Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Q: Activities for Indoor Cats?

Dr. Schaeberle,

My indoor cat seems to be bored and tries to get outside. What can I do to keep him happy to stay inside where it’s safer for him?



Keeping cats indoors is the safest way to avoid many types of injuries, illnesses and parasites as well as ensuring they don’t get lost or stolen. However, many cats living totally indoors without an enriched environment will become bored, stressed and overweight, severely compromising their physical and mental well-being. Fortunately, there are some easy, inexpensive ways to enrich your cats’ lives while keeping them safer as inside cats.

Much of a cat’s normal behavior stems from the fact that their ancestors were hunters who needed their keen senses and physical prowess to obtain food and avoid danger. Today’s domestic pet cat has retained many of the hunting instincts as well as the need to feel safe.

Hunting behaviors, such as stalking, chasing and pouncing, can be seen in the way cats play. Playing with toys that simulate prey is very stimulating for many cats. Dr. Tony Buffington of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, suggests going one step further and identifying your cat’s prey preference. The site states that most cats prefer to hunt a specific type of animal, such as birds, mice or insects. Feathers or feathered toys on a string or wand can simulate birds if you move them through the air. Small stuffed toys can resemble rodents, and are especially interesting to cats if you make them move. Playing with laser lights, a string with a knot tied at the end, or pieces of dry food rolled across the floor can be similar to chasing bugs. Try all three types of toys separately for a few days in a row to determine your cat’s preference.

Feeding cats from interactive food-dispensing toys instead of from a bowl is another way to satisfy your cat’s need to hunt. It’s a good idea to purchase a variety of food toys and alternate them each day. Hiding food and treats in your house for cats to sniff out is also a fun game for many cats.

Have you ever considered training your cat to do tricks? Cats respond well to food treats and can learn even faster with clicker training. Training with positive reinforcement methods is a great way to stimulate your cat’s mind and increase your bond.

If you want to give your cat a chance to be outside safely, you may consider purchasing a comfortable harness and taking your cat outside on a leash. To provide a little more freedom outside, there are fences made specifically to allow cats to enjoy the outdoors without a chance to escape.

Providing a variety of comfortable elevated resting places is another way to satisfy your cat’s needs. Cats often prefer to rest in high places where they are less vulnerable to disturbance or potential danger. They also enjoy having elevated perches from which to observe household activities as well as look out windows. You can provide your cat with hours of enjoyment by planting butterfly-attracting flowers outside a window and feeding birds near another.

Learning more about normal cat behavior is a great way to understand their needs and provide a healthy, happy indoor home for them. For more ideas, I recommend visiting our website, go to Training Classes and then click on Cat Tips.

Thomas Schaeberle, VMD

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