Read this before deciding on an indoor cat!

How can you make sure your indoor cat is as happy, healthy, and content as he deserves  to be?

Increasing numbers of people are choosing to keep their cats indoors. Reasons vary, but the main one is safety. This may be due to the home being near a main road, or a railway line, or in a built-up area where there are lots of other cats. Owners sometimes cite the risk of their cats contracting infectious diseases, concern that they will wander away from home, and even theft as reasons for not wanting to allow their cats outside. But having an indoor cat is not the easy option it might at first appear; it requires thoughtful planning and commitment. There are implications for the cat’s, as well as the owner’s, lifestyles that will continue day by day for the whole of the cat’s life. 

You might wonder how it will impact on your home life. Well, when it’s hot in the summer, you won’t be able to fling open the French doors, because your cat will wander out. The same applies when opening any other window, unless you have sturdy catches or a window screen. 

You will be cleaning out litter trays two or three times a day, disposing of the contents, and buying heavy bags of litter on your weekly shopping trips. Your home furnishings will inevitably suffer feline wear and tear, as paws use the surfaces to hang out, scratch, play on, and possibly even climb. Fresh flowers and pot plants must be carefully chosen, and carefully placed to save them from being knocked over and/or eaten. 

Readers who have indoor cats are probably nodding in agreement at this point. Most will agree, however, that peace of mind is worth it, particularly if you have lost a cat in a road accident.

Cat breeders have traditionally been keen to have the safety of their kittens stipulated in sales contracts, many insisting on an indoor life. Some breeds are said not to have much street sense, while others are gregarious and wander about looking for entertainment and company. Active cats need space and opportunities to run and climb, which the right indoor environment should facilitate. As a potential owner, you will need to be honest with yourself: will the interior of your home be enough?  A small flat, for example, will be restrictive for some high-energy breeds. Rosemary Fisher, Chinchilla breeder and director for the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), says that safety is more important than breed choice. “If, like me, you live on a busy main road, with traffic whizzing by, whatever breed you have you wouldn’t let him out. I think all cats probably like going out, but, whether a breed or a non-pedigree, the priority is safety.”

In terms of advising on which breed would be most suitable for an indoor life, Rosemary says: “The quieter breeds would be OK living indoors; these include the longhair and semi-longhair breeds, particularly Persians and Exotics, along with the British Shorthairs. The more active breeds — foreign breeds, such as the Burmese and Bengals, for example — have a tendency to be hunters, and would probably be outside if they had the choice.”

Rosemary suggests owners either make their garden completely cat-proof or provide a large outdoor area for these cats so they can go out when they choose, especially if owners are at work all day. “You will need to keep active cats, like the foreign breeds, occupied as, once they are bored, they can get into mischief,” she cautions.

Do bear in mind that, in selecting a specific breed, you’ll know the cat’s temperament to a certain extent, but every cat is an individual. The usual advice is if a cat has never known the outdoors, he won’t miss it. However, the cat may be drawn to the outdoor world he sees through the windows. Watching birds fly by and other activities in the garden may be so compelling he’ll become fixated on getting outside. You will have to work hard to keep him distracted, or you might find that your plans for an indoor life for your cat are thwarted. It can help to buy or adopt a pair of kittens to keep one another company. But start as you mean to go on — allowing a cat outside, but then changing your mind, is unfair and, arguably, cruel. 

Can I adopt an indoor cat?

Animal rescue organisations tend to prefer cats to have a home that allows outdoor access, because a garden enables a cat to exercise all of his natural instincts. They will make an exception for cats who are deaf, blind, disabled, or have feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), meaning that they cannot come into contact with other cats.

Some charities, including Yorkshire Cat Rescue, are open to placing rescued cats in indoor-only homes, based on the cat’s background and specific needs. “We would make sure it is the right cat,” says Sara Atkinson, the charity’s founder. “If you are having a kitten (or two if you are at work all day) that would be all right. A single kitten can be OK if you are at home for most of the day.”

If you wanted to adopt an adult cat, the charity would need to be certain that the cat would be happy with an indoor-only home — perhaps because he was elderly, or, according to the previous owner, simply not interested in going outside. “If he was an active adult cat used to having free access to the outdoors throughout his life, then it wouldn’t be suitable,” Sara says.

If there wasn’t a suitable cat available, your details — including the fact you can offer an indoor-only home — could then be placed on a waiting list. 

Remember, a benefit of obtaining a cat or kitten from a reputable breeder or rescue charity is that you can always return to them for advice, and draw on their experience if any problems arise.

Home for a cat

Think about your home and consider whether it is suitable as a cat’s entire world. Will it be big enough? A cat will need access to as much space as possible. Are you happy to leave interior doors open at all times to give your cat a choice of where to be, to have space to run and expel energy? Are you willing to make your home cat friendly by introducing a tall cat climber, freeing up space on a shelf as a cat perch, placing cat beds and scratching posts around in various rooms? These are the minimal changes your home will need. It might not suit you if you prefer minimalist interior design, are particularly house-proud, have fragile belongings, or a fondness for houseplants — although there are ways and means!
It is essential that every member of the family is in agreement on having an indoor cat and that children can be trusted to shut outside doors behind them — it just needs a door to be carelessly left ajar for an opportunist feline to make a quick dash! Care needs to be taken with interior doors too — many a carpet has been shredded by a trapped cat!
Visitors to your home will need to be briefed, and each one, whether they are a friend, relative, or a visiting workman, will need reminding that the cat cannot be let out. Microchipping, needless to say, is as essential for an indoor cat as it is for any other just in case they get out by accident.

Health and welfare

Your indoor cat will still need to see a vet. It is essential that he has an annual check-up to keep on top of any health concerns, including ensuring teeth and gums are healthy. It’s wise to have your cat vaccinated, and your vet will advise on how frequently boosters are required for your individual cat. Pet insurance policies insist on regular vaccination for the health of the cat (some will invalidate claims if vaccinations are not maintained), and good catteries will insist on seeing vaccination certificates.