A cat’s indoor/outdoor lifestyle can be fulfilling, but carries certain risks such as sustaining injury, getting lost, or contracting illness. To minimize these risks, many pet owners keep their cat indoors. A cat’s indoor life is safer, but considerably more boring, which can lead to behavior issues or stress-related illness. To prevent these problems, pet owners must acknowledge and meet their indoor cats’ unique needs, and provide an interesting, enriching environment to keep them mentally engaged. Our Veterinary Medical Center of Indian River County team describes the essential components to keeping your indoor cat happy.

Why keeping your indoor cat happy is important

Cats have unique social and behavioral needs that differ from dogs and humans. When their needs go unmet, your cat may experience stress and stress-related medical problems, including:

  • Urinary tract inflammation
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Viral infections
  • Overgrooming
  • Anxiety  
  • Aggression

You can reduce your pet’s stress by providing a cat-friendly environment, which is key to keeping them happy and healthy. Remember that each cat is an individual, and you may both experience some growing pains as you try to set them up to live their best life. Begin by establishing a cat-friendly home, introducing the four essential components to keep your indoor cat happy and healthy.

#1: Ensure your indoor cat has access to basic needs

You cannot have a happy cat unless you meet their most basic needs, which can be more complicated in a multipet home. All pets require access to food and water, and each should have their own bowls located away from the litter box area. If you have dogs, consider elevating your cat’s bowls out of the dogs’ reach. In addition, some cats prefer running water, and do best when they have access to a fountain. 

Pet owners often place litter boxes in out-of-the-way home areas or basements, but think about your cat’s point of view. If a litter box is placed next to a loud appliance, requiring a long trek, and being so secluded you rarely clean it, your cat will likely avoid it. Keep litter boxes in areas that are convenient for your cat, and place at least one box on each of your home’s levels. If you have more than one cat, provide one box per cat plus one extra. Keep the litter type consistent, and ensure you scoop the box at least once per day.

#2: Provide your indoor cat outlets for natural behaviors

Domestic cats are not far removed from their wild counterparts, both genetically and behaviorally. As such, indoor cats need opportunities to express their natural behaviors—scratching and climbing—in a nondestructive way. Scratching is a means for cats to mark territory and care for their claws, and if you do not provide an appropriate scratching surface, they are likely to scratch furniture. Your cat feels heard when you provide several scratching posts covered in a variety of materials in areas where they spend time with the family. 

Providing vertical climbing space, such as shelves or cat trees, fulfills your cat’s need to venture up high, and survey their territory. Wild cats often retreat vertically to escape predators and stash their own prey, which allows them to feel safe. Providing vertical space makes your cat’s living area more interesting, and by placing your cat’s shelves near windows, they can watch wildlife outside—another engaging pastime.

#3: Provide play opportunities for your indoor cat

Engage your cat’s natural hunting instincts through play. Cats love to stalk, chase, and pounce on toys that resemble their natural prey—birds, rodents, and insects. Provide your cat with various toy types to determine their preference, and engage them in a daily play session. Unlike humans, most cats do not keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, so they are likely awake and bored while the family sleeps. To prevent your cat from waking you, give them interactive toys they can play with by themselves, including racetrack, light-up, and battery-powered robotic toys. Feeding time can be another opportunity for play and enrichment by making your cat work for their meal. Food puzzles and lick mats encourage problem-solving, and make your cat’s mealtime more interesting and fun.

#4: Ensure your indoor cat has a safe resting place

While cats can form strong bonds, they are a solitary species in contrast to dogs and humans, so many of them prefer to have some time alone. In addition, your cat may be wary of strangers, and feel stressed by visitors or household changes. To mitigate this stress, set your cat up with a comfortable place to retreat, rest, and feel safe. Provide your cat with a basket, box, or a cat bed lined with soft blankets, and let them choose the location, such as a back bedroom, closet, or an area closer to where the family gathers. 

If you need help determining your cat’s individual needs, troubleshooting behavior issues, or developing your cat-friendly home, our Veterinary Medical Center of Indian River County team is here to help. Call us to schedule a happy cat consultation with our knowledgeable team.