Recently with the warmer weather, we are finding there are lots of LOST and FOUND cats in our area. We encourage all of our clients to keep their cats indoors. Indoor cats live FAR LONGER than outdoor cats — what with hazards like cars, cactus, rattlesnakes, coyotes, other cats, and neighboring dogs; the outside is a very dangerous place for a feline. Many people worry that keeping their cat indoors is “cruel,” however if indoor cats provided with adequate stimulation and play indoor cats lead long, happy, and healthy lives.
A cute kitty lounging in the sun in her outdoor enclosure.
I want to get a cat but I live on a very busy main road so I am thinking of keeping it indoors. Is that cruel?
There are many circumstances in which keeping a cat indoors may be safer for the cat and therefore, arguably, better for the cat. Indoor cats are at lower risk for injuries associated with the outdoor environment and are at far less risk of contracting parasites and infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis and feline immunodeficiency virus. Studies have consistently shown that urban cats that go outdoors have far shorter life spans (averaging 2 years or less), while most indoor cats will live over 15 years. Keeping cats indoors also prevents killing of wildlife, fouling of neighborhood yards, and fighting with other cats. Depending on your cat’s personality, it may be safer for other cats and wildlife in the neighborhood if you keep your cat indoors.
If you decide to keep your cat as an indoor pet, you will need to be very aware of the extra responsibility that an indoor cat brings. You must take the time and trouble to ensure that the indoor environment offers the cat the opportunity to express as many of its natural behaviors as possible.
What do I need to do to make my indoor cat happy?
The most important thing for you to consider when you decide to keep a cat indoors is how you are going to provide for its behavioral needs. Obviously you will have thought about the need for food, water, elimination, and warmth, but have you considered your cat’s need to hunt, play, and explore? Providing a consistent daily routine that provides for all of the behavioral needs of your cat is not difficult but it does require some time, some thought and some commitment.
Why does my cat need to hunt when I feed it so well?
The feline desire to hunt is not connected to the sensation of hunger and no matter how well you feed your cat it will still react to the sight and sound of prey with an instinctive stalk. Obviously indoor cats are unlikely to come across natural prey, but anything that moves rapidly or squeaks in a high pitch can trigger the same behavioral response. Both social play and object play toys are therefore essential for an indoor cat. Toys that squeak and those that can be moved rapidly and unpredictably are irresistible to some cats while of no interest to others. You can also select toys that mimic real prey in terms of size, texture and color. Small toys are usually more successful but caution must be exercised to be sure they cannot be accidentally ingested and cause intestinal blockage. Play sessions for indoor cats need to be frequent and regular and if your cat is interested and willing you should aim to give at least three play sessions every day. Recent studies seem to indicate that while the cat may tire of a chase toy in just a few minutes, the desire to chase new and different toys may remain and even be heightened. Therefore, try and offer two or three chase sessions in a row with different toys to ensure that your cat is truly finished rather than just bored with a particular toy. Stuffing or coating the toy with food or catnip may also help to maintain and prolong its interest. You can have hours of fun playing with your cat, but remember that it is the chase and hunting action that is generally more important than the social contact so be certain to provide a variety of toys that your cat can chase and attack. It is also vital that you do not allow your cat to use the human body as “prey” since this can eventually lead to injurious consequences. Therefore, hands and feet under the covers and running fingers across the back of the sofa are not advisable.
How do I ensure that my cat has enough to occupy its time?
One of the most important considerations for an indoor cat is how you are going to occupy it 24 hours a day. Of course cats are famous for their desire to sleep and it is certainly true that most cats will be happy to wile away many an hour sleeping in a warm or sunny spot. However, indoor cats do need access to activity that will stimulate both their mind and their body and provide the exercise that they would naturally engage in if they were out and about. “Cat Trees” offer climbing, hiding and playing opportunities and can be ideal for indoor cats. Scratching posts are also essential, since there is no opportunity for your cat to condition its claws on the shed roof or the fence post. You need to make sure that the post is tall enough to allow your cat to get a good position on the scratching surface.
Does my cat need to climb?
The picture of a cat stuck in a tree or stranded on a roof top is a familiar one but the fact is that cats need to climb. Getting up high is an important way to relieve stress in the feline world and when your cat is feeling under pressure its instinct will be to move upwards this may be especially necessary in homes with multiple cats. It is therefore very important to have accessible high up resting places. Tops of fridge freezers, bookcases and stereo hi-fi cabinets are all popular resting places for cats, but if all of the furniture in your house is built-in you will need to make special provision for your cat in the form of shelves and radiator cradles. High vantage points allow your cat to observe the world from a place of safety and escape if it feels the need to do so.
If my cat hides on top of the furniture or spends its time behind the sofa should I be concerned?
Hiding is an important coping strategy for cats and when a cat is spending considerable amounts of time hiding it is important to examine why. In a cat that has recently moved into a home hiding may be a perfectly normal response to the overwhelming amount of new information. In a cat that has been resident in the house for some time hiding is likely to be a sign that all is not well either emotionally or perhaps physically. If hiding persists and is accompanied by lack of appetite you should consult your veterinarian for advice. Feliway spray or diffusers can be useful in some of these cases for reducing anxiety.
I would like to give my cat some fresh air but I am not sure if it will walk on a lead is there any alternative?
Some cats may need to be kept permanently indoors and this can work as long as owners are aware of the responsibility that it brings. For others access to outdoors needs to be restricted, but owners would like to offer some contact with the world outside and in these cases there are a number of alternatives. The harness and lead approach is certainly one, but you are right to mention the fact that not all cats will learn to walk in this way. Introducing harnesses as early as possible will help and making a kitten accustomed to the lead will minimize resistance to its use as an adult.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB
© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. June 5, 2013