You can help keep your cat happy by establishing a regular routine and introducing them to new things slowly and carefully. A gradual approach to change will allow your cat to adapt over time rather than be confronted with change all at once. When introducing something new, like a new litterbox or scratcher, try placing the new item next to the old one until your cat is used to it. Then, you can monitor to find out which item your cat prefers. Putting the new and the familiar nearby one another will allow you to monitor for your cat’s preferences.
10. Be an informed owner.
Educate yourself on cats and their behavior – it will help you better understand your cat. Humans (and many other mammals) are pack species but cats are an independent species. For example, we might prefer to go to our cat for play but our cat might prefer to come to us for play or we might prefer longer, less frequent visits while cats prefer shorter, more frequent visits. By being aware of cat behavior and adapting to their needs, you can ensure that your develop the best relationship possible with your cat and can provide them the best environment.
The best indicator of your cat’s health and welfare is regularly seeing these healthy behaviors:
-Activity – confidently explores and uses the living space, including climbing and perching.
-Interaction – initiates brief, frequent interactions with others in the house.
-Food and Water Consumption – indoor-housed cats usually eat small meals and drink over the course of the day
-Elimination Behavior – most cats use the litter box 2-4 times a day
-Weight Loss or Gain – 10% either way can be important. You can monitor this using regular weighing or body condition scoring
-Grooming – normally cats gently groom the entire body 2-3 times a day.
-Sleeping Habits – sleeps in view, in favored places
-Vocalizing – cats have different voices; you can learn what is normal for your cat so you can notice any changes.
The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has an excellent resource online called the Indoor Cat Initiative (https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/basic-indoor-cat-needs). We highly suggest indoor cat owners check out their website to access great information about how to enrich your indoor cat’s life.