One of the big questions cat parents have to make is whether to let your cat go outside or not. For their own safety (and to protect the wildlife outside your home) the best choice for many many reasons is to keep them indoors!
But if you do decide to keep your furrbaby inside as an indoor cat, then you need to know that indoor cats have special needs.
The BIG question then becomes, how to keep your indoor cat happy and healthy? Keep reading for our top 11 BEST Tips on keeping indoor cats happy and healthy.
After all, cats evolved to live outside very well as hunters living an independent life. It’s their natural original habitat.
How to keep your indoor cat happy means that you embrace the fact that cats are natural born predators with a unique viewpoint all their own.
What makes sense to other cats may not ever make good sense to a human being. Humans simply don’t have their instincts, their drives, their extraordinary senses and sensibilities.
Outdoor cats do take their toll on birds and lizards and the like. In fact, an article in National Wildlife magazine looked at the enormous toll that free-ranging domesticated cats take on wildlife in the United States.
They said that “the latest study conservatively concluded that between 1.3–4 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals are killed annually by cats, making them one of the largest human-influenced sources of mortality for birds and mammals in the country.”
Also, outdoor cats are threatened by other predators, by cars and various vehicles, and illness.
As a result they typically often have much shorter lives compared to indoor only cats.
That isn’t to say that they might not be happier as an outside cat though.
Many indoor only cats are miserable and unhealthy and that leads to behavior problems. It’s up to you as their caretaker to figure out how to provide a proper and stimulating environment to keep your indoor cat happy.
So it makes sense to keep your cat indoors, but if you do make your cat an indoor only cat, then there are things you must do as a good cat daddy or mom for them to be happy and healthy.
However, keeping your cat indoors happy and healthy can be easier said than done. Have you ever tried to turn an outdoor cat into an indoor cat? It can be a challenge. Some cats will adapt fairly easily, others will fight you every step of the way and will never agree to your indoor plan. It goes against their nature.
They need to feel the soil beneath their paws, smell fresh air, go where their hearts leads them without constraint or entrapment. If you keep those types of cat personalities indoors, something inside them will die a slow and painful death.
For instance, my boyfriend once adopted a 2 year old calico manx kitty from the Petsmart rescue shelter. She was absolutely gorgeous with all her lovely colors, beautiful gold eyes and soft thick coat of fur. For him, it was love at first sight.
He named her Lucy.
His intention was for Lucy be his RV cat and for them to travel around the country and live together, keeping him company.
His vision was that the cat would hang out with him, sleep with him, sit in the passenger’s seat while he drove, and be as excited as he was about globe trotting in the giant tin can he called a house on wheels.
Be aware! Your cat may have other plans and unmet needs.
But here’s the problem. Lucy was trapped and taken from her home, a junkyard where she’d spent her entire life so far. She hated the RV life. She wasn’t sure she liked humans either.
She wound up hating him too for forcing her to live in the RV. She attacked her “jailer” every chance she got, hid under the furniture, and tried to escape out the door at every opportunity.
She wound up getting very very ill after a short time, and started wasting away. Lucy felt trapped and inconsolable because she simply couldn’t breath indoors and would rather die than live that way.
And that’s how she wound up living with me in my little garden home and side yard. At first, as we bonded and got to know each other, I encouraged her to stay with me inside the house as an indoor kitty while she healed and recovered her strength. But she was having none of it.
Her soul and spirit insisted that she could only ever be happy and healthy if she was outside.
Giving into the inevitable, we discussed the dangers of being outside, and how to keep herself safe. She agreed to wear a collar with her name and other essential information on it.
Lucy agreed to stay close to home, and to come whenever I called her so I wouldn’t worry. I agreed to feed her regularly, and to care for her and love her always.
She made friends with the possum that lived under the deck. She occasionally wandered down the street and made friends with the neighbors who she visited often. Lucy helped me raise my puppy Einstein, teaching him how to behave with cats and he adored her. She often went on walks with us around the neighborhood too… that was great fun.
But I digress…
The point is, once she was listened to and respected and could live the life she wanted that made her happy, she recovered her health and well-being. She occasionally agreed to come inside when it was especially bad weather, but she always let me know when it was time for her to go back outside and recharge her spirit and soul in the sun and fresh air again. And she lived a very long happy life, to the ripe old age of 20 years old. She was a favorite in the neighborhood too, known and loved by many of us.
I learned a lot from Lucy and her story is not the norm.
One of the important things I learned is that there are ways to keep indoor cats happy, healthy and entertained, and there are ways to make them miserable.
Here are our top 11 best tips for how to keep your indoor cat happy and healthy.
You’ve heard the saying, when momma is happy everybody is happy, but when momma ain’t happy, nobody is happy?
Well, when your indoor cat is happy, you will be happy too. And believe me, if your cat is unhappy? You’re not gonna like it.
Play Therapy! Because a Tired Cat is a Happy Cat
Cats can go stir crazy if they can’t act out their natural hunting instincts. Cats chase feathers and toys because they are enacting hunting games. Natural athletes, they’ve got to work out and express all that excess energy. You can help them with that!
