Cat Tips

Kittens are usually immune to catnip, so if you have a kitten, refrain from purchasing catnip until your pet is at least 6 months of age or older.

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Bringing the Outdoors Inside

By Maryann Mott

Bringing the Outdoors Inside

For thousands of years, cats roamed the great outdoors, where their daily survival depended upon interpreting a multitude of sights, sounds and smells. With domestication, many of these now half-wild and half-tame kitties reside indoors where life is much safer but seemingly not as exciting. “The lovely, safe homes we provide for them, free of threats, with plenty of food and minimal territorial invasions can be boring,” says veterinarian Margie Scherk, whose private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, specializes in feline medicine.

Household kitties need not feel like they are serving jail time, though. You can provide the best of both worlds by keeping your kitty safely inside and bringing the stimulation of outdoor living indoors to improve your cat’s quality of life.

Here’s how you can engage all five of your feline’s senses in the cozy comfort of your own home:

Keep your cat visually stimulated and interested in playing with toys by rotating them daily, says Lisa Radosta, a board certified veterinary behaviorist in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. She likes the interactive, motorized toys made by Panic Mouse because they encourage natural predatory behaviors. You can also fulfill your cat’s hunting desire, she says, through daily play sessions with a feather wand, or other toys that allow your kitty to stalk and catch imaginary prey.

Another option is to play a DVD created just for cats, like “Kitty Cat Daycare” or “Video Catnip,” which were produced to capture feline interest with images of birds and other small mammals. In a study slated for release later this year in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, researchers concluded that televised moving images of prey animals hold “some merit as a method of environmental enrichment for domestic cats,” so time in front of the tube may not be unproductive, at least for feline viewers.

The outdoors features a smorgasbord of sounds, such as singing birds, rustling leaves and chirping crickets. Indoors, you can replicate this by playing a CD of nature sounds at low volume, says Dr. Radosta. Not only will your kitty enjoy it, but you might, too. Also, consider purchasing a drinking fountain. Found at most pet retailers, these motorized bowls look like mini-waterfalls. Best of all, the soothing sound of moving water is a gentle reminder for kitties to stay hydrated. 

Scratching is a natural behavior but not all cats enjoy the same material, according to Dr. Radosta. Experiment with several different textures to figure out your cat’s preference. If your feline loves sinking its nails into your leather sofa, for example, try adhering pleather (a less expensive option to leather) to a wooden post. You can find this material at your local fabric store. Better yet, create the ultimate natural scratcher by mounting a tree stump to a solid wooden base. You can do this with wood screws, wood glue, an electric screwdriver and brackets. Just make sure that there are no sharp surfaces, which could scratch your kitty instead of the other way around.

Open screened windows to allow your cat a whiff of fresh air. Dr. Scherk also suggests giving your pet outdoor access through modules that attach to your home via a pet door. Several companies sell these premade enclosures, or you can learn online how to build your own at The Stanford Cat Network, a group in California that cares for homeless felines on Stanford University’s campus. The network’s Web site features the instructions in an article entitled “Allowing your cat outdoors.”

In the wild, cats like to graze on grass. Give your kitty a taste of the outdoors by placing pots filled with easily digestible oat grass around your home. Another favorite feline herb is catnip. Just keep in mind that not all greenery is safe for kitties to eat. “Chives are not a good idea,” warns Dr. Scherk. “Neither is all of the onion and garlic family. They can cause anemia by damaging red blood cells.”

By bringing outdoor pleasures into your home, not only are you creating a better living environment for your cat, but you are preventing potential medical and behavioral issues from developing. “Stimulating the cat’s every sense is what we go for in environmental enrichment,” explains Dr. Radosta. “And to do that, you need to bring the outside in because the outside provides inspiration for the ultimate environmental enrichment.”

is an Arizona-based pet journalist who has written for The New York Times and National Geographic online.

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Posted on April 20, 2012

Tracy says: My pets enjoy watching animal planet and is a good alternative to buying videos.

Posted on May 9, 2012

carllo cavanagh says: how long should i wait till i change the linen after my cat gives birth.

