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How to entertain indoor cats

Cats have instinctive needs to express certain behaviours, and if indoor life means that they cannot do these activities, they're likely to become stressed.

Stress may be expressed in different ways, depending on the individual. One cat may tend to hide, while another will urinate in inappropriate places. It's your responsibility to provide for behavioural needs, which would normally be obtained in the great outdoors. These include the need to hunt, the ability to retreat and hide, the pleasure of climbing and, in general, the need for a cat to have a sense that he is in control of his own activities.

Indulging in an intense physical activity and having somewhere to 'chill out' are especially important when space is limited and/ or cats have to share their indoor environments with people and pets they may find difficult to tolerate, for whatever reason. Of course for the best of both worlds you could enclose your outside space with a cat run or secure fencing, at least in part, so that your cat could have access to the outdoors.

How can I stop my indoor cat putting on weight?

Indoor cats can be prone to weight gain if they don't have enough opportunity to exercise and lead a sedentary life. Obesity makes cats more prone to diseases such as diabetes. Combat this by making an effort to spend time each day playing with your cat using interactive toys, including balls and fishing rod-style toys that he can chase and jump for.

Choose a food that is best suited to your cat's individual needs. Your vet will be able to advise you on this. There are premium foods designed for indoor-only cats, and you can also buy 'light' foods intended for cats with a tendency to put on weight. Bored cats will tend to eat more, so it's a good idea to add some kibble to treat ball toys, taken out of his daily food ration. It'll encourage him to play a little more and 'work' for his food.

How to scatter feed indoor cats

Another option is to scatter feed - distribute a handful of kibble in a room for him to find. This will help provide interest for him and relieve boredom too. If you feed wet food, do be careful in the hottest of weathers, as the food will become stale quicker. Take it up after your cat has eaten, but if he likes to pick through the day, put dry food down as described above. Be aware also, that cats tend to eat less when it's hot - and can be lethargic on the hottest days.

An annual visit to the vet is also advisable to keep an eye on your cat's health. Take his or her advice on vaccinations, and also flea and worm treatments since indoor cats can still pick them up. Microchipping is a must because there may come a day when your cat escapes from the house. Remind family members to keep windows and doors closed with an indoor-only cat!

How can I entertain my indoor cat?

  • If your cat has to spend extended periods alone each day, keep a radio playing or play relaxing music for him.
  • Get him some new toys, especially toys that he can play with by himself, avoiding toys with elastic or string which he could get himself tied up in. Hide some of them around your home for him to find.
  • A ping-pong ball in a bath (when dry!) is a fun toy to chase.
  • Rotate those toys! Removing an old toy and giving it back to him a few days later ensures that the toy has novelty value and he's more likely to play with it.
  • Cats love cardboard boxes, especially if you make new entrance holes or peep holes. Flick a scrunched-up ball of paper for him to play with inside, or pop treats inside for him to find.
  • Bring in new items to show him - fallen feathers for him to sniff, paper carrier bags with the handles cut for him to play in, and so on.
  • Minimize confinement as much as possible - freedom to roam is very basic to cats. If you don't already have one, get a climbing tree or tower. Remember, vertical space is as important to cats as horizontal space, and cats love to be high up.
  • Consider allocating part of his regular dry diet to hide around the house. He'll enjoy the search and reward activity.
  • Set time aside everyday to give your cat some one-to-one attention. It could be combined with a grooming session or a game with an interactive toy.
  • Vary your playing routine with him. One day focus on a fishing rod-style toy, the next try a torch light against a wall for him to chase.
  • Provide lots of refuges in elevated positions - such as multi-tiered cat activity centres and safe access to tops of furniture and shelves -throughout the home, as well as adequate toilet facilities (one litter tray per cat and one spare), several beds and scratch posts.
  • Once a kitten has had access to the outdoors he is unlikely to be happy to live an indoor life later down the line. Therefore it is usually recommended that if you want an indoor cat, you get a kitten that has never ventured outside.
  • Feeding the birds and hanging mobiles or ornaments in the garden could also help to keep him entertained, provided he has a perch near a window.