Until recently, I didn’t believe an indoor cat could be happy. I thought that “depriving” a cat of the outdoors would surely make them depressed, lethargic and overweight. I saw how much my own country kitties enjoyed climbing trees, fences and trellises, lounging in the garden, and hunting the ever-prolific gophers on our five acre field.
Then we moved back to the small town of my childhood, and my cats became primarily indoor cats. They were scared at first, and hid in the bedroom closet for a week. I wasn’t going to let them go out for at least a month anyway. When they finally did come out of the closet, my California born-and-raised cats took one sniff of the cool Montana air and must’ve decided then and there that being indoors suited them just fine. And when the snow came, it pretty much sealed the deal.
I worried that they’d hate being inside and cease to be the joyful kitties I knew and loved, but soon realized that my concerns were unwarranted. In fact, to my surprise they now show little interest in going outside, even when offered the opportunity. I did make some adjustments to their indoor environment however, to make it as kitty-hospitable as possible. The key to keeping an indoor cat happy, it seems, is providing them with plenty of stimulation and attention, along with an enriched environment.
So what does that entail, exactly? I keep my indoor kitties stimulated by having lots of different cat toys for them to play with. I bring home a huge bag of Christmas clearance cat toys from my local pet store every January, and rarely spend more than $10. Some of those toys have a holiday theme of course, but the cats don’t know the difference or care, and neither do I.
The important thing to remember about cat toys is that every kitty is different; for example, mine go crazy for furry mice but get bored with balls in a nanosecond. If I buy assortments that have balls in them I give those to my sister, whose cats love to bat balls. Soon enough you’ll discover which types of toys your cat likes best, and you can get more of those.
Another other thing to keep in mind is that you need to rotate your cat toys frequently. Once a week I swap out all the toys with others that I keep in the “cat toy drawer.” In a feline’s world, this is like getting brand new toys to play with every week.
I also buy them toys that require human participation – like mice-on-a-stick, lasers, and cat “fishing” poles – which accomplishes both the stimulation and attention aspect. I also try to give each of my three cats my undivided attention every day, no matter how busy I am. I brought these cats into my family because I wanted to give them love and a good home, and I owe it to them to pay attention to them. Now that they’re primarily indoor cats, they are a bit needier and they crave more attention than they did before, so I adjusted to accommodate them.
Besides playing with them, you can also give your cats attention by having petting sessions, lap time, and grooming time. As with the toys, you need to discover what your cat likes the most, and do more of that. Annabelle loves to be brushed and combed (that’s an understatement), so this is what I do for her time. Mickey loves to sit on my lap, so I let him, even if it means I have to sit two feet away from my keyboard. Rocky prefers plain vanilla petting, so he gets that.
The third aspect to keeping an indoor kitty content is an enriched environment. In other words, you need to provide things besides toys that make them happy. My cats like to lie on the back of the sofa and watch the birds, so I placed a comfy sheepskin kitty mat there to contain the cat hair. You can also buy window perches that accomplish the same thing. You might want to get them a cozy cat bed or cat “donut” to sleep in, too. If your kitty likes to nibble on grass, it’s easy to grow special cat greens for them.
Cat towers and cat condos are a great way to provide your cat with a place to nap, scratch, climb, play and perch, all in one day! It’s also a good idea to provide your indoor cat with various scratching surfaces— I have several styles of corrugated cardboard scratchers, as well as a carpeted scratching post. I’ve learned that when it comes to cats, you really can’t have too many scratching posts!
My cats are probably not as happy indoors as they were outdoors, but they are happy enough. Given that indoor cats live longer and are typically healthier, that is good enough for me.
Read more articles by Julia Williams
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