From Pets Best, a U.S. dog and cat health insurance agency founded in 2005.
As pet owners, you want the very best for your furry family member. By keeping your cat indoors, you ensure his safety and reduce his chance of injury and illness. However, indoor cats also have potential health risks. For indoor cats, lack of exercise and boredom can lead to physical and emotional stress.
A study conducted by Ohio State University found that healthy cats show signs of illness when they are stressed. However, cats diagnosed with common inflammatory diseases such as feline interstitial cystitis (sterile inflammation of the bladder) became healthier when stress levels were reduced. Your indoor cat may not act like he is under stress, but feline health problems could indicate otherwise.
Observe how cats act in the wild and create a similar environment in your home. Bring the outdoors inside by following these tips below and give your indoor cat a safe, happy and healthy home.
1. Give cats their private, personal space
Territory is very important to cats, especially if they share the same household with other pets. Some cats are friendly and social, but most cats are independent by nature. They need a private space where they can hide and feel safe.
Competition among cats in the same house is one of the most common causes for behavioral problems such as urine spraying, defecating or urinating outside the litter box, and destructive scratching. Each cat should have his own space, including a separate litter box, feeding station, and a separate area for play and sleep.
2. Feed indoor cats a healthy diet and provide plenty of water
Cats in the wild hunt for their food and may eat up to 20 small meals a day. While hunting, they get frequent exercise when roaming for food and water. By keeping cats indoors, you create a sedentary situation. Indoor cats don’t have to work for their food compared to outdoor pets. Often, they consume too many calories and don’t exercise enough. Lack of exercise leads to weight gain and obesity and puts them at a higher risk for feline diabetes.
It’s important to feed indoor cats mostly canned food. Canned food gives them much-needed moisture and protein in their diet. Make sure that fresh water is always available to your pet. Cats also enjoy drinking from moving water fixtures such as a fountain or fish tank bubbler placed in their bowl.
Cats also love to chew on grass and plants and it also helps them with their digestion. Before purchasing plants, research plants that are non-toxic and won’t make cats sick. Find organic greens such as catnip or catmint to reduce the cat’s exposure to pesticides.
3. Provide a quiet, cozy sleeping area
Cats need a cozy place to sleep that is quiet and safe, and most cats like to sleep alone. They enjoy curling up in blanket or cat bed or sometimes sleep inside a box or basket. Often, cats like to sleep in high places where they are safe and can watch their surroundings.
Try to accommodate their sleeping needs as much as possible. Cats have a sleep and wake cycle that constantly fluctuates. In the wild, cats hunt multiple times a day so they nap often to maintain their high activity level. Keep your cat happy by providing multiple comfortable napping spots throughout your home.
4. Make sure indoor cats get plenty of exercise
Encourage your cat to exercise by placing scratching posts throughout the house. Use a variety of options including horizontal and vertical posts and posts made from different materials such as sisal rope and cardboard. Place scratching posts near busy areas of the house so your cat is more likely to use them. Add a scratching post to his favorite sleeping spot, so he can stretch and flex muscles and allows him to mark his scent.
Cats are naturally curious and enjoy watching their surroundings from a safe and hidden distance. Multiple perches on windows and sturdy bookcases also encourage jumping and movement throughout the day. Place feeding bowls off the ground but make sure cats with arthritis can still comfortably reach the bowl. By changing the location of the food dish or hiding small food portions throughout the house, this encourages cats to exercise and hunt for their food.
5. Entertain and stimulate cats with interactive toys and games
Because cats get bored easily with their toys, rotate new toys every 1 to 2 weeks. Playtime keeps them active and stimulated so they don’t get into mischief. These are fun, interactive toys and games to play indoors with your cat:
• Large cardboard boxes – to play and hide inside
• Catnip stuffed socks
• Non-toxic cat bubbles
• Play-and-treat feeding ball
• Laser light pointers – never point at the cat’s eyes
• Drag a shoelace on the floor
• Toss a ball or kibble across a hard surface/floor
• Play hide-n-seek with your cat
Harness train your cat so he can venture outdoors and enjoy the fresh air while still being closely supervised. Screened, outdoor enclosures also allow indoor cats to roam safely outdoors. If your cat is alone during the day, play soothing music or videos just for cats or adopt a companion cat so he has a playmate. Remember to slowly introduce cats to each other and give them plenty of space.
6. Place litter boxes in convenient locations
Place litter boxes in clean, safe and convenient spots throughout your home. Follow these litter box tips to prevent behavioral issues such as urine marking or defecating outside the box:
• Provide a minimum of one box per cat and at least one box per level of house
• Place boxes in separate locations around the house
• Use unscented litter that’s easy to scoop – preferably low dust
• Don’t place the box near noisy appliances or air ducts
• Scoop the box at least once daily
• Clean the entire box monthly with mild dish liquid detergent and water – do not use disinfectant cleaning products because they can be toxic to pets
• Experiment with different types of boxes – some cats don’t like covered litter boxes because they feel trapped
By creating a healthy and happy home environment, you provide your indoor cat with a stress-free quality of life and decreases his risk of developing future health issues.
This article has been adapted from an original article written by veterinarian Dr. Jane Matheys for Pets Best.