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Vet Speak: Indoor cats need to be stimulated to keep them happy

By Alison Laurie-Chalmers

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A range of things can help keep your cat stimulated and happy.
A range of things can help keep your cat stimulated and happy.

There has been a noted increase in the pet cat population since “lockdown”. Many of these cats are kept as indoor pets.

There are many potentially dangerous aspects to letting cats roam outside their own home. Road traffic accidents, disease, fleas and ticks, poisoning, injuries from other cats or from wildlife; getting lost or stolen. Many pet cats now spend their entire lives living safely indoors, as indoor pets.

However, though safer, indoor cats aren’t always content, and can have anxieties, behavioural issues, and resultant health issues. Cats are amazing, intelligent creatures, and their innate behaviours reflect their natural acute senses, predatory skills and characteristics.

All cats must have opportunities to express their “natural” behaviours. An enriched, happy cat’s day includes the need to stalk, chase, pounce, play, eat, and groom, and to feel safe to rest, relax and sleep.

Cats in the wild will hunt for their food. They also have social lives that include keeping their territories intact and well protected. Their natural social activities are rich with sensory triggers such as touch, smells, sounds, and tastes. One of the best things you can do for the well-being and happiness of your indoor cat is provide them with regular “enrichment”, to stimulate them physically, mentally, and socially.

Giving your cat enrichment just takes a little thought and creativity.

Regularly rotating cat toys and providing occasional new toys and materials and smells will stimulate their senses and provide a new experience every day.

Place bird and/or squirrel feeders outside where your cat can see them. You can also plant flowers near windows and in window boxes that will attract butterflies. Place cat “perches” and beds safely at a height near windows, so your cat can view the outdoors safely.

Try bringing some safe items from the outdoors inside. These can include dried leaves, dried pine cones, safe sticks, and even logs that your cat can use as cat scratchers. You can suspend smaller items from strings or hide them under boxes or blankets for your cat to find. One thing to keep in mind is safety: not everything outside is going to be safe for your cat, so if you are bringing plant material indoors, make sure it is safe for your cat to smell, and potentially, inquisitively, eat.

Fresh catnip, catnip “sticks” and cat grass can also be provided.

Encourage your indoor cat to eat more instinctively, by encouraging them to naturally forage and “hunt” for food. Hide some of your cat’s dry food or treats through the house, so that they must move around. In the wild, cats have to spend time and effort hunting for their food. It is not provided daily on a plate! Food “puzzles” are also fun.

Provide things for your cat to climb on or hide inside. Providing safe, high-up hiding areas is important and allows the cats to get away to a “safe” place if needed. Move cat “furniture” around occasionally and hide toys or treats in these areas. “Cat gyms” are also an excellent source of stimulus.

Provide various types of scratching surfaces. Scratching posts should be sturdy and steady, and a minimum of three feet high.

Many cats respond positively to touch and affection, particularly during routine petting and brushing. To ensure your indoor cat receives early socialisation, do this from a very early age. Remember that some cats are extremely independent, and will experience less stress when allowed to choose whether to interact with you.

Alison Laurie-Chalmers is a senior consultant at Crown Vets.

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