Many people believe it must be a boring life to live indoors all the time, as in the case of indoor cats. However, if you put yourself in your cat’s shoes, imagine what a luxurious life you have. You can lounge around every day in your favourite sun spot, you do not have to go to work or school, you are always protected from predators, your human companions are there to play with you, you receive a steady supply of kisses and back rubs, and food magically arrives daily into your special food dish. What a life.
In fact, indoor cats live longer and healthier lives than outdoor cats because they are far less likely to get injured in a fight or car accident or acquire deadly infectious diseases. They also have a much lower chance of acquiring a zoonotic disease (a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans) or bringing home a dead rodent that is harboring disease. However, indoor cats are more likely to develop obesity due to inactivity and overfeeding, along with other health problems associated with obesity. It may also be difficult for owners to convert their outdoor cats to indoor cats when necessary. For example, when the owner tries to keep the cat indoors (i.e. in the case where the sick cat needs to be monitored) the cat might meow incessantly at the door until he/she is let out. Many owners cannot stand it and will eventually give in, or they think it is cruel to strip the cat of the one thing that keeps him/her active. There are many ways to make every day an interesting adventure for your indoor feline companion while protecting him/her from the dangers of the outdoors.
Keeping your cat active and entertained will not only have health benefits, but it will prevent boredom and keep your cat’s brain sharp. The following are a few tips to enrich your cat’s environment.
An obvious addition to any cat’s environment is toys. Different types of balls, stuffed mice, toys with bells, and a wide assortment of toys are available at any pet store. Ping pong balls placed into a bathtub make an interactive toy because the ball will keep moving back towards the drain due to the angle of the tub. Avoid leaving the cat alone with yarn, string, or toys attached to a string because the cat could accidentally swallow the string and it may become a serious emergency.
Cats are curious creatures that enjoy having places to play hide and seek. Open cardboard boxes and paper bags make safe and inexpensive toys to enrich your cat’s playground. It is amusing to watch how a cat can pretend that he/she is hidden completely when his/her head is in a paper bag, but the rest of the body remains outside of the bag.
Cats have a natural instinct to stretch and scratch on vertical objects such as trees. It was once believed that cats did this to ‘sharpen their nails’, but it is more likely a means to spread their scent and stretch their toes because declawed cats still perform this behaviour. To encourage your cat to use a scratching post instead of your prized furniture, provide a post that is sturdy and is tall enough so the cat can stretch his/her entire body out vertically. Cats will not use an unsteady post that cannot support its weight. Place the post in a place that is easily accessible to the cat. Near his/her favourite napping spot is a good location because cats like to stretch shortly after waking up. Catnip may be used to encourage the cat to use the post. Lavish praise and petting is important as positive reinforcement when the cat uses the post.
Many owners use catnip to encourage their cat to play with a certain toy or just to watch their cat go crazy for a few minutes. Catnip is a herb belonging to the mint family that contains a chemical that is similar to hallucinogens. It is not harmful to cats and it usually causes a temporary ‘frisky’ response where the cat rolls in or rubs against the catnip for a few minutes. Not all cats respond to catnip, but most do. You can grow a catnip garden with catnip, catmint, and grasses like oats, rye and barley for your cat to chew on. You can use several planters and place them at different locations in the house. The same can be done for your cat’s food. They can be partition up and placed in various locations of the house so your cat will have to search for his/her food. Some cats enjoy drinking from a running water tap because the water is fresher. Consider adding a drinking water fountain for cats to keep the water moving continuously.
Cats like to see the world from an elevated angle. They seek high places to nap and enjoy observing the world around them. It is a good idea to have some window perches available or indoor climbing trees for the cat to climb. For the older cat that is having troubles jumping to high places, you can construct a series of shelves with sturdy boxes to allow the cat to climb by jumping from box to box.
Puzzles and creative toys can provide hours of entertainment for your cat while you are away during the day. A cardboard boxed with holes cut into it placed over a catnip toy or ball will allow your cat to reach through and bat at the toy. Treat balls are also available that dispense treats slowly as the toy is played with.
Cats also like to chase, pounce, and hunt. You can attach feathers or rolled up pieces of cardboard to a wire or stuffed toys strings with a wand to create a toy that bounces around. These toys encourage your cat to jump and ‘hunt’ like a real lion. Instead of just watching TV on the couch at night, include your cat by playing with him/her during the program, or at least during commercials. You can make time to play with your cat, even if it is just for a few minutes of the day.
Windows provide not only humans with a view of the outside world, but your cat appreciates the view as well. Provide your cat with an accessible window that he/she can look out from. The window should be closed or protected well enough so the cat cannot break though the bug screen or escape. This gives the cat the opportunity to observe the world outside and sniff some fresh air. Many cats will stay by a window with a good view for hours, especially if there are squirrels or birds outside. Making an outside enclosure with wire netting is also a great way to give your cat some fresh air and stimulation while ensuring that he/she does not escape. You can put climbing branches and toys in the enclosure to make it interactive as well.
Having another feline companion will provide your cat with a friend to play and snuggle with. Littermates make great companions that tend to get along well. Introducing a new cat or kitten to your current cat may require some time for both felines to adjust, but many cats will get along. Some cats will not tolerate another cat in his/her territory, or become jealous as the new addition gets all the attention. Introduce them gradually in neutral territory, respect the original cat’s status, and give the felines a few weeks to adjust. Most cats will adapt well and will eventually enjoy one another’s company.
Cats generally make good pets for people with small children because a well socialized cat is very tolerant of kids. If a toddler or child goes after the cat and the cat does not want to be bothered, it will just run away instead of turning and biting the child. Cats are also less protective over their owners than a dog may be. Therefore, you can involve the children when thinking of ways to keep your cat active. Children can play with the cat using toys, such as throwing ping pong balls or playing with a toy attached to a string. Remember, toys with strings should not be left alone with a cat. Under adult supervision, a laser pointer beam could be used for cats to chase. For very young children, the key to safety is adult supervision.
Finally, cats can be trained to use a leash when outdoors with their owner. Although most cats do not walk down the street alongside their owners like dogs do, cats can be accustomed to having a leash on and knowing their limits. A harness attached to a leash is most commonly used. Being on a leash prevents the cat from getting lost or hit by a car while allowing him/her to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors under your supervision. Remember that it is a good idea to have a collar with ID tags on when your cat is outdoors in the event that he/she escapes from the harness. It is also important to remember never to leave your cat tied outdoors unattended, even for a few minutes because the leash could get caught somewhere and strangle the cat or the cat may escape.
There are many ways to entertain your cat and keep him/her active and healthy into the older years. Be creative and most of all, have fun!
By Amy Cheung – Pets.ca writer