Cat owners keep their pets indoors for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of safety. Everyone knows the dangers that abound outdoors for felines, and considering that indoor cats live longer and have safer lives than their outdoor counterparts, it’s a good idea to keep them inside! However a safe cat may not be a happy cat if we don’t provide the needed enrichment. In reality, lots of feline behavioral problems are caused by…us. So how do we recreate the outdoor experience for our indoor cats?
Cats have an innate need to stretch, perch, hunt, and fulfill their prey drive. Even well fed and safe housecats have a need to follow the call of the species. If they can’t they can end up frustrated and bored, and this can impact their physical and mental well being. In shelter jargon it’s called enriching their environment. Kitties need to have their days include eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, scratching, hunting, napping, sleeping and just playing! Here are some ways to make your house a world to explore for your feline companions:
Invest in a nice, tall cat tree! Cats love to climb and perch up high, survey their kingdom and watch for predators. Be sure your tree is sturdy and stable so it doesn’t tip over and defeat the purpose! Give them lots of opportunity to climb on it!
A perch providing a view of the great outdoors is a must! Outside creatures are like HDTV for indoor kitties. Simply placing a chair by the window so your cat can sit on the back and enjoy the view is all it takes. Some folks have window seats with blankets. Since cats can see much better than we can, this window provides 24 hour a day entertainment. They can watch at night for whatever prey they can spy, even if the blinds are only open a few inches for them to peek out.
Scratching posts! Cats love to stretch and scratch. It invigorates them and gets rid of the dead parts of their nails. The right scratching post should allow your cat to get up on their back legs and stretch to the tip of their toes as high as they can! Too long is always better than too short. Some cats enjoy corrugated cardboard, some are into tree bark, others prefer rope textures and some adore carpet. Experiment with your kitties and discover together what fits their needs.
Litter boxes! Clean and welcoming litter boxes make for a happy cat! Location is everything, so place them in quiet, easily accessible places. Be mindful not to place them where loud or unexpected noises happen (dishwashers, furnaces, washers and dryers). Cats like to feel secure and using the bathroom can make anyone feel a little vulnerable, let alone cats! They want to see what is going on around them while they take care of their business, so one inexpensive option are the clear deep storage container about 2 ½ feet long by 1 ½ feet wide or bigger. Cats like to freely turn around and scratch and that takes space. Some cats prefer to urinate to the side, so a higher side is helpful. Inexpensive unscented scoopable litter is best so you can frequently and easily scoop it out and keep it fresh for the next visit to the kitty commode. Lots of cats really don’t like the perfume scents that we may find appealing. These kitty bathrooms are for the cats, so get several, always at least one more than the number of cats in your home! Some cats can consider certain places in your home as “theirs” and can be finicky enough to only use a particular type of box in a certain location. This is one demand the smart cat owner is wise to give into!
Playthings! If it buzzes, chirps, crinkles, soars, or is filled with catnip….it’s a keeper! Catnip filled elongated soft toys that a cat can wrap itself around are furbulous! Did you know you can take spare toys and store them in the big container of catnip for future use? Buy lots of different sorts of toys and rotate them throughout the week to keep them fresh and exciting! Those wand toys with feathers or fur are always a blast for you to interact with your cat! Swung and twirled in the air, the feathers will often mimic birds or other fuzzy flying creatures.
Preferences. Just like people, it’s different strokes for different folks when it comes to cats. You see this in the shelter every day. Some cats want glitter balls to bat around, other want squeaky fur mice, some want the plastic balls with a bell inside. Some want feather toys to tackle, other the circle track with a ball they paw at to move through the course. Still others are enamored with a paper bag or a cardboard box with a hole cut in it! Watch your cat when he plays and find his favorites!
It helps if you can think like your cat does. Outdoor cats don’t have a place setting for their meals. They hunt and stalk, pounce and eat. Puzzle feeders, hiding treats in various locations in the house, and similar tactics make for a fine feline dining experience. Of course do keep bowls of kibble and water available daily!
Cats like to feel safe and secure so it is majorly important to provide that for your indoor friends. An area in the home where they can have a private and quiet retreat is a safe zone. If you watch kitty, you maybe able to see they have already chosen some spots. Maybe it’s your closet, or the top of the china hutch, or on a seldom used chair in a corner. The smart cat owner provides this area, complete with food, water and a litter box, to give a place to escape to safely when noisy visitors or even yappy Chihuahuas come to visit! It can also provide that extra measure of safety and comfort come Halloween or actually ANY holiday when the thought of dashing out the door might seem like a good idea.
Some cats fancy nibbling on grass. Yes, cats are primarily carnivores (meat eaters), many cats are fond of vegetables and other plants when the mood is right. It is instinctual. Think about it. Our housecats evolved from species of big cats who ate the entire animal they caught, and many of those animals were herbivores! Many of the animals that made up their diet were herbivores (plant eaters), and these ancestors ended up eating a lot of grass and plants from the stomachs and intestines of their prey animals. So it is normal for cats to nibble houseplants, but it is better to provide them with cat grass and be sure to give any toxic houseplants to friends without cats.
Water is essential to good health in every living creature. It certainly keeps our cats healthy and happy, but most cats don’t get enough water in their diet because we don’t provide fresh water in clean bowls as we should! In short, wash bowls at least weekly and replenish with clean, fresh water daily! Many cats love running water such as that from a faucet, so many owners treat their cats to the luxury of a periodic turn at the tapwater! If that makes you uneasy, there are a variety of pet fountains to choose from to make your cat purrfectly happy. As a rule of thumb, multiple cat homes need to provide multiple areas to eat and drink so different cats can not only feel safe but have individual food preferences and needs addressed.
Taste. Cats do not have nearly the number of taste buds we do, so taste isn’t their main motivation when choosing food. Actually smell and texture tantalize them. Blah room temperature foods are usually just unappealing. Now warming the food makes it smellier and consequently appealing…if only to them! Some cats prefer a gravy-like consistency while others like “chunky” foods, so experiment to find your cats’ choice.
Grooming… its not just for dogs! Brushing your cat not only makes their skin and hair healthier, but allows for needed bonding and helps the owner identify new lumps or bumps which could be of concern and should be checked by your vet to ensure kitty’s long and healthy life.
The amount of time a cat sleeps can vary but generally ranges from 13 to 16 hours each day. Provide a place that feels comfortable and safe. Comfort includes the right temperature and warmth. During the summer cats often seek out shaded sleeping spots while on chillier days a sunny spot is premium real estate.
Cats have 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses! They can detect the presence of other cats outside the home and can identify any strange animals you’ve come in contact with just by smelling your clothes. Opening the window to let the multitude of smells from outdoors in is a welcome diversion for your cat.
Try different things to enriching your cat’s environment to chase away a boring day and encourage them to enjoy a life inside your safe and loving home.