Saturday, August 6, 2011

Keeping an Indoor Cat Happy

Is keeping my cat indoors cruel?
There are many circumstances in which keeping a cat indoors may be safer for the cat and therefore, arguably, better for the cat. Indoor cats are at lower risk for injuries associated with the outdoor environment (cars, trains, dogs, predators, humans, ect.) and are at far less risk of contracting parasites and infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis and feline immunodeficiency virus. Studies have consistently shown that urban cats will live over 15 years. Keeping cats indoor also prevents killing off wildlife, fouling of neighborhood yards, and fighting with other cats and wildlife in the neighborhood if you keep your cat indoors.

If you decide to keep your cat as an indoor pet, you will need to be very aware of the extra responsibility that an indoor cat brings. You must take the time and trouble to ensure that the indoor environment offers the cat the opportunity to express as many of its natural behaviors as possible.

What do I need to do to make my indoor cat happy?

The most important thing for you to consider when you decide to keep a cat indoors is how you are going to provide for its behavioral needs. Obviously you will have thought about the needs for food, water, and warmth, but have you considered your cat's need to hunt, play, and explore, its need to be able to retreat and hide its need to feel in control. Providing a consistent daily routine that provides for all of the behavioral needs of your cat is not difficult but it dies require some time, some thought and some commitment.

Why does my cat need to hunt when I feed him so well?
The feline desire to hunt is not connected to the sensation of hunger and no matter how well you feed your cat it will still react to the sight and sound of prey with an instinctive stalk. Obviously indoor cats are unlikely to come across natural prey, but anything that moves rapidly or squeaks in a high pitch can trigger the same behavioral response. Since most outdoor cats will hunt upwards of 10 mice a day, some form of alternative outlets will be needed for predation. Both social play and object play toys are therefore essential for an indoor cat. Toys that squeak and those that can be moved rapidly and unpredictably are irresistible to some cats while of no interest to others. You can also select toys that mimic real prey in terms of size, texture and color. Small toys are usually more successful but caution must be exercised to be sure they cannot be accidentally ingested and cause intestinal blockage. Play sessions for indoor cats need to be frequent and regular and if your cat is interested and willing you should aim to give at least three play sessions every day. Recent studies seem to indicate that while the cat may tire of a chase toy in just a few minutes, the desire to chase new and different toys may remain and even be heightened. Therefore, try and offer two or three chase sessions in a row with different toys to ensure that your cat is truly finished rather than just bored with a particular toy. Stuffing or coating the toy with food or catnip may also help to maintain and prolong interest. You can have hours of fun playing with your cat!

Does my cat need to climb?

The picture of a cat stuck in a tree or standard on a roof top is a familiar one but the fact is that cats need to climb. Getting up high is an important way to relieve stress in the feline world and when your cat is feeling under pressure its instinct will be to move upwards this may be especially necessary in homes with multiple cats. It is therefore very important to have accessible high up resting places. Tops of fridge freezers, bookcases and stereo hi-fi cabinets are all popular resting places for cats, but if all of the furniture in your house is built-in you will need to make special provisions for your cat in the form of shelves and radiator cradles. High vantage points allow your cat to observe the world from a place of safety and escape if it feels the need to do so.

I would like to give my cat some fresh air but I am not sure if it will walk on a lead is there any alternative?

Some cats may need to be kept permanently indoors and this can work as ling as owners are aware of the responsibility that it brings. For others access to outdoors needs to be restricted, but owners would to offer some contact with the world outside and in theses cases there are a number of alternatives. The harness and lead approach is certainly one, but you are right to mention the fact that not all cats will learn to walk in this way. Introducing harnesses as early as possible will help and making a kitten accustomed to the lead will minimize resistance to its use as an adult. If you have tried introducing your cat to the harness and you have been met with overwhelming resistance you may wish to consider the use of an outdoor pen. Since cats can climb, the pen will either need a roof to prevent escape or have the sides angled inward at the top to prevent climbing over. There are a number of commercial cat containment products both indoor and outdoor use. Ideally the pen will be accessed from the house via a cat door flap and will offer the cat access to outdoors while offering you complete peace of mind. If a pen is to be used successfully if should mimic the outside world as closely as possible and cat furniture, tree trunks, toy, scratching posts and high up resting places should all b e available within the pen. The cat should never be allowed access to the outdoor pen when no one is home since escape or injury could occur.

This information is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM Diplomate ACVB