Happy Indoor Cats
Indoor cats are wonderful friends and family members, but while life indoors is much safer than outside, it can be a bit dull for an adventurous cat. Outdoor cats spend much of their day hunting prey, climbing trees, and generally exploring (when they aren’t napping…). This means we need to work extra hard to make sure our indoor cats are happy and content at home. Below are a few ideas to make your home a fun and interesting place for your cat.
Cats enjoy stalking and hunting prey, and these behaviors can be tricky to replicate around a dish of kibble. Food puzzle toys (available for dry and even wet foods) make food more difficult to obtain, and much more thrilling to eat! You can also make puzzle toys at home with cardboard tubes, empty (clean) water bottles, etc. Make sure not to use any loose strings, threads, or rubber bands, which can cause serious harm if swallowed. It’s important to slowly increase the difficulty of these puzzle toys to ensure our cats do not go hungry while they learn how to solve the puzzle. Feeding numerous small meals throughout the day can also help increase the amount of time our cat spends in hunting/stalking mode, and reduce idle free time.
Playing with our cats with toys or laser pointers is a good way to increase exercise and mental stimulation. Be sure never to shine a laser pointer near a cat’s face. If you use a laser pointer, it is nice to point to a treat or toy so the cat can actually ‘catch’ the dot! Having a wide variety of toys and rotating them regularly can further increase interest and mental stimulation. If your cat starts nipping or pawing at your hands during play, turn around and walk away; it is important not to encourage this behavior.
Scratching is a normal behavior for cats and needs to be performed regularly. It is important that we offer our cat plenty of acceptable scratching surfaces. If your cat is not taking to a given scratching area, try offering different textures (such as cardboard or sisile), different set-ups (on the floor or up against a wall), and different locations around the house. It is important that scratching posts or surfaces are sturdy so that the cat feels comfortable to really dig into them. Regular nail trimming is important to ensure our cats don’t get stuck on furniture. If a cat is scratching on furniture, you can try placing an acceptable scratching post near by. Covering the furniture with an uncomfortable surface (such as double sided tape or aluminum foil) can help deter scratching. Again, our goal is not to stop scratching, but to make sure our cats have enjoyable and acceptable scratching options.
Perches and vertical space are important for cats, who need to feel safe while observing the world around them. A sturdy cat tree can provide a safe haven for cats who live in a busy house and occasionally need a break and some time alone. A cat tree or tall piece of furniture by a window can provide hours of entertainment watching the world go by; and a window view of an outdoor bird feeder is like cat TV!
Hiding spots are also crucial for cats, who at times may feel stressed or threatened. These hiding spots may be up high in a closet or perch, or underneath a bed in an isolated room. Wherever the hiding spot, it’s important that a cat has access to an escape where they feel safe.
Adequate litterbox access is another key component to a happy cat home. Litterboxes should be available in multiple locations in the home, ideally on each level. As a general rule of thumb, there should be one more litterbox in the house than the number of cats (so a 2 cat household should have 3 boxes). Two litterboxes in the same room essentially act as one big litterbox, so be sure to spread the boxes out around the house. We want to make sure our cat can access a litterbox without having to pass by something stressful (including another cat who might be blocking a room or stairway). Regular scooping is critical to ensure the cat feels comfortable using the box, and isn’t turned away by a dirty box.
The Indoor Pet Initiative from Ohio State has lots of additional information and suggestions on how to keep our indoor cats happy and healthy https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/
Of course, even the best set-up at home may not appeal to every cat. When in doubt, call your vet!