Happy (Indoor) Cats

Photo by Tammy Canaan
“Hey buddy, you got any nuts?” Photo by Tammy Canaan

With the exception of size, a cat is a cat and that is that.  From the largest and most aggressive wild cats to our pampered pets, the body form of a cat remains the same.  This may be viewed as efficiency in the cat design:  A very effective predator and the purr-fect hunting machine.  Even a well-fed and cared-for cat will capture prey, especially if the prey has the rapid stop and start movements of birds and rodents.  Domestic cats are recognized as a threat to biodiversity.  They are thought to have contributed to the extinction of about 30 species world-wide.

Domestic cats are occasionally seen on the refuge, although it is difficult with limited resources to assess what impact they might have on the wildlife.  Feral cats present more of a problem than a household pet which is allowed outside; however, it is simply the best option to keep our pet felines indoors. They are safe from disease and parasites, other predators and speeding cars.  But a cat is designed to hunt.  The trick is to keep Fluffy content indoors while providing an enriched environment that keeps her from being bored.

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One ploy is to bring joy with toys.  Cats love to express their hunting prowess by playing with all sorts of soft, crinkly, jingly, feathery or furry toys.  They also like toys to be novel, so it is best to regularly rotate them.  One easy way to ensure fresh play is to occasionally fish all the cat toys from underneath the refrigerator, microwave stand or stove.  Such toys may resemble something the cat dragged in, but will still peak their interest.  Interactive toys are the most fun such as “cat dancer” laser light, or kitty “fishing” pole. These have the added benefit that both of you get exercise. 

Photo by Wanda Koepf
“Keep the lights off! It feels like I’m at the movies!” Photo by Wanda Koepf

Try a different slant with a plant.  Catnip ( Nepeta cataria) contains the essential oil nepetalactone that when inhaled seems to mimic “happy” pheromones, and stimulates the receptors in the brain to respond to them.  When ingested some cats experience a mellowing effect while others are stimulated to fight like cats and dogs.  About 10 – 30% of cats and most kittens less than 3 months do not respond to the effects of nepetalactone.  Catnip is native to Eurasia, was brought to North America by settlers as a medicinal herb and is easily cultivated.  Catnip can be a very healthy addition in the lives of indoor cats.  It is non-addictive and completely harmless.  Home-grown is pesticide-free, provides a good source of fresh greens, and may have the added benefit of increasing exercise.   Catnip is the cat’s meow!

Improve the mood with fun food.  Treats can be offered at random times.  This not only keeps treat time interesting, but another purr-pose is a training device to get your cat to come to you instantly in the event of an emergency.  Some cats enjoy searching for treats hidden about the house. Since cats are sight predators this idea may not have universal appeal.

Make the most of a scratching post.  Claw sharpening is a basic behavior that cats need to purr-form.  If deprived of an appropriate place they will still scratch on anything that they find suitable.  It is best if you both agree on that place.  There are all types of scratch-able surfaces available, so it is easy to find something that your cat pre-furs.  With patience and praise, cats easily learn where claw sharpening is acceptable.  One idea is to cover an upright post in the basement with a scrap of carpeting from floor to ceiling.  It may save your favorite furniture and provide an entertaining play area. 

Who’s training who? You CAN teach an old cat new tricks!

Train to improve the brain.  Cats need both mental and physical stimulation since they are very intelligent creatures.  Cats are not only adept at training people, but they will respond with positive reinforcement to do a wide variety of dog-like behaviors.  Many cats will fetch, learn to walk on a leash, and do “tricks” such as rolling over, jumping up (or down) on command or standing on their hind legs.

Delve into shelves.  Provide perches above floor level to make a room with a view.  This not only gives a different perspective but gives your cat a place to shelter when family activity is high.

Photo by Tammy Canaan
“My mom always told me I’d go blind if I sat too close to the TV. I asked her where she got her statistics from. I can sit wherever I want now.” Photo by Tammy Canaan

Hide inside.  Some of the best ways to keep a cat from becoming catatonic are also the least expensive.  Occasionally leave a closet door open for exploration or simply provide a cardboard box or paper bag.  In this case it is just fine to let the cat out of the bag. 

Cat TV is free.  One perch might be a window seat where a cat can watch the great outdoors. Check that the screen is secure to prevent falling out accidents…in this case; curiosity just might kill the cat.  Even better that just a view, place a birdfeeder, birdbath or squirrel feeder within sight of the window.  All that activity will be fascinating for hours and make your feline smile like a Cheshire cat.