There’s no shortage of awesome fun solo and interactive cat toys that will keep your cat moving and grooving and feeling fine.
Boxes are great fun – cats feel compelled to be in a box.
There are toys that look like mice, toys with feathers, battery-powered toys with flashing lights and sound effects. There are the infamous “red dot” laser pointers, moving toys, toys on strings and the oh so wonderful crinkle toys, and cat tunnels…
Everything that you need to help keep your cat pouncing and stalking and safely wrestling with their pretend “prey” indoors. You can do it yourself too with sock toys with crinkly bits of paper stuffed or a plastic water bottle stuffed inside, dragging ribbons or bits of rope under a sheet or newspaper. Make it fun and interesting.
Remember play for cats is a hunting game.
Your job is to recreate the movements and actions that a prey animal might make. When you do that right, your cat will engage. Do it wrong? Boring….
Your cat wants solo toys, and they also want you to admire their athletic prowess! So every day and before bedtime, have fun playing with your cat. Your goal is to tire them out until they are panting and want to rest, typically 15 minutes or so should do the trick.
End the play time by giving them a bite to eat – after all, every successful hunt ends with eating what they caught… Afterward, they’ll happily groom themselves, and then be ready for a lovely nap with you and will hopefully sleep all night long.
Bird Watching! Setup Bird Viewing Stations
Another wonderful how to tip to keep your indoor cat happy is to setup a bird watching station for them.
Birds are natural prey for cats, and are fascinating in their own right. Even well-fed domestic cats are attracted to small animals. Satisfy their need by setting up a bird viewing station inside. Something like this – install a cat window perch and set up a bird or hummingbird feeder or maybe a bird bath right outside the window.
Your indoor cat will get the pleasure and the joy of watching the birds, and of course the birds will also be safe from being eaten, so that’s good.
Did you know that you can also reduce bird window strikes by putting baths or feeders outside a window? And that’s a good thing too! Win-Win-Win! Check out these fun bird feeders and baths to get you started.
Hunting For Fun! Let the Games Begin
You’ve heard the phrase, cats have 9 lives? That’s because cats are inherently curious creatures. Exploring the world around them is important to them, it’s a creative exercise and enhances their sense of well-being. If your indoor cat doesn’t have enough games and activities to keep them engaged and happy, they’re going to get bored. A bored cat will act out, and even decide in moments of desperation that they must escape outside… because indoors? Well, like a kid cooped up inside with nothing to do, it’s BORING.
Toys are great, bird watching is great, play therapy is great… Make things more interesting by hiding their favorite treats around the house. Think “easter egg hunt” or “treasure hunt” time.
There are also special cat treat puzzles and toys that make your cat work hard to extract the goodies. They’ll keep your indoor kitty entertained on solving the problem for hours, or at least until they figure out the trick to it (think “rubik’s cube”.)
Did you know they use the same kind of things to keep lions, tigers and bears, oh my, plus other predators in good mental and physical condition in zoos? Yes, it’s that important.
What is catnip? It’s a plant in the mint family (Nepeta cataria). It works on many kitties, although not all cats respond to it, because it contains a natural oil called nepetalactone which has a unique effect on cats. When your cat inhales the nepetalactone, their feline olfactory system senses it as a natural cat pheromone.
When your indoor cat rubs on or chews catnip, or rolls in it or scatters it everywhere, or pounces on it and looks spacey and so very funny, it’s because it’s producing a mild natural high that is both harmless and temporary, but that is very pleasurable for kitties.
It doesn’t usually have an effect on kittens under six months of age, but if your cat does love it, you have one more wonderful way to help keep your indoor cat happy. Check out the different ways catnip comes, from dried form that you can fill sachets or socks or rub on their favorite toys or scratching posts, or in these cute cat toys like the mini-mice.
You can also get it in spray form. Then you can mist toys or cat beds or window sills. You can even grow live catnip plants in pots in a sunny window too.
Gimme a Box! Any Box or Cave Will Do
It’s a fact! Cats love boxes, any shape or size, small to large. They feel safe tucked inside. I’ve often felt that cats can be a bit autistic because they love to feel snug and secure, contained.
An upscale Cat Cave like this eco-friendly wool shaped cocoon is also a lovely place for cats to hang out with a space of their own.
The Trees The Limit! Climbing Cats Are Happy Cats
Wild cats are natural climbers, pursuing prey into the trees and seeking high places when frightened. Your indoor cat wants to climb too because it’s their instinct to do so.
If you don’t want your cat climbing the walls or your furniture or the window curtains or the bookshelf or the kitchen cabinets or…, then get them their own cat tree(s).
A great ‘how to keep your cat happy’ tip is to provide a variety of ways for them to exercise and satisfy their urge to climb.
If you don’t do this for them, then don’t come crying to me about how your cat just destroyed your favorite piece of furniture! You’re being a bad cat daddy or mommy.
