Cats make marvelous pets in our ever tightening up urban environments. While not everybody’s cup of tea, cats are a great source of companionship for many, many people.

Most of the public perception downside with cats is the problems caused by free roaming breeding age cats that have not been desexed. Entire adult male cats are a particular problem on account of the fact that they roam widely and make their presence felt in the most offensive ways. They fight with other cats, intrude into the neighbourhood homes, spread fleas, raid food sources, breed up unwanted kittens and spray urine on your car etc etc. In most cases it is impossible to tell if they are straying pets or real strays.

People who fail to attend to the neutering of their cats sometimes do so because all the nuisance happens at everyone else’s house and not at home. It seems easy (though still irresponsible) for some people to be careless when the problems are not impacting in their own back yard. Regrettably, there are always those folk who either don’t know or don’t care.

For the time being, our councils don’t have management strategies for cat like they do for dogs. Fairly simple (minimalist intervention) measures could in fact be readily adopted to better manage the issues that are involved. While we wait for movement on this front, the voluntary movement towards housing cats indoors is gaining speed. Our purpose today isn’t to push pet owners to keep their cats inside exclusively but to provide reasons to consider indoor-only cats and how to enrich the indoor environment.

We intend to run two parts to this story and hopefully these suggestions will help answer questions and help you solve problems as transitions are made. As always, your veterinarian and his or her staff are well qualified to answer questions on this issue. For more great information and extensive suggestions, visit the Indoor Cat Initiative website at www.indoorcat.org.

Reasons to Consider Keeping Cats Indoors

  • Cat fights can result in bacterial infections and abscesses which require antibiotics and sometimes surgery.
  • The bites and scratches sustained in cat fights can also transmit Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, sometimes called “cat AIDS”). These viruses are life-threatening for cats and although vaccinations are available, they are not completely protective and many cats haven’t received the vaccines at all.
  • Fleas, Fleas, Fleas! Clients will often become frustrated with flea control products and think they don’t work. Upon questioning, they often have a cat in their household or neighborhood that wanders into other yards. When this happens, the cat will inevitably pick up fleas from contaminated yards. Until these cats are kept within the confines of the yard (often necessitating making them indoor cats), the flea burden cannot be controlled even with the best products.
  • Trauma from dog attacks or motor car accidents is real and often massive. Cats don’t get hit by cars in the lounge room!
  • Because of the real risk of FIV and FeLV in the United States, many American cats are housed indoors. It is actually quite rare to see a cat wandering in many neighborhoods. These indoor cats do quite well and don’t seem to suffer any lack of quality of life.
  • Monitoring cats for changes in elimination (abnormal peeing, diarrhea, etc), appetite, and vomiting is difficult if the cat does these things outside. Subtle changes in urination habits can be early indicators of diseases such as bladder stones or diabetes. If left undiagnosed, these conditions can be life threatening.

Remember, in the wild, cats don’t live in packs like humans and dogs do. Thus, a house with multiple cats kept in confined spaces may take a bit of attention.

Also, cats are active hunters. They track, kill, and eat upwards of 20 small meals a day. They eliminate in areas that are protected, quiet, and clean and they can hide from things they find frightening or unappealing. Therefore, it is only natural that a cat starts to have problems when we keep it inside if the litter pan is dirty, the food just sits for it to feast upon, and the kids terrorize it daily. These are totally unnatural situations for the cat to endure! Here are some specific tips to aid you success:

Litter Pans

  • Have one litter pan for each cat plus one. For example, a two-cat household should have three litter pans.
  • Litter pans should be scooped daily and washed once weekly.
  • Place pans in a quiet, protected area with a bit of privacy. A refrigerator kicking on in a busy kitchen may frighten the cat away from using that pan!
  • Most cats prefer unscented, clumping litter.
  • Place pans away from food—no one wants to eliminate and eat in the same place.

Scratching Posts

  • Cats scratch in the wild to mark their territory for others to see. Thus, place posts in “public” areas where the cat would naturally be driven to scratch anyway.
  • Some cats prefer upright scratching posts to horizontal scratchers, and vice versa, so experiment.
  • If a cat is scratching inappropriate items, consider placing a post in that area. Likewise, double-sided tape or sandpaper stuck to the item may act as a deterrent to scratching there again!
  • Cats’ nails can be clipped, and your veterinarian can show you how. “Soft Paws” are products that can be placed over the claw to prevent them from scratching, as well.

Sleeping Areas and Perches

  • Cats like to rest in high places with a view of the action. This can also give them a sense of security as they can assess any threats from a safe distance. They are sometimes a very “look but don’t touch” species, deciding when the threat is clear and they’d like to be part of the fun.
  • Consider creating a multiple-level perch for them to rest on. Window-mounted perches are great as cats can rest in the sun, smell the breeze, and watch the world outside.
  • Wild cats find the most secure places to sleep. Thus, it’s hard for a domestic cat to rest if there are no quiet and protected places to which to escape.
  • Putting a comfy cat bed in a relatively un-used room such as a laundry can be a nice refuge. Likewise, it is important not to disturb or frighten the cat while sleeping in such a place as it can lead to anxiety.

Toys

  • Cats need exercise! They like toys that interact and move, so consider a wide range of toys to help them get the needed exercise.
  • Interact with your cat via toys. A toy that bobs at the end of a stick is only fun if someone is waving the stick!
  • Selecting toys for cats is often trial by error. There are some great hints on the Indoor Cat Initiative website listed below.

The movement towards housing cats indoors is gaining speed. Hopefully these suggestions will help answer questions and help you solve problems as transitions are made. As always, your veterinarian and his or her staff are well qualified to answer questions on this issue. For more great information and extensive suggestions, visit the Indoor Cat Initiative website at www.indoorcat.org