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Help for House Cats

By Kim Boatman

Help for House Cats

No matter how adventurous your cat, it’s confronted by many risks the second it steps foot outside. The Humane Society of the United States estimates a free-roaming cat might live as few as three years, compared to 12 to 15 years for an indoor-only cat.

For much of feline history, cats roamed freely, serving as handy rodent-catchers around grain crops. As the years went on, people brought cats indoors, again relying on felines to reduce numbers of unwanted vermin. The cat’s role today has primarily evolved to that of a beloved companion, which needs and deserves our protection. The situation benefits both people and cats, since an indoor cat is a safer cat. Most feline fanciers are getting the message. About two-thirds of the estimated 90 million cats in the United States alone reside indoors.

However, cats need more than just the security of staying inside. It’s up to you to provide an environment that meets the needs of your indoor cat. The Indoor Cat Initiative, an Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine project, is designed to help you understand just what your indoor cat requires and how you can easily help it live a happy, healthy life. “As long as we’re going to have cats indoors, we certainly have the responsibility to keep them in the most enriched situation possible,’’ says Tony Buffington, DVM, Ph.D, director of the Indoor Cat Initiative.

The Initiative’s website offers basic advice for meeting your indoor cat’s requirements. You can also order a DVD from the site. You’ll be in tune with your cat’s needs, says Dr. Buffington, if you provide your house cat with these eight inside essentials:

  • Exercise Many veterinarians, such as Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, of Chico, Calif., are concerned about the number of overweight felines they see in their practices. Dr. Colleran suggests providing “an abundance of cat toys. Having just one cat toy is silly.” The Indoor Cat Initiative advises understanding your cat’s prey of choice. Would your pal rather romp after an object that moves in the air? A furry toy? A laser light? Pay attention to your cat’s playtime preferences and buy accordingly.
  • Mental stimulation Playing with your feline during the day offers additional benefits, says Dr. Colleran. You’ll engage your cat mentally, which will help to keep your pal alert and involved with its surroundings. Your cat, nocturnal by nature, will also be less likely to keep you up during the night. Allowing your cat to hunt for food you’ve placed around the house also provides stimulation, she says. Don’t forget to offer your pet at least one room with a view. Cats love to watch outdoor activity.

  • Something to scratch Determine, just by observation and experimentation, what material your cat enjoys under its paws, says Dr. Colleran. Some cats scratch vertically, while others prefer to scratch horizontally. A scratching post needn’t be fancy. It can be a simple homemade device, created by nailing or stapling some scratching material, such as a carpet remnant, to a piece of plywood. Just be sure no sharp nails or staple points protrude before you present it to your clawed friend.

  • A place of its own Your cat needs a space where it feels safe and secure. Make sure food, water and litter are not located where another animal or person can sneak up or surprise your cat. The Indoor Cat Initiative suggests placing dishes and the litter box away from appliances or air ducts that might suddenly turn on, startling your cat.

  • Something to climb “People don’t think about cats operating in three dimensions,’’ says Dr. Buffington. “They need to climb. That’s part of their natural behavior. But people often don’t want them to climb on certain things.” Dr. Buffington believes cat owners often neglect to provide their cats a suitable alternative. You can purchase commercial perches and roosts for cats or, suggests Dr. Buffington, a six-foot pine ladder, if you don’t mind the unusual addition to your décor.

  • Clean, fresh litter Litter should be scooped daily and cleaned regularly, with each cat provided with its own box. Offer an ample-sized box, advises Dr. Colleran, who has written several papers about indoor cats. Select one of the bigger litter boxes you find on the shelf at your local pet store. Most large boxes measure around 18.5 inches in length and 15.25 inches in width, or more. Keep clutter and debris cleared from around the box. “Cats are really fastidious. They like their bathrooms clean, and they need a great, big litter box.”

  • Fresh grass or catnip Offer your cat something green to graze on, as it would chomp on grass outdoors.

  • Choice Cats enjoy choice, says Dr. Buffington. For instance, before you make a decision to change cat litter brands, place samples of both old and new for your cat to try. At mealtime, try offering two different-flavored foods side by side to see which one might be your pet’s fave.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, according to Dr. Buffington, is to recognize when your indoor cat is healthy and engaged in its environment. If your indoor cat is alert and energetic, those are good signs that you are providing for its needs. “Learn to become a good cat observer,” he advises.

Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Catbased in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.

