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The Ultimate Guide To A Happy Indoor Cat

If you’ve recently adopted a feline friend from an animal shelter or rescue group in Australia, chances are, it has to be strictly an indoor cat.

 

Why is it important for pet cats to be indoors and how do you keep your indoor cat happy and living its best life?

Why Keep Pet Cats Inside?

The notion that cats should be allowed to roam comes from their evolutionary history, past practices, and the common sight of stray cats, which, due to being unowned without a home, well, they can’t help but roam!

 

But this is a notion that no longer serves us, both as pet owners and in the community.  And going by numbers in South Australia, Australians are increasingly keeping their cats indoors.

 

Outdoor, free roaming cats have much lower life expectancy than indoor cats, dying prematurely from being hit by cars and hostile encounters with other animals. 

 

As such, keeping your cat indoors and not allowing it to roam freely, will keep it safe from harm and dangers. It also keeps your cat from becoming a nuisance to the neighbours and from harming wildlife.

 

If you wouldn’t let your dog out to roam, why is it ok for the cat?

 

Perhaps you believe that keeping your cat indoors curtails its freedom, especially if it came from the streets in the first place?


Well, cats are smart and adaptable creatures. And regardless of their origins, most domestic cats will generally adapt well to being indoors.


The proviso being, there are sufficient resources to redirect natural cat behaviour and prevent these behaviours from becoming a problem.


What are natural cat behaviours, how do you redirect them to prevent problem behaviours, and how do you keep your indoor cat happy, healthy and safe?

A to Z Guide to a Happy and Healthy Indoor CatDownload Now

Know Your Cat - Feline Behaviour 101

Problem behaviors of cats are often natural behaviors that need to be redirected. Below, we take a look at some natural cat behaviours and behaviour problems that can result when they are not redirected.

Why does my cat knead?

Kneading is one of the most endearing behaviours seen in cats.  Cats start to knead as kittens while nursing on their mother, which helps to stimulate the flow of milk. Some cats never outgrow it and continue to knead on stuffed toys, blankets, and other soft objects, including the clothing and skin of their humans! This is normal behaviour that signals their contentment and love and affection for their humans.  This article provides a detailed explanation of this very cute and endearing behaviour.  

Scratching

Scratching is natural cat behaviour, allowing them to exercise, shed old claw tissue or for marking purposes.  This becomes problematic when kitty scratches the furniture or carpet. But it can be resolved by providing suitable structures for scratching and redirecting kitty to the right places if it has been scratching inappropriately.  Some cats like vertical structures; others may like horizontal so you may need to experiment with different designs till you find the right one. Material wise, it has been shown that the most preferred materials is cardboard or sisal rope.

Marking

Cats mark their territory by leaving their scent on places (and people), by rubbing, scratching, and urinating.  While marking is natural behaviour, it becomes problematic when kitty is marking inappropriately, by scratching the furniture or by urinating. In both cases, there are strategies to resolve it.

Hiding

Hiding makes a cat feel safe and secure in its surroundings. Hiding is normal behaviour,  especially for shy, timid and anxious cats.  Cats hide when faced with unfamiliar surroundings like a new home or going to the vet.  Provide different boxes and other structures for hiding around the house and kitty won’t have to seek out hiding places that are unsafe, such as inside the washing machine, dryer, or heating appliances.

Jumping and climbing

Jumping and climbing are part of a cat’s repertoire of natural behaviours. This enables them to reach places off the ground for security and a better vantage. Make the most of their jumping and climbing abilities by providing structures such as shelves, perches, cat trees and structures with height.

Zoomies

Cats have bursts of energy that manifest in mad dashes or sprints around the home and can cause a path of destruction. This is normal behaviour so do not be alarmed by your cat doing zoomies, especially in the middle of the night. Many older cats never outgrow the zoomies. You can even make it more fun and interactive by becoming a participant yourself.

Provide Environmental Enrichment

Environmental enrichment refers to strategies that enable cats to express their natural behaviours as much as possible in the context of their indoor environment. 

 

This helps to meet their welfare needs and prevent health and behavioural problems.

 

Check out this infographic about the different types of environmental enrichment strategies for indoor cats.

