How to make your indoor cat happy
Have you ever heard people saying that their cat sleeps all the time? If the owner is complacent about this, he would be shaken by the reality - the cat probably sleeps because it is bored out of its mind. It simply has no other way to pass the time. It is true that cats spend a lot of time sleeping and they need a quiet place to do so, but excessive sleeping is unhealthy. Cats need something to stimulate them and if they do not get it they will slump into this sleep of boredom or show signs of neurotic behaviour such as aggression, excessive grooming, or eating strange objects. These symptoms are more often seen in indoor cats, because there is much less in their world to stimulate them. Although we strongly advocate allowing your cat outdoors, we also appreciate that this is not always possible. But having a completely indoor cat comes with responsibility to provide variety and entertainment for your feline friend which substitutes for the missing outdoor experience. Below we list some suggestions of how you can make your cat's indoor life more interesting.
- Get lots of toys such as balls containing catnip and fluffy balls on a string and put them in different places for the cat to find and play with. Hang some of the toys on string or elastic from some higher shelves for the cat to try jumping up at.
- Set a regular time for your cat to play with you. Playtime should be approximately the same time every day. Cats like routine, and after a while they themselves will come and remind you it's time to get the catnip mouse out. If you have stairs in the house, do a chase and catch game - most cats love it. Just play at chasing her up and down the stairs for a while, and once the cat settles down pat and stroke her. When you think about the cat entertainment, think vertical - cats love climbing and it is good idea to stimulate those muscles. You can build specially designed climbing frames (cat trees). An example is shown in the picture. There's no limit - you might start with single units or end up with something reaching the ceiling. Another useful thing about these building blocks is that each individual vertical pole is a solid scratching post.
- If this is above your budget or you want something more innovative, create your own climbing structure. Get very coarse rag and fix it to the wall. Then build a couple of shelves and nail then on top of the rag. Make sure that the structure is solid enough to take the weight of your cat. A few bricks and a wooden plank can also make a very effective cat playground if built securely.
- On the subject of scratching. Cats need to scratch to remove the old outer casing from their claws. If they can't get a satisfactory scratching post, they'll take it out on your sofa. There is a huge variety of scratching material out there, from scratching posts to floor mats. You might get one vertical and one flat which you can put next to whatever your cat uses for scratching right now. If your cat doesn't get the idea, its not difficult to teach her. You can combine this with play. Set an example by scratching the post yourself and the cat will do the same. Again you may want to develop some sort of routine. For example, encourage scratching before meals, so the cat will eventually associate scratching with nice food. If all else fails, you can get something called soft-paw nail caps for cats and kittens (http://www.softpaws.com/). These soft but durable caps go over each individual claw and last about 6 weeks.
- Turn feeding into a hunting exercise. Take a box with a hole cut into the side and put some food into it. Let your cat find it. Next day move the box somewhere else. This way the cat will have to spend a bit of time tracking down dinner. You might also try putting some dry food treats under a light plastic bowl, and teach her to flip the bowl to find the food. Move the bowl about, and add interest by not always leaving food, or changing the type or quantity.
- Water is very important in cat's diet but I have yet to see cats lapping enthusuastiacally from a water bowl. Many cats prefer to drink running water. Some cats will choose to drink from a running tap. You can install a small fresh water fountain for your cat to drink from. There are also water fountains designed specifically for cats which are available commercially. (Although your cat would heartily approve, resist the temptation to add a goldfish!)
- It is important for an indoor cat to have a clean litter box in a quiet area of the house. Some cats are very fastidious when it comes to cat litter, so two litter trays will be an advantage if you have the space. Unlike food bowls, make sure these are in the same place all the time.
- Since your cat is stuck at home, let her watch the world go by through the window. A wide window sill or a shelf looking out on to the outside will give your cat a living cinema and hours of entertainment.
- On the subject of cinema, behaviorists tell us that cats do enjoy music and are not impartial to watching TV. You can try your cat on different types of music and see what she enjoys. If you have a boogie cat, leave the music on when you are out of the house. Use the wonders of the digital age to tune your computer to an American podcasting station on the Internet with programmes specifically for cats and dogs (http://www.dogcatradio.com). Alternatively, try your cat on a pet pal video (http://dzpetpalsvideo.com/products/).
- If you have a balcony or veranda, consider extending your cat's roaming area. This way your cat can get some fresh air. Make sure to secure the balcony so the cat cannot jump off. Again put some large pots turned upside down, shelves or stuck bricks to create a small wall to provide your cat with more entertainment.
- If you have a garden you can create a cat run adjoining your house which can be entered through the cat flap.
- Cats need small amounts of grass to help regurgitate excess mucus from their stomach. Make sure that your indoor cat has a bit of fresh grass to chow down on, or you may find your nylons at risk instead. Even worse, your cat may be tempted to have a chew on your pot plants, some of which, e.g. lilies, are actually poisonous for cats. Instead indoor gardeners should try planting cat grass in a pot (available from pet stores)
- If you are regularly away from the house for a long time and the cat is stuck there alone, it may be an idea to get another cat. At best they can keep each other company - at worst, they will have to devote mental energy to hating each other. Before getting a new cat, make sure you are familiar with all the pros and cons of multiple cat households. Getting two kittens at the same time is the easiest option. But if you already have a cat, the introduction needs to be thought through and done slowly. We have covered some aspects of this in the 'getting a cat section' - Bringing your cat home - the first few days.
- If you have more than one cat already, make sure that each cat has a space where it can feel in control. If cats need to compete for personal space, things are likely to get nasty.
- It is always a good idea to microchip your cat/cats even if they are indoor cats - escapes do happen, and cats get lost. In fact cats which have spent their lives under a roof are much more accident-prone and likely to go astray than street-wise outdoor types.