Many cat owners decide to keep their cat permanently indoors. There may be many reasons for this, such as having a pedigree cat, living in a flat, living near a busy main road or they may simply be of the view that their cat is safer indoors.
Cats are generally independent and solitary creatures but they still have strong social needs. It is important that these needs are met if you have decided that your cat is going to be an indoor one and not going to be having access to the outside.
A solitary indoor cat will rely on its owner to meet all of its basic needs such as food and toileting as well as providing stimulation, companionship, and exercise.
There are many anxieties/stress-related psychological as well as physical problems in cats that are kept permanently indoors. A lack of exercise can lead to an indoor cat developing weight problems, which may result in long term health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
If your cat is kept alone for long periods, he may develop separation anxiety and destructive behavioural problems. These can be displayed in many different forms and are an indication that all is not well with your cat.
Behaviour such as scent-marking within the home, going to the toilet outside of the litter box, or urinating on your belongings are often indications of loneliness and separation anxiety. Another indication of stress in a cat is over-grooming or pulling out their fur. These behaviours are a sure sign that your indoor cat is not a happy one!
Indoor cats may become over-sensitive to changes within the small territory of their home and struggle to cope with change, such as new people, objects, or smells. Cats are territorial creatures and it may be difficult to introduce a new cat or person to your cat’s restricted territory.
Routine is very important for cats and indoor cats especially can become stressed or anxious when the normal routine within their four walls is disrupted.
Feeding times should be more or less at the same time every day and in the same place. The litter box should be kept in the same place and cleaned regularly. Try not to leave your cat alone for long periods and if you work, try to return at the same time each day so your cat knows when to expect you home. Maintaining a consistent care routine will ensure that your indoor cat is happy!
Keeping your cat entertained
The cat is a natural hunter and if he cannot go outside he may become bored and frustrated and may develop behavioural and stress-related problems. You will have to be imaginative to keep your indoor cat happy and content.
If your living space is on the small size, you could provide an elevated space for your cat by expanding upwards with climbing trees and towers or even space on a high shelf which has been cleared of books, ornaments, etc. Cats feel more secure when they are high up off the ground.
Cats usually keep their claws trim by scratching tree trunks or bits of wood outside. Scratching is a natural and basic need in cats. As well as keeping their claws in shape, cats scratch to exercise the muscles in their paws and leave their scent. If a scratching post is not provided your cat will scratch your carpets and furniture. There are many shapes and designs of scratching post, the best are those that allow your adult cat to stretch fully.
Regardless of your cat’s age, it is vital to provide plenty of new toys and games to keep your indoor cat stimulated and exercised, physically and mentally and lots of chances to explore things within the home. Playtime is important to prevent boredom and frustration and prevent your cat from sleeping all the time. Provide catnip toys, interactive toys/puzzles, cat play centres, feather fishing rod toys, laser pointers etc which encourage stalking and pouncing.
When you are at home, schedule daily play sessions with your cat. Interactive play is the best, giving them quality time to get involved in activities that allow your cat to exercise his hunting instincts. Toys that resemble prey, such as mice and birds are popular with cats. You can move these around so that he has to catch them and simulate his hunting behaviour, at the same stimulating his mind and keeping his body active. Change the toys often and find out which are his favourite!
Cats love sunning themselves and looking outdoors. Provide your cat with a “room with a view.” Give your cat unobstructed access to at least one window with an interesting view, so he can watch the world go by and sun himself. Add perches, if possible, hang bird and squirrel feeders outside of the windows your cat looks out of the most. If possible, leave windows open to allow for fresh air for your cat.
Many cats are fascinated with fish aquariums and even mechanical aquariums with fake fish. You could also try running ‘cat videos’ on the TV featuring close up-footage of birds and rodents.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they eat animal tissue and very little carbohydrates. Feed your cat a “good” quality brand of wet food in a variety of flavours. The best way of telling the difference between a good and not so good product is by checking the food label: The first ingredient should be meat. Avoid products that contain corn and rice. These are fillers that are responsible for bulking out the food and are of no nutritional benefit to your cat.
Check whether the cat food is “complete” or “complementary.” Complete means the food has all the nutrients the cat needs. Complimentary means that you will need to feed another source of food to make up the missing nutrients.
Some people choose to supplement their cat’s diet with dry food, in which case you should choose high meat, grain-free option. Cats that are fed dry food only are prone to obesity and diabetes than cats that are fed wet food. This is partly due to the high carbohydrate level in dry food and the fact that the cat normally has free access to dry food.
Provide opportunities for your indoor cat to “hunt” for food. Allowing your cat to graze all day on its food may lead to your cat overeating, which could lead to obesity. Rather allow your cat to work or hunt for a portion of food by hiding food throughout the house or placing it in food dispensing toys. You could also make use of a timed pet feeder if your cat is prone to overeating.
If you have more than one cat in your household try feeding them in different areas as cats like space when they eat. This will also avoid food bullying.
Food should be placed away from the water bowl and litter tray. Your cat may prefer a water fountain if he enjoys drinking running water.
Outdoor cats love eating and rubbing up against the grass. Provide your indoor cat with the opportunity to eat grass which you can buy from most pet or online shops. You can even grow your own!
Ensure that the litter tray is large enough for your cat to move around in and dig properly to cover their toilet. Most cats prefer litter trays without hoods (though some shy cats may feel more secure with a litter tray cover).
In multi-cat households ensure that you have one litter tray per cat plus an extra one in a different location in the house.
Fuss & attention
The day can be a very long and boring one for an indoor cat. Although cats are self-sufficient creatures they still need companionship. Set aside time to bond with your cat, allowing him to sit with you, petting, grooming, and generally making a fuss of him. It’s also a good way for you to unwind after a hard day!
Two is company
Most feline behaviourists agree that indoor cats are less likely to suffer from boredom and separation anxiety if they have the companionship of a second cat. Sharing the house with another living creature, while you’re away, helps break the loneliness and monotony of an indoor-only life. While it is true that not all cats will warm to the idea of having a friend, when properly introduced, cats will usually tolerate each other. If they became playmates, there is the added benefit of exercise and mental stimulation.
Supervised outside access
It is important to provide exercise opportunities for your indoor cat as a sedentary lifestyle may lead to obesity and long term health, as well as behavioural problems. If your cat is not able to go outside unsupervised, you may want to consider ‘cat proofing’ your garden, enclosing your garden or building a run within your garden. Such areas would allow your cat to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world. You could also try teaching your cat to learn to walk on a collar and lead to give him the chance to explore the great outdoors. Just make sure your cat’s flea/worming treatments are up to date as well as his annual vaccinations.
Happy indoor cat!
Understanding your cat’s basic behaviour and origins will help you see how you can enrich your cat’s environment, which will enable your cat to have the happiest life it can, especially if it is going to be confined indoors for the rest of its natural life.
Some more information which you may find helpful in caring for your indoor cat: