Satisfying the needs of the indoor cat

Keeping a cat permanently indoors away from all the potential hazards outside may sound the ideal solution, however, the benefits of safety need to be weighed up against the needs of that particular cat. 

Some of the potential problems are listed below: 

Behavioural problems

Cats in the USA have a much higher incidence of anxiety-related problems such as urine marking than cats in the UK, possibly because British cats are allowed out more whereas in the USA they are more commonly kept permanently indoors. There are many stress-linked psychological problems in indoor cats. 

Fear of change

Indoor cats may become over-reactive to changes within their small territory (the house) and become unable to cope with novelty, be it people or objects or new smells. It can be difficult to introduce a new cat (or even a new person) to your cat's restricted territory – there is no neutral ground to retire to for either party. 

Obesity

A lack of exercise can lead to weight problems that in turn can result in major health problems such as heart disease, osteoarthritis and diabetes

Over dependence

A solitary indoor cat will rely on its owner to provide stimulation, companionship and exercise.  

Cleaning litter trays

A chore those with outdoor cats don't have to do. 

Damage to the house

Your furniture and carpets may suffer from being scratched excessively. Cats may also expend energy climbing, jumping and generally whizzing around the house in mad moments – again damage can occur. 

House rules

Keeping doors/windows shut or covered so cats cannot escape can be impossible with children around. 

Household hazards

An active indoor cat will explore crevices that an outdoor cat would probably not bother to investigate. Boredom and curiosity can be a dangerous combination. Washing machines, toilets, medicines, cleaners, small holes, exposed wires and wobbly shelving are all particular hazards for curious kittens. While outside, cats will often nibble grass or herbs. If there is no access to this they may turn to indoor plants, some of which are poisonous. See:

Escape

An indoor cat that gets out may be disorientated and will not have any street skills. Escape from a high rise flat could be fatal. The cat may also be highly stressed to find itself suddenly in an unknown environment. 

Frustration/boredom

Cats may develop behaviour problems if they are stressed by the lack of opportunity to express their normal behavioural repertoire. They also have the problem of being unable to escape from a situation or another cat which they find difficult to deal with. 

Displaying normal behaviours

The main problem faced by the indoor cat is lack of opportunity to display a normal repertoire of behaviours. The cat is a natural hunter and if he cannot go out he be may be frustrated and develop behaviours which stimulate this activity. Thus, if you wish to keep an indoor cat content you will have to continue to be creative and produce new toys and games to keep your cat stimulated and exercised, physically and mentally. Kittens and cats love newspaper tents, cardboard boxes and paper bags, not to mention various cat play centres, fishing rod toys/laser pointers, etc, which encourage stalking and pouncing. 

Start with two

It is best to get two kittens instead of one from the start in a totally indoor situation. It will provide companionship and also help you to get over feelings of guilt associated with leaving one kitten on its own while you are at work. Having two kittens relieves you of some of the burden of having to stimulate and exercise it as they will happily wear each other out playing and then collapse in a heap to sleep. They will, however, need somewhere safe to play. 

Things to do

Make sure that you have regular visitors and life is not too quiet, especially when your kitten is small, because this is what it will come to see as normal. Because the cat's whole world may be made up of a couple of rooms in a flat which it knows inside out, it can become hypersensitive to change. Human or animal visitors or even changes in household routine can introduce a potentially huge novelty to the cat's day to day environment and cause stress. 

Indoor cats, especially when young, are likely to have quite an impact on your furniture and fittings. Try not to be too house-proud about the ensuing damage. Prevent rather than regret. Move all the ornaments and imagine that you have a toddler that can fly! Provide places where cats can have a 'free for all'. 

Your cat will need to act out its natural behavioural repertoires such as sharpening claws within your home. Outdoor cats usually use a tree or garden post. An indoor cat must be provided with a good scratch post and even with this it is likely to use the furniture occasionally too. Click here for information on how to choose and use a cat scratching post

Monitor your cat's food intake if it is tending to put on excess weight either through lack of exercise or is overeating because of boredom. 

A cat that goes outdoors will nibble on grass and herbs as part of its diet. It is believed that eating vegetation helps cats to regurgitate hair balls. You can overcome the deficit by providing the cat with an indoor window box. Grass, catnip (Nepeta), thyme, sage, parsley or wheat and oats can all be sown indoors in a potting mixture. Sow seeds every couple of weeks to provide a fresh supply for your cat. 

Invest in some good nail clippers as your cat's claws may not wear down as quickly as they would if it went outside and walked on hard surfaces. Long claws can become snagged in carpets and upholstery.

It is important to cat-proof your home carefully as an inquisitive kitten can get though a very small hole. If you live several storeys up, put mesh over the windows or purchase screens (http://www.cataire.co.uk/) and train everyone in the family to keep doors shut. A purpose built outdoor enclosure could provide your cat with the sights and smells of the outside world and give its life some variety without exposing it to many of the outdoor risks. Alternatively you might consider using secure cat fencing to keep your cat within the confines of your own garden. Click here for information on fencing in your garden.

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