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Cats: Indoor cats

Should You Keep Your Cat Indoors?

There is continued debate about the rights and wrongs of keeping a cat permanently indoors. However, more and more cat owners, when faced with the dangers that lie outdoors, such as traffic and disease, are doing so. This is especially true of cat owners in cities, who may not have a garden.

The most important consideration when deciding whether to keep a cat indoors or not, is the temperament of the particular cat. For instance, a cat that had previously had access to outdoors and is suddenly confined, may not adapt well, and it would be unkind to try and keep him or her in. Even providing a safe, fenced outdoor area will probably not be enough for such a cat. On the other hand, an elderly cat that had previous outdoor access, may be quite happy to spend his or her twilight years permanently indoors.

It is often said that cats that have never had access to the outdoors will always be content to live indoors, a case of 'what they don't have, they don't miss', but this isn't always true. There are cats that despite being indoor cats from kittenhood, will show signs of wanting to be let out, even those that have access to an outdoor run may want to explore further afield. They may start to pace and become restless, and become aggressive to other cats in the household, or even spray around the house. So it's important to constantly re-assess your decision to keep a cat indoors.

Keeping Your Cat Happy with a Stimulating Environment

The environment for indoor cats should be as interesting and stimulating as possible, so your cats don't get bored. Play is important as a way of releasing pent up energy, so your cats should have toys that stimulate their natural tendencies to stalk and chase. Take time to play with your cats as well, and you'll both enjoy yourselves.

There are many types of cat 'aerobic' centres available now, from a simple scratching post and shelf, to intricate multi-post affairs, supplied with beds, carpeted shelves, pagodas and even artificial leaves to look like trees! These aerobic centres will satisfy your cats' desire to climb and jump, and will also divert claws away from scratching furniture, as the posts are usually wrapped with sisal, and some are even impregnated with catnip, which many cats find irresistible.

Cats particularly like high, out-of-the-way places, and it is more important to provide such areas if there's more than one cat in the household, because like us, cats enjoy some 'time out' from one another! If cats have access to the top of a cupboard or wardrobe, perhaps provided with some comfy bedding too, they will be just as happy up there, as on top of a cat aerobic centre. An ordinary cardboard box is always a great attraction, cats just can't resist jumping into one. If you provide several boxes, perhaps with some turned upside down and holes cut into the sides, cats will amuse themselves for hours. If they have another cat to play with, even better!

Cats can also be made to work for their food, as another way of alleviating boredom. Dry food treats can be placed inside special cat treat balls, available from pet shops. The cats will then roll the balls around and are rewarded as the treats drop out every now and then.

Litter Trays

Indoor cats need a litter tray, or trays if you have more than one cat. The number of trays should be the same as the number of cats, plus one extra. The trays should be placed away from busy thoroughfares in the house, in a secluded spot where the cats can have some privacy. It is best not to put the tray in the kitchen, both because it's unhygienic, and because cats may not take kindly to eating food near where they normally go to the toilet (and who can blame them!) The type of litter you use depends on the cats' preferences. And do make changes from one litter to another gradually, because any sudden change in litter material may mean that the cats stop using the tray altogether, and choose another place to perform, which may not be to your liking!

Salads for Cats

Cats are carnivores, but if they live permanently indoors they still need some greenstuff to aid digestion, like grass, catnip or even chives. You can sow seeds for them in pots, although seedlings will need protection from nibbling, until they are mature. Giving your cats greenstuff will avoid the problem of their eating your houseplants, some of which may be poisonous.

Safe Fenced Areas and Outdoor Runs

You will want to open windows for fresh air, and may worry about the safety of your cat, especially if you have a kitten and live several floors up. You can buy special mesh screens to fit to the window, so that both you and your cats can enjoy fresh air in safety. These screens can also be used to fence in balconies. Wrought iron balconies should always be made safe with wire mesh, so cats don't scoot through the gaps, and should have a mesh covering in case the cat tries to balance on the top and falls. Kittens should always be kept from the dangers presented by balconies. Adult city cats often enjoy sunning themselves on top of solid balconies with wide flat tops, however. Here you need to balance your desire to protect the cat with the enjoyment it derives from lying in the sun on a high place. A compromise is to fit some mesh behind the balcony, increasing its height, so the cat can still sun itself on top, but is less likely to overbalance and fall off.

Cat owners lucky enough to have a garden can set up a safe fenced area, or an outdoor run attached to the house. If your garden is small, you could fence off the entire garden, but the fencing has to be at least six feet high, with an inward angled overhang of at least two feet, made of wire mesh held with specially angled brackets, to prevent escape. This can, unfortunately, look very unattractive and there may be planning problems due to the height of the fencing.

Another solution is to have a purpose built run with a roof, attached to the house, which the cat can access via a cat flap from the house. There are several companies offering this type of run, or you could buy the panels individually and build a run yourself. You can build a run like this in an interesting shape, and make it look like a conservatory, but with wire mesh instead of glass. It's even better if the area you choose incorporates an area of garden with shrubs and small trees, so the cat has a ready-made jungle to investigate. If not, you can have some fun planting things that appeal to cats, like bamboos that rustle their leaves enticingly in the breeze, and loose ground cover plants under which the cat can hide. There are scratching post/aerobic centres suitable for outdoors too, and these could be put among the plants. Some shelves could also be attached in various parts of the run to provide places for sunbathing, but be careful to ensure that there are some shady spots too. This is especially important if you own a white cat, which may be vulnerable to the sun.

Litter trays should also be provided, or your cat will use the flower beds. Hooded trays are ideal and can be hidden amongst the shrubs. Another idea is to enclose an area with something like log roll and fill it with sharp sand. This can then be sifted through and scooped much the same as you would with a litter tray. Wide shallow terracotta pots from garden centres can also be used, fillled with grit, and they won't look out of place in the garden setting.

The debate on indoor cats will run and run, but, as you can see, it is possible to protect your cat and give him or her a stimulating environment.