Entertain the Indoor Cat

Provide your pet with both safety and stimulation. Here's how.

Cat lovers must surely agree that there is little as lovely to behold as a cat running freely outdoors. What is as graceful as a cat nimbly climbing a tree or darting after a butterfly?

But is access to the outdoors a right that all cats deserve? There are many people who stand firmly against allowing pet cats to roam, concerned that endangered animals might be destroyed and property damaged. Most outdoor cats also face an increased risk of being killed. On the other hand, in some locations, cats are able to roam without risk of encountering large animals or automobiles. Working cats reduce the population of small animals that would themselves bring disease or destruction to homes and gardens.  

In this country, unless local restrictions dictate otherwise, individual preference and environmental circumstances determine whether a particular cat is going to be housed strictly indoors.

Circumstances do change, however, bringing all-too-common dilemmas. A family moves to a new home, or a new roadway makes outdoor life too risky. The cat that has always been free to travel outdoors must now remain inside.

No problem, you might say. Just keep the doors shut and latch the screens. Alas, it is not so easy. Sure, you may take good care to batten the hatches. But what can you do when your cat begins to knock pictures off the wall or pace incessantly? Some cats, when denied access to the garden, begin to soil in inappropriate areas of the house. Other cats express their distress through urine marking. Last but certainly not least, many cats begin to wail at all hours of the day and night.

What now? Can we reduce the stress that a cat might experience in response to this profound life style change? Absolutely. To begin with, it is essential that there be no wavering once the decision has been made. The door must not be opened for the cat, regardless of how much he complains.

In fact, it is best to avoid giving your cat any privileges at all when he insists inappropriately. Being the smart animals that they are, cats quickly learn that their desired rewards will come if they complain loudly enough. Worse still, if the reward is obtained on an intermittent basis, the behavior will intensify.

Make Indoor Living Fun

Next, consider some ways to make the indoor environment more stimulating. You may not want to bring in fresh mice, but what about another type of hunt? Every day, hide some small bits of dinner. Meals may be put behind furniture, or inside paper bags or boxes. Dry food would be neater, but fresh foods can be used by placing them on small plates. Keep track of the food yourself to be sure that your cat gets his full ration. Collect leftovers daily to so you dont wind up with spoilage or insects.   

Offer a variety of toys. Hide them throughout the house. Change the location and type of toy frequently. A drawer can be emptied and left open one day. The next day, close the drawer and open a closet. Keep your cat on his toes!

Some cats actually enjoy visual entertainment. Many cats will spend hours watching birds at a feeder outside a large window. Other cats enjoy television. There are commercially available video recordings that have been created specifically for cats.

Remember, dont simply turn on the TV and forget to play with your cat. Be sure to devote a block of time every day to amusing him. Dont just play with him while you do something else. Watch him closely to learn the moves and toys that he finds most stimulating. Take breaks from your own projects to interact with your cat. Remember, it should be on your terms – not in response to his demanding behavior.

Finally, for some families and some cats, adopting a playmate may be feasible. Just be sure that you are ready both emotionally and financially to add a cat to your home. Your cat must be sociable with other cats. And the newcomer must be compatible with your cat. This is not a choice to be made lightly.

If your cat continues to engage in anxiety-based behaviors such as marking or excessive vocalizing, please do not punish him. Talk to your veterinarian or behaviorist to determine whether a short course of anxiety-reducing medication might be indicated. Medication should only be used in conjunction with the behavioral and environmental changes already described. v