Veterinarians agree that cats who are confined to indoor environments are healthier and live longer, but are there benefits to allowing your indoor cat some outdoor time? Depending on your cat, the answer may be yes, but outdoor time is not right for every cat.
The practice of keeping cats indoors stems primarily from the desire of pet owners to keep their cats safe. Since cats generally are not walked and they instinctively use a litter box, there is no need for outdoor access, where a cat faces risks of parasites, exposure to toxins, and injury from other animals. Cats do need exercise, however, and a way of satisfying a natural desire to hunt. So how does one ensure an indoor cat is getting the stimulation he needs to be happy as well as healthy?
Know your cat
Cats who have spent a lifetime indoors are usually highly domesticated and will most likely be content to hang indoors with you. Some cats, however, will exhibit a need to be independent and being confined indoors can result in negative behavior, including aggression towards humans and other animals, marking, spraying, and unwanted scratching.
But while letting them out may be a positive experience for some, other cats that have been indoors may be terrified by the outdoors. Unwanted behavior does not necessarily mean that a cat will benefit from going outside. The goal is to find the best environment and stimulation for your cat and to introduce new experiences gradually.
If you keep your cat indoors:
- Provide scratching posts in different materials and in different areas of your home. Some cats prefer wood to rope, for example, and this enables your cat to mark all different areas of your home without causing damage.
- Invest in toys, especially interactive toys like chaser poles and treat dispensers, and climbing trees for lots of options for hunting, exploring, running, and jumping.
- Take time to play with your cat, both to build a relationship and to encourage physical and mental exercise.
- Place cat trees or window perches in places where your cat can sunbathe and see outside.
If you are considering some outdoor time:
- Don’t just let your cat out the door! If she has never been outside, she may get scared and hide in a place you cannot get to. Outdoor time should be strictly supervised, during the day, and preferably in a restricted area.
- Invest in a pet enclosure or cat-proof fencing so your cat can have an outdoor experience without the danger of other animals and/or getting lost.
- Take your cat for a walk using a cat harness and leash. This will take some time for training, but many cats can be leash/harness trained and enjoy going for walks.
- Train your cat to come when you call him by name.
Be sure whatever changes you introduce for your indoor or outdoor cat, that you take time to do them slowly. Cats must feel that they always have a way out in order to feel safe. They should never be forced into something – hold off if you see reluctance to do something.
If you are wondering if your indoor cat may benefit from some outdoor time or simply from some additional activity, talk to the veterinarians at Lake Cable Animal Hospital for ideas on how to keep her safe, happy, and healthy.