Cats with outdoor access have plenty of opportunities to exhibit natural behaviours like climbing, exploring, roaming their territory and communicating with other cats in the area.
Some owners prefer to keep their cat indoors to keep them safe and away from busy roads, or if they have a medical problem, but how do you make sure their environment is fun and interesting enough to keep them active?
Understanding the body language of a happy cat
In order to fully bond with your cat, you first need to be able to read their body language and emotions. Look out for these affection-showing moves:
The head bump – It’s their way of saying hello, they will leave their scent on you by using the oil glands in front of their ears to greet you
Kneading you – If you manuever yourself into the right position, you’ll get a free massage out of this one. It also means she’s happy!
Licking you – Your cat may think you taste good, but grooming is actually a social practice to establish a common scent among a group of cats. In other words, she’s claiming you as one of her own. The exfoliation is an extra added bonus!
Spending time with your cat
As indoor cats will not have the freedom to interact with people or other animals outside, you will be their main companion and they will need lots of your time to ensure they stay happy and healthy.
Your cat may not appreciate a cuddle or belly rub, but it’s important to spend regular time interacting with your cat in a way they do enjoy. When cats groom and rub against each other they focus on the head and neck and they prefer these areas when being stroked by people too. Take some time, allow your cat to approach you and treat them to a gentle chin, cheek and head rub in perfect cat etiquette style. Never force interactions with your cat and always look out for any signs that they are feeling anxious or afraid; if they are, end the interaction and allow them to walk away. If your cat is shy or nervous, then even just sitting and reading quietly close to them can make a big difference to their wellbeing and help build their confidence.
Another way to provide human contact is through grooming. Grooming helps to remove dead hairs, improves circulation and can feel great! Brush your cat at a quiet time of the day, be gentle and calm, giving occasional treats to make the whole experience positive. Let your cat be in control and if they’ve had enough, stop.
Your home is their home
Ensure your cat has enough space. Cats that live indoors only should have access to several rooms, if not the entire house. Think carefully about where to place your cat’s belongings within the available space to best suit their needs.
The litter tray
Just like us, cats like privacy when going to the toilet, so make sure their litter tray is placed in a quiet location away from any busy or noisy parts of the house
Keep your cat’s food and drink away from their litter tray, a separate room is ideal! In addition, cats don’t like to drink close to where they eat so make sure you place their food and water apart too
A big litter tray is better, your cat should have enough space for them to be able to comfortably turn around in and be able to dig
Cats like to use clean litter trays so be sure to scoop out any mess as soon as possible and regularly clean the entire tray. Regular cleaning will also minimise the smell in your home
Cats can be very sensitive to strong smells and it can put them off using their litter tray. When choosing products for your cat’s litter tray avoid anything heavily scented such as scented litter or strong smelling cleaner
There are many types of cat litter and each cat will have their preference. Most cats prefer a thinner more sandy litter rather than the thick clumping variety. It’s fine to try your cat on new types or brands of litter but if you regularly change their litter type it can upset them and can put them off using their tray. If you find a type they seem happy with then it’s a good idea to stick with it
Never punish your cat if they toilet outside of the litter tray. Your cat will not understand why they are being punished and it is likely to make the situation worse. Going to the toilet in the house can be caused by a number of reasons including fear and illness. If you’re worried, speak to your vet
If you have more than one cat living in your house you will need to provide one litter tray per cat. The trays should not be positioned directly next to each other but placed in different locations within the house as far away from each other as possible
Resting spaces and hiding places
Resting spaces and hiding places should be located in a variety of spots throughout the house. Vertical space is important for cats as they are naturally great climbers and it is a good way for them to exercise. They also like to get up high when they are feeling afraid or uncomfortable.
You should provide a choice of raised areas within the home which they can access safely. These resting places should be large enough for them to lie out on comfortably with minimal risk of falling. If you have more than one cat then you will need a number of vertical resting places so that they can choose to rest apart. Ideally, at least one of the places should allow your cat to have a good view. You can purchase radiator beds and ‘cat trees’ which come in a variety of sizes and with different accessories like cosy hammocks and scratching posts. Even an elderly cat or a cat with a physical disability need raised spaces, just make sure they can access easily (without jumping) and can rest comfortably.
Cats hide when they are frightened or unsure of something. Providing cats with places to hide is necessary to help them to cope with any fear or anxiety they may experience and to give them somewhere to relax. You can make a great hiding place by cutting an entrance and exit hole (big enough for your cat!) into a cardboard box and filling it with soft bedding. You can also purchase igloo type cat beds. The hiding place should allow your cat to be almost completely concealed. Make sure you place the hiding place in a quiet part of your house.
Having the opportunity to scratch is important to cats because:
It’s a normal natural behaviour
It keeps their claws in good condition and strengthened their muscles
It’s a method of communication. Cats have scent glands in between the pads on their paws which produce a unique smell – this smell is deposited on whatever the cat is scratching. A cat who has no outdoor access will not have as many suitable places they can scratch, this can be why they sometimes scratch your furniture so providing a suitable scratching post is essential!
A suitable scratching post will be tall enough so that your cat can stretch up fully, and sturdy enough so that it doesn’t fall over when they’re using it. Cats like to scratch and stretch after they have been sleeping so it can be a good idea to place one scratching post next to their favourite sleeping spot.
Diet and Weight
If your cat lives indoors only, you may need to take extra steps to ensure they stay in shape and do not become overweight. Ensuring your cat doesn’t become overweight is essential for their health and requires a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise. A lean cat is likely to live longer, have more energy and be much less prone to disease than a cat that is overweight.
Always read and follow the feeding instructions related to the food you are feeding your cat; your vet can also help advise. Cats naturally eat several small meals per day so ideally split your cat’s daily ration into several small portions (unless advised otherwise by your vet). You should be able to feel your cat’s ribs easily when you stroke their body lightly and, from above, you should clearly see a waistline, a cat’s belly should also be tucked up when viewing from the side. If you are in any doubt about your cat’s weight, always talk to your vet.
Food games and feeding devices encourage physical activity, weight loss and can help prevent boredom. They can either be used as a special treat during the day or can be used to extend the amount of time that your cat spends eating. One example is treat balls, which are filled with your cat’s dry food for the cat to roll around the floor until the food falls out through a hole. You can also make food games and devices. Try taping together the inside of toilet rolls and placing food inside each one, or using empty plastic biscuit trays to sprinkle treats in so your cat has to use their paws to get them out. If you are using treats in the food games and devices be aware of the calorie content and take account for these in your cat’s daily calorie intake.
Keeping your cat active
Cats that are kept indoors may need encouragement to exercise. Find out what toys they like and spend plenty of time every day playing a game that encourages your cat to be physically active. Play also provides mental stimulation; as with physical exercise, mental stimulation is essential for ensuring your cat is healthy and happy. Some cats will play on their own but a game with you can add variety and fun into your cat’s day. It is also a great way to interact and bond with your cat.
Stick and string (also called fishing rod toys) are great for interactive play. Use the toy to encourage your cat to stalk, chase and grab the toy. Having a good variety of toys available does not mean spending a lot of money; there are plenty of cheaper alternatives and even homemade options. Infact, many cats are happy playing in a cardboard box, or with toilet roll tubes, corks or hairbands. Cats tend to enjoy fast moving objects that are about the same size as their natural prey, so toys that are about the size of mice or small rodents are ideal. Many cats also respond well to catnip and spraying catnip scent or stuffing toys with dry catnip can be a successful way to encourage cats to play and will get their excellent sense of smell stimulated.
If you would like more information, take a look at the Indoor Pet Initiative website.