Cats are beautiful, sensitive, intelligent and curious creatures that fill a special place in our hearts and homes. Domestic cats are descended from wild felines, and while they are not the same, they retain behaviors and social needs from their ancestors. In their natural environment they would be spending their days hunting, exploring, maintaining their territory, resting and socializing.
Keeping cats indoors helps keep them safe and healthy (and protects wildlife), but it takes some effort to make sure an indoor home provides for your cat’s emotional and physical needs. When we take a naturally active creature and place them in an indoor environment with little to do other than sleeping and eating, we open the door to problems like obesity, compulsive behaviors, and stress.
Health consequences of Stress: Some common illnesses we see in cats are a direct result of stress. A problem known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), is usually associated with increased stress. Symptoms include painful urination, blood in the urine, and possibly urinary blockage. Obesity, which can lead to diabetes, is often associated with a sedentary indoor life style and may contribute to bladder problems, too. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can be worsened by stress. Behavioral issues such as inter-cat aggression, compulsive over-grooming, and urine marking are common in cats that don’t have an outlet for their natural needs. Environmental enrichment for indoor cats is essential for reducing stress and preventing these problems.
The good news is there are many simple things you can do to provide a healthy and stimulating environment for your kitty.
Toys and daily play time: Provide a variety of toys and schedule a daily play session to strengthen the bond with your cat and get rid of some of that play energy. Keeping the daily schedule regular also helps reassure him that all is well.
Perches and resting areas: Cats need resting and sleeping areas where they feel safe and can monitor their surroundings. Consider putting some shelving up high where the cat can climb to a comfortable nest, or put in a window sill bed with a bird feeder nearby to keep him interested.
Feeding: Rather than leaving food out as an ″all you can eat″ buffet, try feeding some of kitty’s daily ration in a food dispensing puzzle toy, or hiding food sources in different areas to stimulate his hunting and foraging instincts. This also helps provide exercise which can combat obesity.
Litter boxes: Keep litter boxes clean, and make sure they are generous in size and easily accessible. The rule of thumb is to have one box per cat, plus one extra.
Water: Cats tend to love to drink from running or trickling water sources. Kitty water fountains can stimulate your cat’s interest and encourage healthy water consumption.
Consider a ″Catio″: Installing a secure, screened-in outdoor area attached to a window or a cat door can provide exercise and mental stimulation, as well as a patch of sunshine to sleep in.
Keep changes to a minimum: Introduce new pets gradually and under supervision. Consider a pet sitter when you go on vacation so your kitty can stay in his familiar environment. Make sure there is a ″safe place″ your cat can retreat to when she needs alone time from other pets or small children.
Pheromones are fabulous! Cats mark and organize their environments with invisible scents, and commercially synthesized pheromones can help reduce stress and marking behaviors, especially when bringing cats into a new home or apartment, or introducing a new cat to the household.
For more information on keeping your kitty healthy and happy, ask your veterinarian, or go to:
Ohio State University’s indoor cat initiative at https://indoorpet.osu.edu
Tufts University’s cat information center at http://www.tuftscatnip.com/