Indoor Enrichment for Cats

August 2, 2011
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Cats are smart, and they naturally know everything they need to know about being a cat. However, they do not know about things like cars, dogs, infectious diseases, and other outdoor hazards. Like young children, cats need to be protected from dangers they can’t anticipate or handle. That’s why Little Big Cat recommends that cats be kept indoors, and not allowed to roam loose outside. (See our article “Indoors or Outdoors” for more information.)

Now, many people think that this is cruel. They say that Nature intended for cats to wander (and hunt, and fight!), and this is true. But Nature is also cruel in its own way, and free-roaming outdoor cats tend to die young.  In this modern society, we all have to make many accommodations in order to live safe, healthy lives…and this goes for our cats, too.

While keeping cats indoors it is the safest choice, can create its own problems. A reader recently asked about converting a former free-roamer to an indoor lifestyle…and in a recent newsletter, I told you about “OCD” (obsessive-compulsive disorder) in indoor cats. So how can we keep our cats not only safe, but also physically, mentally, and emotionally fulfilled? It’s vital to create an indoor environment that provides mental and physical stimulation as well as social interaction, to ensure our cats’ overall health and happiness.

That’s where “Environmental Enrichment” comes in. This term originally described the need to provide something besides a barren wire crate for highly intelligent primates housed in experimental laboratories, but it’s equally applicable to any confined animal, including stabled horses, zoo animals and, nowadays, pets that are housed primarly indoors. The Ohio State University is a pioneer of indoor enrichment for cats in particular; and they have recently expanded the concept to include dogs that spend most of their time inside.

Indoor enrichment has many facets that address the many needs and natural behaviors of cats. Besides the fundamental necessities of food, water, bed, and litterbox, cats need to satisfy their sense of territory, social impulses, and perhaps most importantly, their hunter instincts.

Territory. For a cat, territory encompasses not only the square footage of your home, but the vertical dimension as well. Many cats like to climb; a high vantage point makes them feel safe. Cat furniture that provides shelves and climbing opportunities doubles as a visual and scent marker for the cat to scratch (and protects furniture from the same behavioral drives). Window shelves also allow the cat to watch the great outdoors without being exposed to its dangers.

Safe Access. A secure outdoor enclosure is a good way to give your cat access to fresh air and sunshine without the dangers of roaming free. Click here to read about outdoor safety for indoor cats.

Hunting. Cats live to hunt. It  is a hard-wired instinct that must be satisfied for our cats to be mentally healthy. The playful stalking and pouncing that so delights us in kittens is actually preparing them for survival as adults. Indoor cats don’t need to hunt to eat, but they still need to express those instincts.

Indoor Enrichment Tools

Click here to download The Ohio State University’s comprehensive guide to indoor cat care.

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2 Responses to Indoor Enrichment for Cats

  1. tom on February 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Rubbish. I do not know of any dog with the ability to catch a cat, in fact, whenever my cat comes into contact with a dog, ( dogs are usualy just a bit curious and have no desire to hurt the cat) my cat whacks it on the nose to teach it who is boss, and this is fully grown labradors and stuff, cats are way too fast and agile for any dog. And as for cars, you said cats are smart, and something smart would not stand in front of a gigantice moving object thats making as much noise as a car does, i have seen many cats sit on the pavement and wait for traffic to cease before crossing. As you said, cats are clever. Disease is as big a problem in a house as out, unless you keeep your house sterilised, because the worst diseases, can be caught from maybe the cats owner sneezing, theb using the hand it covered its mouth with to pet the cat. And diseases like rabies originated in human settlements anyway. Infections too are no worry as a cat grooms itself too often and thoroughly for any small, everyday cut to harbour an infection. And cats who do not go outside have no oppurtunity to eat grass, which is an important part of a cats diet as it helps digest and cough up the fur they injest whilst grooming. But if you still *care* to much about your cat so as not to give it its freedom, then you should at least take it oit regularly, under your watchful eye, or maybe on a leash, because that way your cat gets fresh air and an opputinity to eat grass while you do not need to worry, not that you need to anyway. I mean its gonna get a few bumps and bruises throughout its life, get over your paranoia and give it its freedom.

    • jhofve77 on February 4, 2012 at 7:41 am

      Okay, and when your kids (or grandkids) are 2 or 3 years old and want to go outside and play while you’re at work, that’s fine too, right? They can get hurt in the house, too.

      Your ignorance of disease transmission is stunning. Your ignorance of physics is obvious. There is a reason why outdoor cats live only 3-5 years, and indoor cats 12-15 or older. You’ve completely missed the point of both articles. When one of YOUR cats just doesn’t come home, and you never find out why (or worse, you *do* find a lifeless body–or parts of one), you’ll surely be able to rationalize that, too.

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