5 Tips for Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy
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Leigh believes that pets should receive adequate enrichment in their day-to-day routine to keep them healthy and happy.
How Do I Keep My Indoor Cat Happy?
Keeping your feline friend indoors is recommended by some pretty prominent organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). By making your kitty an exclusively "indoor pet," you'll be optimizing their health and longevity.
Many pet owners worry about the happiness of their cat, thinking that Whiskers will go stir-crazy if he's cooped up in the house all day—but that doesn't need to be the case.
5 Secrets for Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy
- Give them plenty of space.
- Provide a healthy diet and cater to their natural instincts.
- Ensure they are properly socialized.
- Offer toys and play with your cat.
- Allow interaction with nature or walk your cat.
By providing the proper environment, your cat will have all the positive stimuli they need without taking the risks of the wild outdoors. The trick is enrichment that encourages natural behaviors (without destroying your home). Read on to dive into the five ways main ways you can keep your indoor cat happy.
1. Give Them Plenty of Space
Cats are famous for their superior attitude. They love to feel like they're the royalty of the house and expect to be treated as such. In reality, cats are control freaks. If Fluffy thinks she's the underdog (or undercat) in a social situation, she's more likely to exhibit adverse behaviors such as hissing, slinking, and scratching.
Give Your Cat Some Control
For cats, control is all about space. Large non-domestics, such as lions and tigers, are considered to be almost exclusively predator species. Much smaller than their wild brothers, domestics are susceptible to predation despite being predators themselves. Their mix of predator-prey natural history means that they are most comfortable in places where they can watch over their environment.
High perching spots with vantage points that overlook the room are favorites in the feline community. It's also a good idea to provide your cat with fun hidey-holes. Many kitties will make their own without your input. Examples include the space under your bed, in between blankets, and behind your couch. Just be sure that your cat's hiding place is inaccessible to stressors such as your dog, small children, and over-excited guests.
It's important that they have a space where they feel safe. Generally, they'll gravitate towards more social tendencies on their own if they are comfortable with the situation.
Provide Space for Each Cat
If you live in a multi-cat home, be sure to provide multiple perching and hiding places. This allows cats to enact an avoidance tactic, which will reduce competition and stress. Imagine living with a horrible roommate. You can deal with it, as long as you have your separate rooms. Now, what if you lived in a studio apartment? Your tolerance just got a whole lot lower. The same concept can be applied to cats living in a shared space.
Cat Behavior Poll
2. Provide a Healthy Diet and Cater to Their Natural Instincts
If you look at your cat food, crude protein should be the main ingredient. This is because cats are obligate carnivores—meaning they are built to only process meat. While store-bought cat food should satisfy your kitty's nutritional needs, leaving a bowl of chow sitting out doesn't do much to encourage natural behaviors. Remember that the goal is to mimic the environmental conditions a cat would face in the wild.
Feed Their Natural Instincts
If Snowball had been born a couple of thousand years earlier, he would most likely be relying on his hunting skills to capture his meal. This means you should give him opportunities to express his predatory instincts when offering food. You don't have to go as far as live prey! Make or buy a puzzle feeder—an object that will release food as your pet plays with it. It's not necessary to present food like this all the time. In fact, a monotonous routine is exactly what you're trying to avoid! However, your cat should be working for their dinner at least a couple of times a week.
Switch It Up
Another way to enhance your furry friend is to switch it up! You can try offering them diets and treats of different brands, flavors, and consistencies (wet vs. dry). If you're up to the task, you can even cook for your cat! Just make sure to research diet preparation, as you want to be providing proper nutrition.
3. Ensure They Are Properly Socialized
There are two types of social interactions: heterospecific and conspecific.
- Heterospecific interactions are between individuals of different species. For example, your kitty has heterospecific interactions with humans, dogs, and hamsters.
- Conspecific interactions are between individuals of the same species. For example, your kitty has conspecific interactions with the neighbor's cat.
Experiencing both of these on a regular basis can be important to the well-being of your feline, as they would be constantly interacting with multiple species in the wild. The biggest issue is ensuring that the vast majority of these interactions are positive.
You may argue that in the wild, your cat would be sure to have tons of negative interactions. This is true! But remember the reasons why you're keeping your pet indoors. By focusing on the "good" socialization, you're mimicking the benefits your cat would receive outside while eliminating the dangers of the "bad" ones.
You can actually introduce your cat to another animal if you choose, but make sure that both are safe, healthy, and are not overly stressed. If at any time either animal seems afraid or in danger, you need to separate them.
The more realistic option is to provide secondary heterospecific interactions. In this case, you allow your cat access to objects, sounds, and smells that come from other species. Options include the fur/feathers, bedding, and toys of the animals. You can even play species sounds to your cat! You'll feel a little silly, but you can actually get some pretty interesting reactions.
