The fun of the indoors

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12 March 2015
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With many cats choosing to stay indoors in bad weather, behaviourist Anita Kelsey advises on how to keep your cat entertained at home.More and more cats are choosing to stay inside to avoid the cold weather. So what measures can owners take to ensure their cats can express their outdoor behaviours inside?What a cat would love us to do is supply them with endless mice and birds to chase around the home, but that is not going to happen! So, what can we do to make it more stimulating for them? One of the things I am always interested in is what toys are provided for the cat. Surprisingly, sometimes I am shown rubber bands, hair bands, big furry bears and even tennis balls. Cat owners who choose these types of toys are not really understanding a cat's true nature so it's hardly surprising that some cats don't respond to playtime.What all cats are p

A non-hooded litter tray should also be placed indoors for those particularly bad rainy days. What fussy cat would want to go out and get their bottom wet?! A good tall scratch post will be enjoyed by the cat who loves to stretch and leave their mark up against a tree or neighbour's fence. And, if this hasn't filled up your home enough, kitty surely needs a viewing station to watch all the birds enjoying their morning feed without worrying where the cat is hiding! Cat trees, perches or even a handmade window box will ensure your cat can still keep a keen eye on his territory while remaining warm and dry.

Indoors all year round

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden for their cat to play in or easy access to the great outdoors, especially in large cities. It's a well known fact that many people with pedigree cats keep them exclusively indoors, which many cats can fi nd frustrating. It is essential to read up about your breed of cat, with this consideration in mind, as some do not do so well as indoor only, especially if the indoor space has to be shared with other cats.

For cats that are kept indoors, or ones that used to roam but have since been moved into a place with no outside access, it is essential that they're given lots of stimulation. You and I are able to go outside everyday and be stimulated by hundreds of different sensations: sound, visual candy, smells etc, but it's a different story for the indoor cat who only has his owner's home to explore.

It is extremely important for the well-being and happiness of your cat that you understand his basic needs. When confining a cat indoors, owners commonly make the mistake of providing no stimulation and this in turn can lead to your cat sleeping for most of his life through boredom, and his chances of becoming obese increase. It's important to remember that cats are animals and the natural state of a cat is to hunt, kill, eat and sleep.

Here are a few main pointers to encourage cat owners to think about their cats and improve the environment they live in:

Perches

To create the illusion of the outdoors you should provide a 'tree' or two, and when I say 'tree' I really mean an elevated place for a cat to climb and perch! Cats feel more secure off the ground and like to sit up high and look down on their domain. The elevated space can be a cat tower/ climber or even a space on a high shelf - with the ornaments removed of course!

Scratch posts

Cats usually keep their claws in good shape by scratching tree trunks or fence posts. As well as keeping their claws trim, cats naturally scratch to exercise the muscles in their paws and to leave their scent, so it's a basic and natural need. An indoor cat will scratch your furniture and carpets if a scratch post is not provided. Most cat trees have numerous scratch posts within their design and there are designs of every shape and size that can fit discretely into any d?cor. A large scratch post for an adult cat will also ensure they get to stretch fully.

A room with a view

Next we come to windows. An indoor cat loves to look out of the window to watch birds go by and keep an eye on his 'territory'. This is a great way to stimulate your cat and to relieve long hours of boredom. Window perches can be found online in many varieties. If you have property where it's difficult to make any alterations to the walls (i.e. with screws, nails etc), there are window perches specially designed to combat this problem. These types of window perches use suckers to connect to the actual glass of the window, but are still strong enough to hold most cats' body weight. A local DIY man can also visit your home to construct a kitty-sized window box which any indoor cat would love.

Toys & boredom

Cats sleep a good percentage of the day, but if your cat is sleeping all the time you will need to provide stimulation. You may think that your cat doesn't need to play or doesn't like playing, but you will be surprised once you have found the 'right' toy to suit your cat's personality. Play time is imperative to relieve boredom and frustration, but it also improves the bond between you. Once you have found the correct toys for your cat they should be rotated to keep the cat interested.

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Leave out some fun little toys for your cat to enjoy on his own, such as pingpong balls, open paper bags (with the handles cut) cardboard boxes, potent catnip mice etc. Most people get the wrong kind of toys and then wonder why their cat is disinterested.

Here are some ideas for the best kind of toys to try out on your cat:

  • Hunting toys - cats are hunters and their natural instinct is to kill things, so any toys that stimulate this type of behaviour are highly exciting for the indoor cat. Toy mice, bugs, spiders or feathers make excellent toys that mimic the movement of real prey. Play with them by half hiding them under a newspaper, rugs, boxes etc, and watch as your cat enjoys the hunting process. Reward him with a treat afterwards or a little piece of meat (their 'catch').

  • Catnip - I'm constantly surprised by how many owners never supply catnip. Catnip is a fun treat, which harmlessly 'intoxicates' your cat for between five and 15 minutes and is completely safe. The main constituent of catnip is nepetalactone, which is an oil contained in leaves. It is believed cats react to the nepetalactone, because it resembles a chemical in tomcat urine. This is a much needed experience for an indoor cat and is a wonderful way to get overweight cats to kick up their heels a little!

  • Grass - your cats will love having the opportunity to eat it as a normal outdoor cat would. They love to rub against grass too. It's easy to grow yourself or you can buy grass or turf from DIY shops. Be adventurous with your ideas and make your cat the perfect indoor cat lawn.

Cat dreams DVD

Especially designed for the indoor cat, this DVD features singing birds, squirrels, fish swimming back and forth as well as various other critters that your cat would love to get hold of! Check out www.catdreams.co.uk It may seem crazy but hey, we are cat people!

Correct size litter trays

A lot of people buy litter trays that are too small or too gimmicky. Ensure you have a large enough tray for your cat to move around in and dig properly.

They should also be able to collect litter from another area of the tray to cover their toilet. Large plastic 'under the bed' storage trays are great for this.

Don't line the tray with plastic bin bags or paper. This makes digging harder for the cat and these are unnatural materials for them to have in their toilet area; bags and paper collect urine, which will turn rancid quickly and be very unpleasant for a cat, whose sense of smell is second to none. For this reason, some cats who have litter trays lined with bags or paper will not cover their toilet.

One litter tray per cat is the general rule, plus an extra one in separate areas for multi-cat households, in case one cat blocks a litter tray site entrance (to stop the other resident cat using it easily). Cats do not need lids over their trays - these are mainly for humans. Although a shy cat may feel more secure with a hooded tray, most cats do very well without them. If you do need to get a tray with a cover, make sure the tray is large so that the hood does not restrict movement.

Too many cats

Cats are solitary animals that love human company more than the company of other cats, so it is sometimes a mistake to force your cat - who is naturally protective of his territory - to share his space with another furry 'friend'. It's ok if you obtain two kittens at the same time or if you have a large home, a cat whose personality is laid back, and do the correct introduction steps, but all too often I am called to homes where a resident cat's life has been made a misery by the introduction of another cat.

Nine times out of 10 your cat does not need a friend. He just needs his human caretakers to be more attentive. The days can be very long and boring for an indoor cat, so they will be very excited to see you when you get home from work. Time put aside for play is absolutely essential for your cat's well-being. It's also good for owners to wind down after a hard day with some good wholesome kitty love!

Understanding your cat, his origins and basic natural behaviour, will help you to realise what needs to be done inside the home environment and will enable your cat to have the happiest and most fulfilling life he can, especially if he's indoors for the rest of his life.