Keeping an Indoor Cat Happy
Make your kitty’s indoor world safe and stimulating with these easy-to-implement tips.
Indoor cats have a cushy life, with food they don’t have to catch, soft beds, and warm laps.
Indoor cats live longer, too, because they don’t face the dangers of cars, predators, other cats, weather, and many diseases. The life span of an indoor cat can be between 12-18 years, while a free-roaming cat may live for as little as 3.
Still, it’s not always catnip for indoor kitties, whose instincts are still telling them to hunt, stalk, scratch, and mark their territory. When they don’t have a chance to do these things comfortably, some indoor cats can get depressed, bored, irritated, and even sick.
You can keep your indoor tabby bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and make kitty’s indoor world a safe and happy one, with these tips for a feline-friendly home.
Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy: Fun and Games
With a little time and effort, it’s not hard to entertain an indoor cat. To enrich your kitty’s life, cat experts offer the following tips:
Bring the outdoors in. Whether your cat has always been indoors or was once an outdoor kitty, try giving him as many of the joys of the outside world as you can, suggests cat trainer Alice Rhea in her book Good Cats, Bad Habits.
• Plant a few pots of cat grass and catnip in a sunny window. Or create a jungle of cat-pleasing plants in pots big and small. Be sure the plants you offer kitty are cat-safe. Many greens can be toxic to cats, including amaryllis, chrysanthemums, English ivy, iris, lilies, and tulips.
• Mount bird and squirrel feeders outside a few windows so kitty is entertained by his furry and feathered neighbors.
• Then offer lots of perches by windows, on shelves, and via cat trees, so kitty can keep an eye on the outdoor wildlife.
• Create a secure outdoor enclosure so kitty can get even closer to the birds, breezes, and squirrels. The enclosure can be an already existing one, like a screened porch, or you can build one kitty can reach through a cat door or window. To make the enclosure safe, be sure it has walls and a roof — think something that looks like a chicken coop, built with wire or plastic fencing. Or you can make a roofless enclosure as long as the walls are at least seven feet high and capped with a one-foot high fence angling inward.
Provide lots of solo diversions. TVs, computers, games — most of us are happy to stay indoors when we have fun things to play with. Well, kitty wants entertainment, too. Fortunately it’s usually much cheaper to amuse your feline friend.
• Scratching posts and cardboard scratch pads give kitty the chance to expend energy, remove worn claw bits, and play. Make these spots even more enticing with a sprinkle of catnip.
• Offer lots of toys, and to keep kitty’s interest, rotate through the stash, removing some toys and re-introducing others every week or two. Your cat doesn’t need fancy play things; either: a paper bag, box, or a few balls of wadded paper are all great entertainment.
• Hide a few dry treats throughout the house. Some cats will hunt for these hidden treasures for hours. You can also buy treat-dispensing toys.
• Some kitties love “cat videos” full of bird and small mammal close-ups. Pop in one of these tapes or DVDs specially made for cats and see if yours starts tracking the motions of the other animals, talking at and swatting the screen. You can also try computer screen savers of flapping butterflies, scurrying mice, burbling fish, or bouncing balls.
• Try feeding your cat several small meals a day instead of two big meals.
Get together: play with your cat. Playing with your cat twice a day helps keep kitty fit by maintaining muscle tone and circulation, plus it relieves stress and boredom (yours and theirs) and strengthens the bond between you. While there’s virtually no end of games you can play together, here are a few to get you started:
• Drag a piece of string over the river (chairs) and through the woods (hallways). Start and stop often, imitating the movements of a cat’s natural prey. Even better: Tie a fake mouse or other toy to the end of the string and be sure to let kitty catch her quarry sometimes.
• Ping-Pong Paws is a great game to keep kitty svelte and happy, writes Kevin Kelly in his book Entertaining Your Indoor Cat. All you’ll need for this diversion is a kitty who likes bathtubs and some ping pong balls. Once you’ve enticed kitty into the tub (don’t force), bounce a ball off the shower wall and let it fall into the tub. Kitty will bound after it, and since ping pong balls are hard to grasp, the ball will squirt right through kitty’s clutches. When the game starts slowing down, toss in another ball. You can also entertain kitty by tossing the ping pong balls onto the smooth kitchen floor.
• Head to the pet supply store and stock up on wind-up mice, suggests Kelly; you can also find small wind-up cars, spiders, and robots in toy stores. When you get home, wind the toys up and watch kitty go.
