Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT-KA, Katherine Ayres, PhD
We know that outdoor cats live shorter lives subject to disease and injury, yet many cat owners believe that their cats cannot be happy unless they go outside. I think one of the reasons people believe this is that many cats suffer from environmentally deprived environments without their owners even knowing they could be doing more for their cats. The added benefit is that spraying/marking, aggressive behaviors, excessively rough play and scratching of furniture and walls which are common complaints from owners of indoor cats can be helped or eliminated by following our recommendations. Try some of these ideas and see if they don’t make you and your cat happier:
Climbing/Viewing: If you live in a multi-cat household, providing vertical territory is especially important. Providing climbing opportunities can help alleviate cat/cat aggression and spraying/marking problems. Cat window perches, towers and condos allow your cat to jump and climb, which is especially appreciated near a window. If you shop around, you might be surprised, cat trees have come a long way. For fashion conscious owners, we recommend installing floating shelves in a stair step pattern. Shelves can be purchased to match any decor. When you bring a new cat tree into the house or install shelves, spray them with Feliway to help your cat relax around the new item. You can further encourage your cat’s use of trees or shelves with catnip or treats.
Exercise: Cats thrive on engaging their predatory instincts. Toys that mimic small prey (mice, bugs, birds) via their material or movement patterns encourage running, pouncing, stalking, appropriate scratching and climbing. Most cats love fishing pole toys with feathers or a fuzzy toy at the end of the line.
Clicker Training: Cats respond very well to positive reinforcement and can be trained to sit, lay-down, wave, etc. just like dogs! If you’re interested in getting started with clicker training your cat, search for ‘clicker training cat’ on YouTube and you’ll get results that will keep you viewing for days.
Working for Food: Teach your cat to hunt for his meals by hiding food around the house or use “Work to Eat” toys, see some of our suggestions here. You don’t have to buy work to eat toys, you can make your own. Check out our article Work It Kitty for home made work to eat toys and video.
Scratching Items: Scratching products indulge your cat’s need to stretch, scent and groom their claws. Made from natural (sisal, cardboard) and synthetic (carpet) materials, vertical posts, towers, door-hanging or flat floor designs are widely available. Place in high traffic areas, and particularly near prohibited scratching objects such as your furniture!
“Play Alone” Toys: Toys such as the ‘Fling-ama-string’ offer animated movement to encourage play while you’re unavailable to assist. An internet search on ‘motorized cat toys’ will give you plenty of options for toys your cat can chase and interact with.
Bringing the Outdoors Inside: Consider providing your feline with ‘cat-grass’ or catnip. Cat-grass is sprouted oat or wheat grass, which you may grow or purchase pre-potted at a pet/health-food store. Cat-grass inexpensively provides chewing, dietary fiber, and nutrients and may discourage houseplant eating. The natural plant chemicals in Catnip produce excitable rolling and play behaviors in some cats. Many individuals are highly attracted to its scent. Many cats love running water so what better addition than a fountain? You can purchase a fountain or why not get creative and make your own? Search on ‘diy cat fountains’ and you’ll find instructional videos and plans.
Outdoor Options For the Indoor Cat: An internet search search on ‘cat enclosures’ produces an array of outdoor cat-habitats of various sizes, complexities and costs. These may be home-built or purchased, so long as they are secure. Inclusion of a variety of safely attached toys, tree branches, scratching posts and non-toxic plants provides mental and physical exercise. One of our favorite sites to purchase enclosures is Canada Cat Enclosures. If you’re the DIY type, we found Catio Designs which sells plans for different types of enclosures.
Going For a Walk: Purchase a harness made specifically for cats. We like the Come With Me cat harness made by Premier. Go slowly and allow the cat to sniff the harness. You can then start pairing the harness with treats. Once your cat is wearing the harness, attach the leash and let your cat walk around the house until the cat is comfortable (don’t forget the treats). When you’re ready to go outside for the first time, go at your cat’s pace. Remember, this experience is totally new for your cat so give them time to acclimate and move forward when they’re ready. You can try luring your cat into a walk with treats. Walking your cat is good for you, good for your cat and you’re sure to get smiles and waves from passersby.
Chasing: Toys that move in unpredictable ways (either with your help, or by motor/magnets) allow your cat to run and perform seek-and-catch behaviors. Ping pong balls are inexpensive and fun.
Homemade Cat Toy Ideas: To inexpensively expand your cat’s toy collection, consider creating enticing objects from items around your house. Your cat might enjoy:
- Hidden Objects: Stash a small, safe object or favorite toy underneath an overturned cardboard box. Cut holes in the box just large enough for your cat to peer and/or reach inside. Favorite toys often become more enticing when obscured by a sheet of noisy, dig-able newspaper.
- Cat Caves: Overturned boxes or paper shopping bags (without handles) provide a crinkly, dark place for your ever-clever cat to hide within. Drag a toy past “his door” for even more excitement.
- Prey: Create ‘mice’ by filling a sock-toe with catnip or crinkly material, and tying it off.
Providing environmental enrichment can be as fun for us as it is for our cats. What things do your cats enjoy? Does your cat have an “unusual” toy or activity they enjoy?
outside cat enclosures says
I am planning to build a catio for my two cats. However, I want to enclose my catio with pet proof screen over the wire to keep out mosquitoes. My vet said that cats can get heartworm disease just like dogs can and for cats there is no prevention medication. So why don’t I ever see anyone’s catio covered with screen? Just wondering why no one thinks it is necessary.
Christine Hibbard says
Hello Outside Cat Enclosures, I wasn’t aware that there were no veterinary treatments for feline heartworm but you are right: https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/feline-heartworm.html. I think you bring up a very important point. I did a google search “pet proof screen” because I wasn’t aware that “pet proof” screening products were available but they are. I learned two things today because of your post. Thank you!
Jordan Walker says
Great article! I’m so glad I found this article while searching for some information about cats. I have an indoor cat, but he is not contented to just stay indoors. He also wants to play outside and explore my yard. What I usually do is I let him play for 1-2 hours everyday to ease his boredom.