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More Indoor Cats, That's Good; Not So Good Are Fat and Bored Cats


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More cats are finding themselves indoors only, in America and around the world. The results should benefit cats. But do they really? I am a huge fan of keeping cats inside only because I KNOW they are safer. Having said that, too many cat owners are ‘parents’ to brain dead fat cats. Indoors, they have nothing to do – they become bored….and with food left out all the time, they train their people to do be automatic food dispensers.

As a result, we have an epidemic of overweight cats. With that, a myriad of health issues – including diabetes and arthritis – more than ever seen previously in our cats (by far).

A part of the solution is to prevent that weight gain (which we know is far more likely to happen in spayed/neutered pets). There’s now a diet called Royal Canin Spayed/Neutered (the idea is to prevent weight gain related to being spayed/neutered). Also, don’t leave the food out all the ime. But enriching the indoor environment (which inherently means at least some exercise), and interactive play when you are home are key.

In Japan, homebuilder Asahi Kasei has taken this idea to heart. He’s provided catwalks, fish mobiles, and mouse holes for cats to scurry into as a part of the home’s design. Overall, what he figured out is that cats use vertical space. Another example  is Bob Walker  the Cat’s House which is just outside San Diego.

Here are ten ideas which may help to enrich the environments, and the lives of indoor-only cats:

  • An empty box: Who would think that an empty box can create a week’s worth of fun. Leave out an empty box on Monday. On Tuesday, place that same  box upside down, put something on top to weigh it down and cut “mouse holes” in the sides; cats can reach inside for treats you’ve hidden. On Wednesday, turn the box right-side up and sprinkle catnip inside. On Thursday relocate the box to another room, and it becomes new all over again. On Friday, place a small ball or squeaky mouse toy inside the box. One empty box, and five days of fun.
  • Ping Pong: Drop a ping pong ball into an empty tissue box to create an instant and free track toy. Track toys (which balls are pushed in tracks) are also available wherever cat toys are sold.
  • More free toys: Paper bags, plastic tops from milk cartons or wine corks.
  • Rotate toys: Relocating toys into another room is all it often takes to make them new and different. Cats can have 1,000 toys, but that’s overwhelming, and ultimately when all the mouse toys are “killed,” it’s boring – which is why rotating toys is most interesting to most cats.
  • Think High: You don’t need to build catwalks; elevated spaces, such as window ledges, cleared bookshelves, tops of radiators or cat trees. In multi-cat homes, the more raised surfaces for individual cats to call “mine,” the less conflict between cats.
  • Must Watch-TV: Outdoor bird feeders are entertaining for people and cats. Some cats will watch TV, or DVD’s starring birds or reptiles made specifically for cats.
  • Puzzle This: The Play ‘n Treat Ball, Eggsersizer and Cat Slim are all readily available (online and many pet stores) and are inexpensive toys – all can be filled with kibbles and/or treats, then the cat is taught to roll around the toys for the kibble and treats, which tumble from a hole. Many cats will be motivated once they understand the game. These toys are most fun when cats learn to seek them out at random times (“hunting”) and then finding their “prey.” Active and young cats might even step it up a notch, using Nina Ottosson food puzzle toys.
  • Two is Best: Most people with a cat actually have two or more cats. Still, there are plenty of single cat homes. Cats are social, and two may keep one another company. Sure, introducing another cat can be tricky, and it’s not for all cats.
  • Safety Outside: Some indoor only cats will take the idea of walking on a leash and harness outside, or being pushed around the neighborhood in a cat stroller. Or for cats who insist on being outside, or might simply enjoy the experience, cat fencing keeps cats in yards and keeps predators out (still, adult supervision is always suggested). A new craze is fencing around patios dubbed catios, so cats can’t dive off and potential predators can’t get at them. Cat fencing is made by various companies, including www.catfencein.com.

Learn more enrichment techniques through the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Tony Buffington’s Indoor Pet Initiative. 

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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