Keeping Indoor Cats Active and Happy

Roaming cats destroy wildlife. But if you don’t let your cat wander, will she be bored and miserable? No! There are lots of ways to keep cats contained and happy.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #187
international cat day

Tip #4: Get Some Cat Trees

No, they don’t have to be commercial cat trees, and if you have some carpentry skills and design sense, you probably don’t want them to be. The real point is to provide some places to rest, hide, and look out windows from different heights. As everybody knows who’s ever lost a vase to their Kittychai, cats are climbers. They’re also unusual in being not only predators but, because they’re small, also prey. Hence the appeal of elevated hidey-holes.

Tip #5: Engage Your Cat’s Sense of Smell

Here’s one for adventurous souls! Hunting suppliers sell many kinds of animal scents, including rabbit, squirrel, grouse, and others that your cat might be thrilled to discover in, say, an old cardboard box in your kitchen. (After Kittychai has her fun, you can recycle the box somewhere far, far away.) Or scent one of those fishing-pole toys I mentioned earlier, to up its snatch-and-grab attraction.  And yes, Dogalini might also take an interest, so while you’re at it, make her a scent toy of her own.

The zoo-animal enrichment guide where I got this idea points out that while it may be thrilling for a predator to discover the scent of prey, it’s also thrilling-but-not-in-a-good-way for prey to discover the scent of a predator. So your aesthetic considerations and Kittychai’s fun are probably on the same page when it comes to “Ultimate Bear Lure” and “Coyote in a Stick.”

Tip #6: Provide an Outdoor Enclosure

Roaming cats pose an environmental problem, but “roaming” and “outdoors” are not synonyms.

With some chicken wire and a wooden frame, you can build your cat an outdoor space to hang out safely. There are also commercial products, such as the Kittywalk, which work well but run into serious money. Whether you go with homemade or ready-to-wear, remember to include that all-important raised spot for Kittychai to rest and hide.

So, this is all a lot of work, right? Yes. Here’s the thing – most cats cope amazingly well with restricted, boring lives, so we’ve allowed ourselves to get away with thinking that they’re the pets to have if you’re going for low maintenance. When I say “we,” by the way, I don’t secretly mean “you.” I’m embarrassed to admit how recently the lightbulb went off over my head with respect to keeping my cats busy and content. The truth is, no animal is really low maintenance, not if we want to do more for them than just keep them alive. The upside of the work you do with your cat is just like the upside of the work you do with your dog: fun and a better relationship for both of you, plus the pride you can take in knowing that, more than an owner, you’re a genuine caretaker.

Last, what about those colonies of feral cats? Since feral cats aren’t socialized to people, and there aren’t enough homes for all the cats out there anyway, many people who love cats favor “trap, neuter, and release” programs. TNR is meant to reduce the numbers of feral cats by attrition rather than euthanasia. Opponents of TNR argue that releasing feral cats abandons them to sickness and danger and that attrition doesn’t succeed. Ornithologists’ groups seem to be universally opposed to TNR. Enclosed feral cat colonies present some obvious logistical difficulties, but they might be the way out of this debate. The cats’ health can be monitored, they’re safe from predators, and they aren’t harming wildlife themselves.

For this article, I drew on many ideas and insights from Environmental Enrichment for Captive Animals, by Robert J. Young. It’s riveting. Honest! And there’s plenty of food for thought even if you oppose all keeping of animals in captivity.  If you want to dig deep into Kittychai’s mysteries, head for The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour, edited by Dennis Turner and Patrick Bateson.

Like Dogalini and Zippy, Kittychai is welcome to visit me on Facebook, or write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles.

Thanks for reading!



About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).