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By: Dr. Christa Kahuda
Keeping your cat indoors has kept him safe from many health hazards such as infectious diseases and injuries. However, most outdoor cats lead busy lives. They explore, hunt, scavenge for food, and they might interact with other cats. In contrast, our indoor cats have little to do and boredom may set in. For some cats, indoor confinement and other adverse experiences can even lead to health problems such as inappropriate behavior, obesity, and chronic conditions such as lower urinary tract disease. Studies conducted over the last several years have found that by modifying the indoor environment for our cats we may be able to reduce some of these conditions and unwanted behavior.
The first line of therapy for your indoor cat is environmental enrichment. This means providing for all the resource and social needs of your cat. Consider the categories below – you may find many ways to easily improve your cat’s indoor environment!
Food: Cats prefer to eat individually in a quiet and safe location where other animals, appliances, or sudden movement will not startle them. Cats are also natural predators and some prefer hunting and stalking behaviors. You can stimulate these situations by also hiding small amounts of food around the house or by using a food puzzle container from which your cat can release food pieces.
Water: Each cat may have a preference for freshness, taste, movement, and container of their water. Be sure to provide a variety of options for your cat’s drinking water and be sure to change the water and clean the bowl regularly.
Litter Boxes: Litter boxes should be provided in several locations throughout the house. Those locations should be quiet and convenient for your cat. The locations should also provide an easy escape route. You may need to test several types of litters to determine which your cat prefers, but generally unscented clumping litters should be considered. Litter boxes should be scooped daily and completely cleaned weekly.
Space: The cat’s environment should include appropriate areas for scratching (horizontal and vertical), climbing, resting, and hiding. Raised platforms, shelves, or window seats often appeal to cats. Some cats enjoy playing and hiding in cardboard boxes.
Play: Cats have preferences regarding interaction with their owners. Some may like to be petted while others prefer to play. Provide a variety of toys for your cat. Some cats prefer toys that they can throw around themselves. Other cats prefer toys that require owner participation, such as those you wiggle and dangle. Stimulating play for a cat involves opportunities to “hunt,” so move toys in such a way that they mimic the movements of a rodent or bird. Introduce new toys periodically to keep your cat from becoming bored.
Resources: Often indoor cats compete for resources – you may start to notice intercat aggression due the perception of limited resources. Provide multiple ‘spaces’ for each cat and also be sure to provide separate/safe locations for food, water, and litterboxes.
Phermones: Phermones are chemical substances that are produced naturally by cats. Synthetic forms of these phermones may reduce anxiety in cats when used in combination with environmental enrichment. (consider ‘Feliway’)
Please feel free to contact us with questions or concerns regarding your indoor cat!
Adapted from “Pandora syndrome” by C.A. Tony Bluffinton, DVM