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Posted on August 27, 2008

Rodney says: My kitten is only 18 weeks old and is an indoor; he loves it and I agree with this article. All you need is to supply your kit or cat with enough stimulus as the outside cat. Tange has a indoor gym that is rather inexpensive and keeps him interested since it has multiple levels and only cost me $32 at Target. I supply him with two windows where he can see outside and smile but still where he cannot push the screens out, which he did that a couple of times. I also have a fish on a fishing pole that I play with him every other day which gives him something to look forward too. He sleeps in my bed when he chooses and he loves to carried like a baby and stroked. He can get playfully aggressive but I let him run around and play with his other toys and if he attempts to surprise me I turn the tables and make sure he knows that clawing is certainly not cool.

Posted on July 24, 2008

Adryana Davila says: cats get good excersize by going outside and playing with another cat.

Posted on August 8, 2008

Brigitta says: I feel awfull for the poor cat. She is not using a litter box because she must have uti. Have to be checked by the Vet. I adopted a cat from the shelter and for a month I could not even get close to her. Now she sleeps with me. She doesn't like to picked up.

Posted on August 10, 2008

jackie says: what can i say but please dont return cat. i know she is terrified of the dog and would set it straight if she had claws. we have had had one particular stray for 4 years he was scared of everything just very lately got past of few of his fears of us ,but still afraid of everything else. i meet him on his own terms as far as holding him-hates it- so i only do once a day with lots of love and kisses, but we talk and talk and he approaches me touches me with his paws, will lick me a little to say hi and lay on top of me in bed, love means accepting people and pets for what they are, not what you want them to that kitties protector from the dog, stop isolating her in other rooms, and realize it took 4 years and counting to help our feaful kitty.

Posted on May 31, 2008

Julie Kirk-McReynolds says: Can your cat see outdoors? This is very important to an indoor cat.They really need the conenction even if they don't go out! My cat spends hours looking out and chattering at birds, squirels, ect..Also, he maybe have been abused and finds people looming over him to pick him up threatening. As far as the potty problem, do take him to the vet to see if there are any problems. Also try another litter box, where the dog can't be around it, maybe he's mad about something the dog did around the litterbox you don't know about! Don't take him back, please! Work with him to find an answer that will make you both happy! He obviously loves you to sit on your lap and purr, he just needs some extra help to ease into the rest of the household.

Posted on May 28, 2008

Mike says: Sally: Two months is usually enough time to establish a bond with a cat. Your cat has probably bonded with you by now. Don't return the cat yet. Try a few adjustments first. RED FLAG: a declawed cat living close to a dog is NOT a good idea!! The cat cannot defend itself, and the dog will know that quickly and take advantage of it. Keep the two animals apart for the cat's emotional well-being. If your cat becomes over stressed, her behavior will certainly become very bizarre. You will not like the results, if this happens. If your cat had her claws, the dog would not be a big problem. The dog would learn very quickly to respect the cat. They might have even become friends. The cat having no claws makes a huge difference. There are many other adjustments you can try that might make this a workable situation, as long as the cat and dog are not sharing the same living space. I have found that, generally, cats are lower maintenance pets than dogs, and can be very rewarding indoor pets well worth a little extra effort when needed. Good luck. I hope you can keep your cat.

Posted on May 9, 2008

Cari says: Sally, if you keep her in the basement, do you even show the cat attention? Sometimes shelter cats need a little more time and attention. Just putting her in the basement isn't doing much to help her. If she's not using the litter, there may be a health issue. She should be checked. Cats with UTI's often have trouble using the litter box. It's possible she doesn't like the litter as well. Trying some different brands may help. There is a brand called Cat Attract, which is made for cats who are having issues with the litter. Also, the dog is chasing her. She's probably afraid of the dog, which might be making her even more nervous. You are frustrated? Think of what this poor cat must be feeling. But then again, you've only had her 2, to you it's probably no big deal just returning her, something which causes animals even more stress. And just so you know. Declawed cats sometimes suffer from issues due to not having claws to defend themselves. That is something that needs to be understood.

Posted on May 4, 2008

Sally says: Our cat is a declawed female adult cat and cannot go outside. We keep her in basement with her box and feed her down there. It is like another floor with a kitchen, living room atc, but she is now starting to wet on the floor in the kitchen. We got her from the shelter and keep her very clean, but she is spooky, as she will not let me pick her up, she runs but will come and sit on my lap and purr and is very content. We also have a small dog and if she runs the dog will chase her and so then she just lays on the top step to the basement. Do not know what is wrong with her. We think we may have to take her back to the shelter, we have only had her for about 2 months. Frustrated!

Posted on April 23, 2008

D. Huffman says: The "Something to scratch" section of the article should mention that many commercially available scratching posts (especially the cheaper ones) are not stable enough for an adult cat. When the cat starts to scratch and gets dumped over or has the post clobber him on the head, he'll decide posts are dangerous and stick to scratching the furniture.

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