It is well-known that cats which are allowed outdoors are prone to many more dangers and risks such as fast-moving traffic, cat fights, infections and predation from other animals such as dogs, as well as posing a threat to local wildlife. In fact, cats which are kept exclusively indoors have more than double the lifespan of cats allowed outside. Therefore, for these reasons, many people have chosen to keep their pets as “indoor cats”.
However, cats kept indoors all the time can also develop health and behavioural problems – mainly due to the lack of stimulation and activity which they would otherwise receive as a free-roaming animal. This can be remedied, though, by thoughtful environmental enrichment so that your cat has enough things to do in your home to keep him happy and healthy.
So here are some ways to make life more interesting for your indoor cat:
Most cats have a natural hunting instinct and a strong, innate chase response, beginning from young kittenhood. Therefore, you can satisfy this urge by providing toys for your cat to chase and pounce on. Favourites include small fluffy or furry items, ping pong balls that roll and bounce erratically when touched and small pieces of scrunched up paper. Almost anything small tied to the end of a string will give hours of entertainment, particularly if one end is tied to a fixed point to allow the ‘prey’ to swing freely. Or even better if you are manipulating the string and whipping the ‘prey’ around the cat, encouraging them to chase and jump after it. Another popular item with many cat owners is a laser point light which produces a bright, red dot of light which most cats enjoy chasing.
One of the favourite things for many cats to do is to sit somewhere safe and watch the world go by. A view of a constantly changing scene can keep them entertained for hours. This can be simply done just by providing them with a comfortable window seat so that they can look out and watch the street or garden, with the attendant people, traffic and animals and birds going past. Installing a bird bath or bird feeder near the viewing window can provide even more stimulation and entertainment for your cat – ‘Kitty TV’ as it were!
Indoor Jungle Gym
Many indoor cats become obese through inactivity as the average home does not provide that many opportunities for climbing and moving around in athletic ways. You can try to replicate the more adventurous walkways outdoors by providing high level walkways throughout your house, so that your cat can make full use of the height of your rooms. This can be done using shelves strategically placed between pieces of tall furniture, combined with climbing posts at various points in the house. You can also incorporate a commercially bought “indoor cat tree” or tall scratching post, with multiple levels, climbing frames and hammocks.
Many cats like to spend long periods curled up in a warm, dark ‘hidey-hole’ where they feel secure as they watch the activity around them. Providing such places is especially important for anxious cats and when you have more than one indoor cat living together. Many cats also love to investigate holes and other hiding places and you can easily indulge this by saving cardboard boxes and paper bags for them to explore and play in.
Cats naturally have the urge to scratch and sharpen their claws and they can become frustrated if they cannot find a suitable surface. So to help them (and save your furniture!), make sure you provide suitable scratching posts in your house. Ideally, they should have a loosely woven material on their surface which your cat can drag its claws through.
While cats are carnivores, they do enjoy browsing on various grasses occasionally. You can simulate this indoors by planting pots of cat grass, cat mint and/or catnip for your cat to nibble on. Many cats will visit these plants each day to sniff, chew and even roll in the fragrant herbs.
Cats love having their curiosity teased and one fun way to do this is to create a mystery ‘entertainment box’ for them. These can be commercially bought from pet stores but it is just as easy to create one yourself. You simply put small objects inside a cardboard box and cut out holes just big enough for your cat to put his paws through but through which it would be very difficult to remove the small objects inside.
Foraging for Food
In the wild, a lot of an animal’s time would be taken up with finding food and this can still be a way to keep our pets enjoyably occupied. Instead of just presenting your cat’s food in a bowl, why not try using a small treat ball or even just scattering the pieces around the house for your cat to find?
It might sound unbelievable to many people but cats CAN be trained to obey simply commands such as Sit, Lie Down, Come and Retrieve, through the use of positive reinforcement training. Use very small pieces of very tasty food as a reward and break each task down into small steps. Once your cat has learnt several commands, you can try giving them in random order at various points in the day – this will add complexity and challenge to your cat’s daily life.
Finally, many people think that the answer to a bored indoor cat is to get another feline companion. However, while many cats will take happily to a new feline friend, equally as many will hate the new arrival and start up guerrilla warfare. So think carefully before you proceed. In general, the younger the cat, the greater the chance of success and of them accepting each other and becoming friends. Introducing adult cats, especially when the older resident has been there for a long time, may result in a lot of fighting and urine spraying and even one cat leaving home. Be patient, let them get used to each other gradually and try to let them experience pleasurable things together (such as feeding next to each other) to encourage tolerance of each other.