There's no question that keeping your feline friends confined inside your home protects them from many hazards of the outside world: getting lost, getting run over by cars, being attacked by other animals, and being exposed to infectious diseases and parasites. But the inside cat has its own set of problems to deal with: boredom and weight gain being the primary ones. You want to provide the best life experience for your kitty. Here are a few tips to help keep him or her safe AND happy.
It's a Dangerous World Out There!
According to a UCDavis Veterinary Medicine paper, cats kept indoors live an average of 10-15 years compared with 2-5 years for cats allowed to go outside. The reason for this difference is that outdoor or indoor/outdoor cats are exposed to many dangers.
- Cats are not streetwise and can easily be hit by a car.
- They may come in contact with other outside cats or feral cats and be infected with diseases such as feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Abscesses from cat bites are also common in outdoor cats.
- Roaming cats may get lost, be trapped by angry neighbors, or get stuck up a tree or telephone pole.
- They can be attacked by dogs and other animals.
- They are exposed to parasites in the environment and from eating birds and rodents.
A word of caution: If you do allow your cat outside, do not put a bell around his or her neck. If the cat gets lost, it will not be able to catch prey to survive.
Your Indoor Cat Faces Problems Too
Although an indoor cat doesn't face all the hazards of the outside world, they do have health threats of a different nature. Living entirely indoors can lead to boredom and stress. Stress can impair the immune system, leaving your cat more susceptible to certain conditions such as hyperthyroidism, dental disease, irritable bowel disease, diabetes, over grooming/hair balls and more. Because these cats are generally less active, they are also prone to unhealthy weight gain.
The Best of Both Worlds
So how can you make your cat as safe as possible, while also creating a healthy, happy environment? You want your furry friend to be around as long as possible, so keeping your cat from roaming the neighborhood is obviously the best choice. But there are things you can do and provide that will stimulate your cat and prevent the threats that indoor cats face.
Outside cats spend large amounts of time hunting their prey. Indoor cats walk over to the food bowl. So not only do indoor cats not get that exercise, they tend to overeat because food is always available, and they often eat out of boredom. Consider dividing your cat's food into 6 or 7 small meals per day instead of free-feeding. You might hide pieces of kibble around the house so your kitty has to hunt for them, throw pieces of kibble past your cat so he or she has to leap for it, or use a treat toy that will make them work for their food and help with boredom.
One good option for giving your kitty the outside experience minus the dangers is to provide an outdoor cat enclosure where he or she can safely enjoy the sunshine and the sights and smells of the outside world. You can also train your cat to walk on a leash. Make sure your cat is vaccinated and always use a harness so he or she doesn't slip out of a collar.
Many cats are perfectly content to sit on a windowsill and watch the world. Provide a window shelf where your cat can sit comfortably. Cats also love high places, so mount high shelves in various rooms or provide cat trees or kitty condos for them to perch. Scratching posts are also a necessity if you want to keep your furniture and drapes from being shredded.
Play with your cat 5 or 6 times a day. Use interactive toys that stimulate them and provide exercise. Cats love empty boxes, feather wands, ping pong balls or laser pointers. Not only will it relieve boredom, playing with your cat will provide a great bonding experience for you and your furry friend.
For more information, contact a veterinarian in your area.