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Will they be happy indoors?

Q I have had Gabby and Sophie since they were four months old. They were born in a feral colony. After being kept inside for six months, I let them explore the garden and slowly their courage grew.

Sadly, a year ago Gabby was spooked by a firework, ran into the road and was hit by a car. She broke her leg in three places. Then Sophie, who is more aloof, was poisoned and spent three weeks on medication. They have not been out since. I love them dearly and enjoy having them as house cats, but am I being cruel? Should I get a cat flap and let them come and go as they please?

Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini suggests: When we keep previously outdoor cats as indoor-only pets we deprive them of the choice over their actions and lifestyle and that does raise ethical concerns. However, there is no doubt that timid individuals, especially if they have had unpleasant experiences as your two girls have, can find the great outdoors too intimidating to want to venture outside often, if at all.

The other thing to consider is that if they were not used to using a cat flap and are so sensitive, they may not like one - and it has the potential to allow other felines access to your pets' core area, which would be fairly traumatic for them. So before fitting a flap, it may be an idea to try owner-controlled access during good weather, with you offering Gabby and Sophie the choice of whether they stay inside or not. You can reduce the fear factor by making sure that there are lots of hiding places, say behind flowerpots and garden furniture, near the back door so they can quietly adjust to the environment before going further.

Taking things slowly and respecting their pace of adjustment would help you see whether they really want to have outside access or are genuinely happy as indoor-only girls. In the meantime you could take a careful look at your home and make sure that it not only provides lots of de-stressing facilities - numerous hiding places, some high up, others dark - but daily opportunities for mental and physical activity for both cats.