Your furbaby gotta climb, baby!!
Get a big enough cat tree that they can actually CLIMB. The short little stubby scratching posts are not trees, nobody can climb that so don’t waste your money on the little ones. They are unstable and your cat will hate it.
They come in all shapes and colors and sizes to fit your space and decor.
My all time favorite book about creating extraordinary cat spaces indoors is here, The Cats’ House.
This one’s fun too! If you’re handy, you can build your own.
Take it to the next level!
Another easy way to satisfy their urge is to add “cat shelves” throughout your home. This takes advantage of all the vertical space on the walls for your feline family members. It can be as easy as putting up a few floating shelves mounted to the wall or you can create more involved “catwalks” that wrap around entire rooms.
There are basically two types of cats: bush cats and tree cats. Bush cats like to hide under things and peek out, feeling safe inside their “den”.
Tree cats need to be high, the lord or lady of their domain. Have you ever seen a big wildcat like a lion or tiger lazing around in a tree? They want to see everything and they feel safe from up high, plus if their prey was foolish enough to walk under them they could pounce!
Cat shelves will allow your kitty to get up high and go places only cats can go.
Let’s Go Outside! Take a Hike, Together
It is possible to teach your kitty to walk on a leash. Or, there are cat carriers on wheels available too! Sound crazy? Not really even though there are some hilarious YouTube videos out there but believe it or not it is possible. This is a great way to compromise your indoor cats needs to go outside and smell the fresh air, feel the sun AND it’s one of the most responsible ways to do it.
Start training your cat as a kitten and they’ll think it’s normal, no questions asked. But even older cats can learn how to walk on a leash.
Tips: Help your cat get used to wearing a harness for short periods of time indoors, then attach the leash for them to drag around. Reward them for walking with you!
Whatever you do, don’t pull on the leash because it will make your cat fight you and the leash and have a bad experience. The last thing you want to have happen is for them to have a bad experience or they won’t want to play with you anymore.
Once your cat is comfortable wearing the harness and leash, take them outside. Go slowly! At first just go on short trips outside and then gradually go farther.
Pay attention, you want your cat to feel comfortable. If you get stuck or have trouble, consult with a pro trainer, feline expert or professional animal communicator.
Did you know that the idea of walking dogs on leashes once seemed weird? Now it’s the norm. Same with cats.
You Say Patio, Kitty Says Catio! The BEST and Safest Way for Cats to Be Outdoors
Another great tip on how to keep indoor cats happy and healthy is to setup a “catio” to fulfill their craving for fresh air and sun and dirt and grass and… If you have a bit of space outside, then your kitty can have their own personal playground.
What is it? A catio is an enclosed structure that you can install in your yard, as an extension of your deck or patio. It’s like a cat playpen or the feline version of a dog run. You can invest in premade, easy to setup catios, DIY plans, or hire a handyman to make one – just do it yourself.
Stop The Hormone Dance! Spay and Neuter Your Cat
Spay and neuter your indoor cats. Spay and neuter your indoor cats. Spay and neuter your indoor cats. Do I have to say it again??
Intact cats are driven mad by hormones, turning them into essentially kitty sluts and ‘hos! It’s not their fault. Their time of the month brings out their wild side and they feel compelled to escape and find a mate.
Do your cat a favor.
Eliminate this added stress on your cats life, and your own when Little FooFoo comes up pregnant and has to drop out of school and be shipped off to the nunnery to have their babies and then their life is ruined and… kidding!
Still, neutering and spaying stops the siren call of the outdoors when they go into heat, and eliminates the chance that they could contribute to the unwanted cat population, get in cat fights, or what is also tragic and preventable is when so many cats wind up feral, sick or starving, stuck in shelters and even euthanized.
Don’t let that happen to your cat.
Snuggle Bugs and Kitty Love! Take Time to Love Your Cat
Would you like to live your entire life with someone who doesn’t connect with you, have time for you, or love you? No.
Do you love your cat? Show it. Your love and affection is one of the most powerful ways to keep them happy! Wild cats get their love and affection in different ways, but domesticated cats? They’re stuck with us and they crave attention.
How to keep your indoor cat happy can be as simple as paying attention to them. Snuggle up with your cat, take time to pet and brush your cat, and play with them every day. When you do, you help them feel cared for, like they’re important to you, and they respond with an improved sense of happiness and well-being.
When your cat is happy and feels your love, they’ll return the favor. Can’t we all use more love in our lives?
Cat Talk! Learn How to Speak Cat
This last one is simple and easy to learn how to do. If you truly want you cat to feel happy and be healthy, then you’ll want to know how to speak their language.
Communicating with your cat will give them a way to tell you how they feel, what they think, what they worry about or what they need and want. They can tell you if they don’t feel good or are in pain. And you can tell them about things that are important to you too!
What a wonderful difference it makes when you know what they’re thinking and feeling!
Start here at The Heart School of Animal Communication with your FREE ebook: Hidden Secrets to Communicating With Pets.
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