Cat grass

Despite being obligate carnivores, many cats enjoy eating grass. Cat grass is easily grown at home. Have two pots of grass growing inside the house – one in active service and the other in recovery after the grass’s been munched.  

Encourage Play and Interaction

Toys

Who doesn’t love toys!? Playing with toys is part of kitty’s play repertoire and most cat households have a variety of toys. They provide fun and exercise and need not be expensive.

 

Even a scrunched-up piece of paper or a ping pong ball can get kitty quite excited. The most effective toys in general are ones that mimic the movement of prey and allow kitty to enact the full prey-hunting sequence of stalking, chasing, pouncing and catching.


Some cats are motivated by novelty and so in order to keep them interested in their toys, be sure to regularly rotate the toys used in play sessions and keep them out of sight when not in use.

Interactive play

This is the kind of play that involves interaction with you or another cat.  For example, fetching, catching, hide and seek. Interactive play with another cat includes. chasing, wrestling, and play-fighting. Interactive play is more intense and engaging than self-play with an unmoving object such as a toy. This is particularly so for energetic cats with a high motivation for play. That said, interactive play does not replace self-play.  Both forms are necessary in your cat’s play repertoire.

Quality time

Quality time with your cat can be in the form of interactive play, grooming, talking, stroking, and/or cuddling. 

 

Quality time together is good for both feline and human well-being and helps to strengthen the feline-human bond.

 

The amount of quality time a cat needs depends on its breed, life stage, and personality. In general, 20 to 30 minutes a day is recommended.

Restrict and Supervise Access to Outdoors

The way to let your cat enjoy the outdoors without all the risks is to restrict and/or supervise the access to outdoors . One way to provide restricted access is to install an enclosure, also known as a catio.  You can buy ready-made structures or put together a budget-friendly DIY one.

 

Another way is to allow supervised outdoor access, walking kitty on a harness and leash.  There are heaps of inspirational and instructional videos out there so why not give this a go?

Species-Appropriate Diet

What to feed?

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they depend wholly on meat to survive.  A species-appropriate diet for cats, therefore, is a meat-based diet, with proteins primarily from animal sources.  While this is straightforward enough, there is also the question of whether to feed raw vs processed food,  home-made vs commercial, and wet vs dry food. 

 

Each of these choices has its pros and cons, which need to be weighed up.  In doing so, it is important to realise how much sway the big pet food industry has on our food choices for our pets. 


Dry food, while convenient and economical, is hardly a species-appropriate diet.  Feeding your cat a diet of dry food contributes significantly to urinary tract disease and obesity in cats. 

 

The best diet for pet cats, in theory, is a raw meat diet but in reality, this may not be practical for most cat owners, plus it is tricky getting the nutritional requirements right.  This is why Australian vet Dr Andrew Spanner recommends the ‘’practical compromise diet” comprising a low-carb wet food, raw meaty bones such as a chicken neck, and some grass.

Sufficient water intake

Cats need to drink enough water to prevent dehydration and urinary tract disease.  Given the dehydrated nature of dry food, cats fed a diet of dry food need to drink a lot more water than those on wet food.

To encourage kitty to drink, have multiple bowls of clean water around the house, change the water every day and wash out containers regularly to prevent the buildup of germs and debris.

Provide Sufficient Resources

There is a saying that cats are like potato chips, you can’t just have one!

 

Having more than one cat in the home is often a good idea as they can keep each other company when their humans are busy or away. 

 

However, this can be stressful for the cats due to an increased competition for resources like space, beds, hiding places, litter trays and food.

 

Therefore, whether you have one, two or more cats, do ensure there are sufficient resources for cats to enact their natural behaviours and meet their welfare needs.

Litterbox/trays

Inadequate provisions for kitty’s toileting needs can result in litterbox avoidance and inappropriate elimination.  It is recommended to have one litter tray/box per cat, plus one.

So, two cats will ideally have three litter trays between them, placed in relatively quiet and undisturbed locations around the home.

Keep the litter box/tray setup clean by scooping out faeces and urine clumps twice daily and disposing of the entire lot and washing out the container, scoops and other equipment regularly.

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