Conspecific interactions are easy if you have multiple cats in your home or living in the area. Even if your kitty just watches from the windowsill as the neighbor's cat runs by, it's considered positive-neutral conspecific socialization. In a multi-cat home, be aware of how your pets act around each other.
Most of the time, cats will tolerate each other even if they don't get along-provided they have enough space to enact the avoidance tactic mentioned above. Heterospecific interactions do technically occur any time you and your cat are in the same vicinity. However, I encourage you to branch out and provide socialization from novel species.
4. Offer Toys and Play With Your Cat
All work and no play means a boring life for your cat. They need to be free to engage in natural behaviors such as scratching, pouncing, chewing, and chasing. Cats are great at expressing these themselves, sometimes at the expense of your plants and furniture. In order to encourage appropriate behaviors, be sure to provide them with objects they're allowed to play with.
I'm sure you've seen aisles of cat toys in stores . take your pick! If you're trying to imitate a "natural toy," go for the ones with feathers, fur, and catnip. However, variety is the key when you're talking entertainment. A ball with a bell may not be something a feral cat would find in the big outdoors, but it takes the place of other novel experiences that your kitty would encounter in the wild.
You can also create your own toys. String, balled up tin foil, and ice cubes can all be used in place of more expensive options. The best way to make your cat happy is to create an enrichment program that cycles through their play items. If you want more information on creating an enrichment calendar, check out this article.
Although you don't need to be present during playtime, I highly encourage you to set aside a few minutes a day to engage with your cat. This will strengthen your social bonds and give you an opportunity to observe which objects your feline loves the most. You might benefit too! Not only is it fun, but spending time with pets has been shown to reduce stress-related health problems.
5. Allow Interaction With Nature or Walk Your Cat
There's only so much you can do to mimic the wild. Sometimes, your cat just needs the real thing. This doesn't mean you should let your cat roam free unsupervised, but there are many options to dispense a taste of outside.
Bring the Outside in
One such option is to literally provide your kitty with pieces of the outdoors. Bring in logs, pinecones, branches, grass, rocks, pans of dirt, and allow Calico to interact with them. If you're not big on the whole "let's bring dirty things into my house" idea, you can buy products such as cat grass, catnip, and logs.
Walkin' the Cat
If you're feeling brave, you can try walking your cat on a leash. Don't expect them to take to it right away! It takes a lot of patience and training. In addition, don't expect to lead your cat like a dog. They're much more likely to just tolerate the leash as you trail behind them. If you're going to go this route, keep in mind that leash training works best with younger animals and that you need to research training techniques before diving into a disaster.
Cat Housing Poll
- Patterson-Kane, E (2010). Cats: Indoor vs. Outdoor. http://atwork.avma.org/2010/07/20/cats-indoor-versus-outdoor/
- ASPCA (2015). General Cat Care. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/general-cat-care
- Herron, M. E., & Buffington, C. A. T. (2010). Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats. Compendium (Yardley, PA), 32(12), E4.
- Rochlitz, I (1999). Recommendations for the Housing of Cats in the Home, in Catteries and Animal Shelters, in Laboratories and in Veterinary Surgeries. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery vol. 1 no. 3 181–191
22. Teach children to be gentle with Maine Coons
Maine Coons are patient and tolerant cats but every cat has a limit to what it will endure. Children mean well but are not always as careful around cats as they should be.
Only yesterday, I saw the following photo shared on social media and it made me cringe. This is exactly how NOT to pick up a cat. Please don’t allow a child to do this to your cat. Teach children the correct way to lift a cat.
If you teach children to treat your Maine Coon kindly, how to play with it nicely and how to pick it up properly, your cat will be much happier, and hopefully the children won’t get scratched.
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How to Entertain a Cat
It’s impossible to play with your cat 24/7, which is why you need creative solutions to keep them entertained when you’re away from home. The first method may seem like an easy one, but it works.
1. Cardboard Boxes
Any cardboard box will do. Cats love to chew, scratch, and play with cardboard boxes, so be sure to leave a few out for your feline friends.
This cheap, easy solution will provide hours of entertainment and save your furniture from damage.
Have paper you can spare? Leave some out for kitty to play with. They love the crinkling noise it makes.
This is also true for paper bags. You’ll give your cats something to play with that isn’t your furniture.
3. Furniture for Cats
You have your favorite couch or armchair, and your cat also needs the same. It’s a good idea to invest in multiple scratching posts or a cat condo to help keep your kitty entertained during the day.
Many of these posts come with furry, feathery toys that squeak and make noise, providing your cat with hours of entertainment.