• Put on a CD of bird calls or bird songs, then tie a feather to a string and flutter it past Fluffy.
• Teach kitty to fish, suggests Kelly. What you’ll need is a big bowl of water and floating toys like corks, plastic mice, or those ping pong balls still in the tub. Get kitty’s attention, then toss a toy or two in the water and watch kitty go trawling.
• Buy catnip-flavored bubble solution at a pet supply store and blow a roomful of bubbles for your cat to catch.
• Create a kitty caboose with a carpet remnant or rug. Drag your scrap along the floor and often you’ll find a kitty hopping on board for the ride. Kelly suggests taking it slow, you want kitty to stay put, not tumble off.
• You can also teach your cat to walk on a harness and leash. You can get a kitty-walking tutorial on the ASPCA’s web site or in Kelly’s book, Entertaining Your Indoor Cat.
Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy: Health and Hygiene
Part of keeping your indoor cat happy is keeping kitty healthy and maintaining a safe, clean environment. The pros offer these tips:
Know the signs of sickness. It’s in a cat’s nature to hide illness, the better to go unnoticed by predators. That’s why it’s up to you to keep a close eye on your indoor cat, looking for signs they may be sick.
• Your cat could be ill if he is coughing, panting, refusing water or food, sleeping more than usual, vomiting, sneezing, or losing weight. If your cat exhibits any of these or other odd symptoms — or you just have a sense something’s wrong — play it safe and take kitty to the vet.
• Remember that your indoor cat needs yearly exams, just like you do. Regular check-ups help your vet keep kitty healthy by catching problems early.
Teach kitty how to use a litter box. An indoor cat needs an indoor toilet. Fortunately litter box training most cats isn’t very hard, especially if you begin when kitty’s young. And if you’ve adopted an older cat who was once litter box-trained, it’s a good bet kitty will get back into the old habit. To get a new cat trained to use a box:
• Use unscented litter in a plastic litter tray, then place the litter box in a quiet, easy-to-access place.
• Place your cat in the litter box and praise kitty when he or she sniffs or scratches in the box. You can give kitty the idea of what to do by gently taking her front paws and showing her how to scratch the litter.
• Place kitty in the box several times a day, praising him, and showing him what to do if he needs the nudge. Always let him jump out of the box when he’s ready.
• If kitty has an accident somewhere else in the house, don’t punish her (it won’t help kitty learn), but do pick up the waste with a paper towel and put that in kitty’s box, then place kitty in the box.
• When you can’t supervise a still-untrained kitty for awhile, put their litter box, food, water, and toys in a bathroom, small room, or large dog crate, then confine kitty in this space.
If kitty uses the box consistently then refuses it, the culprit could be a dirty box, a new brand of litter, a too-noisy litter box area, your cat may have been frightened near the box, or it could be suffering from a medical condition like a urinary tract disease, urine crystals, or bladder stones.
Safety first: Stopping kitty’s dashes for the door. The lure of another cat or a tree full of birds may sometimes be too much for a contented indoor cat. If you find your cat running for the door or squeezing through open windows, you can do to discourage kitty’s escape attempts with these tips:
• Have your cat neutered if your door-dodger is male. Male cats can detect in-heat females from blocks away, says cat trainer Alice Rhea in her book Good Cats, Bad Habits, so you’ll need to reduce his interest.
• Make the outside a scary place, suggests Rhea and the pros at the ASPCA. Plan for the next time kitty dashes to the door by having someone stationed outside with an air horn or a pot and spoon. Then be sure your Houdini is met with a lot of very loud noises when they run out the door. Repeat with each door and over several days and pretty soon your cat will decide it’s much more predictable inside.
• Be sure all window screens fit tightly and can’t be popped out with persistent pushing.
• You can also try distracting your kitty by rolling a toy across the floor as you come in or go out the door.
Keeping the peace when there’s more than one indoor cat. If yours is a multi-cat household, be sure there’s enough of everything to keep each cat happy and content. That means:
• A litter box for every cat. Few things make a feline household grumpier than waiting in line for the litter box.
• At least one bed or perch per cat, and be sure these are scattered throughout the house so your fuzzy companions can have alone time when they need it.
• Always have multiple sources of water and food, so every cat can eat or quench their thirst, without fear of being ambushed by another cat.
It’s in our power to give our indoor cats a good, long life. It doesn’t take much, but the payoff is great: A safe, contented, and happy cat.