Posted on October 10, 2008

Louise Hanville says: I have six tri colored cats (all spayed) that live outside. They are various ages but all related in some way. The most alpha cat has begun to lay down in front of me when I walk down to feed my horses. She won't let me pet her but lays down, then when I get close she runs a few feet and does it again. I have come close to stepping on her many times. None of my cats have ear mites and they have had all of their shots. Is this normal behavior and what does it mean?

Posted on September 16, 2008

elena98 says: What a wonderful article! It was filled with so much useful information. A simple thing which you mentioned such as rotating the toys is such a great idea. Thanks so much

Posted on September 19, 2008

Linda Kelch says: My female cat that is almost a year old now runs and hides every time the doorbell rings.The minnute she hears people leave she comes out of hiding.I got her from a family member who had put the kitten and her mother outside when she was only probably four weeks old or younger.It was cold with snow on the ground when i took her home with me and we bonded right away.She was around small children and a busy street where she lived before.Do you think that is why she doesn't want anything to do with anyone else?She is comfortable with my husband and loves playing with my Laso Apso.When my daughter had to move back in with us for 6 months she was ok with her to after she was around her awhile but she still hissed at her.She(Chrissy) is just my cat.She is always around me, sleeps with me, but doesn't like to be held.I really miss that because all the other cat's i have had loved to be held.I am thinking she was abused as a very young kitten and just don't trust anybody else.Do you agree?I really need to know what is going on.I love her so much and she is such a beautiful calico.We are so close and i have to really watch becauce she is always laying close to me wherever i am standing.Thanks!

Posted on August 8, 2008

AL NOVELLO says: Just rescued a cat from my woods. Took him to the vet for all the necessary shots, etc. she has retd home and is hiding under my bed. Should I just ignore her and let her come around in her own good time when she is ready. Is there something else I can do to feel at home or should I just wait till she is ready.

Posted on July 20, 2008

judith healy says: 10 year old Vanna (1st fl.) and my 2 year old Holly (2nd fl.) have been allowed to go back and forth from 1st to 2nd fl. and back. For months now Holly has been submissive to Vanna and respected her elder. The past 2 weeks she has become agressive and initiates hissing and pawing with Vanna. She seems to be trying to take over the 1st fl. Is there anything I can do to get her back on track so she can continue to visit. I like to give her the freedom and feline company but I will have to keep her home if she continues initiating fights with her elder. Would appreciate help as I am a first time Cat mom.

Posted on June 21, 2008

Caroline Jenkins says: We have 3 Himalayans and they enjoy exploring around our screened in pool. We have plants that are harmless to animals but they don't even chew on those because I always have a container or two of oats growing for them.

Posted on June 3, 2008

Kathy says: My Hazel adores Video Catnip and will sit in front of a turned off tv and silently implore me to get her program on. I don't think I could leave the house for work without making sure I've left it on for her. Watching her interact with the images on tv is such a hoot. Every now and then she'll even dart around the sides to see where the critters have gone. Couldn't agree more with water fountains for kitties too. They like fresh running water and its just as important for them to keep well hydrated as it is for us.

Posted on June 3, 2008


Posted on May 28, 2008

Belinda says: Thank you for that most informative article. I recently adopted two kittens from the NYC animal shelter and I love them dearly and want to take the best of care for them. I live in an apt, and was looking for info and answers, and you definitely covered all bases. I am looking for the website you mentioned that's a part of Stanford Univ. so I can get the info on modulars to use on my terrace so my kitties can play outside. Thanks!

Posted on May 29, 2008

mary dunagan says: This cat came into my carport and had these kittens... I did not know they were there until I heard a meow... they were pretty big when i found them.... i fed the mother and them milk... yesterday my husband turned on air tank that makes a good bit of noise and before nighfall the cat led her kittens to the woods....1 to start with and then 3 and at last the 2 that were left... i am downhearted because i really liked the kittys... i don't know where she went only in the woods.... how will i know they are okay.... when she come back????

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