You may want to consider placing a cat condo in a room where your cat can see out the window. Some cats will spend hours tracking birds and watching the world outside.
Invest in several hummingbird feeders to give your cats hours of entertainment.
4. Outdoors Time
This may not seem like something you’d think to do with a cat, but with your supervision (and a leash), your cat can enjoy fresh air and sun. Start by purchasing a harness and leash and teach your cat how to walk with it.
Allow your cat to run around and play outdoors. It’s a great way for them to get exercise and to find stimulation outside of the house.
5. Hunting for Food
There are many cat toys that dispense food as your kitty plays with them. Instead of leaving a big bowl of food out all day, let your cat hunt for food around the house.
This will present an entertaining challenge for them, helping them stay busy and entertained.
6 Tips to Enrich Your Cat's Life
A Wild Life
Imagine the daily routine of a cat that lives in the wild. What do you imagine this cat is doing all day? A typical day in the wild is spent hunting for food, marking one’s territory, defending that territory, hiding from predators, grooming and resting. All of these activities take a lot of physical and mental energy - cats need rest to stay sharp.
A Life of Ease?
Compare the daily routine of a cat in the wild to that of a typical domesticated indoor cat and you will find significant differences. In an indoor environment, a cat may be fed 2 or 3 times per day, or have access to its food at all times, rather than having to hunt for 10-20 small meals per day in the wild. Cats may have access to one or several litter boxes in the home where their owner would like them to use the bathroom. There are typically no significant predators, except for the overzealous canine housemate, who is likely more of an annoyance than anything else. Competition for resources is minimal, especially if there are only one or two cats in the household. With all of these differences, we might think that the indoor cat has all of its basic needs fulfilled.
This cat has plenty of food and water, a roof over its head, areas to use the bathroom and rest. What about all of the mental and physical stimulation that cats require? This consistent engagement and stimulation is commonly missing from the indoor cat’s life and it can be a significant cause of a terrible condition: “Boring Life Syndrome”. While the name of this syndrome is made up, the concern is real. The lack of engagement in the daily lives of indoor cats can lead to any number of problems, such as over-grooming, chewing inappropriate items and over-eating.
Resources and Enrichment
To provide a truly enriching environment for our indoor cats, we must think about how to provide resources and activities that mimic what they would naturally do in the wild. If we can do this well, then we will have the best of both worlds the safety and consistency of an indoor environment and the engagement and fulfillment of the outdoor environment.
Enrichment doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here are 6 simple tips you can implement today:
- Offer multiple small meals per day, rather than 1 or 2 large meals.
- Hide these meals around the house or place small amounts of food in a puzzle feeder to encourage activity while fulfilling the primal urge to hunt.
- It is important to incorporate small sessions of play into your feline friend’s day. Try something that they can chase, and then grab ahold of and sink their teeth into at the end of the activity. This will mimic hunting in the wild while burning calories and increasing mental engagement.
- Each cat is different, “play” around with what toys your cat enjoys the most and mix it up over time.
- Litter boxes:
- Provide enough litter boxes! A basic rule of thumb is “n + 1”. If you have 1 cat, you should have at least 2 litter boxes in your home. If you have 3 cats, you should have a minimum of 4 litter boxes in your home.
- Ideally, a litter box should be located on each level of your home for easy access. This becomes particularly important if you have a geriatric cat.
- Clean your litter boxes daily! We want our cats to use the same litter box each and every time in our home. Our best bet for consistent success is to provide enough litter boxes and keep those boxes as clean as possible.
- Scratching is a normal cat behavior. It helps cats mark their territory, both visually and via pheromones that are left behind on the objects they scratch. Scratching is also a great way for cats to stretch their muscles by reaching well up onto a vertical surface such as a tree trunk to leave their mark.
- Offer multiple scratching posts in different areas of the house. One of the best locations may be near their favorite sleeping area, as they can reach up onto the post and have a good stretch after their nap
- Offer both vertical and horizontal oriented scratching posts. Pay attention to which type of orientation and which surface textures your cat prefers the most.
- Places to take a “cat nap”:
- When it is time to rest, cats like to have a place that is comfortable and safe. You may find that some of your cat’s favorite areas to nap are under the bed or on the back of the couch with some sunshine warming their body. You can create ideal resting places by providing a comfortable spot in a quiet, undisturbed area of your house.
- Room with a view:
- Elevated perches are ideal areas for your cat to catch a view of the world around him or her. For some cats, these elevated perches may also be one of their favorite spots to hunker down and catch a few Z’s.
To recap, there are two basic concepts to remember when providing an optimal environment for our feline friends.
- Provide all the basic resources that your cat needs to be healthy
- Keep your cat actively engaged throughout their daily routine with enriching activities.
Cats enrich our lives – let’s enrich theirs!