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Keeping an Indoor Cat Happy

Make your kitty's world safe and stimulating with these easy-to-implement tips.
By
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Indoor cats have a cushy life with food they don't have to catch, soft beds, and warm laps.

They live longer, too, because they don't face the dangers of cars, predators, other cats, weather, and many diseases. The life span of an indoor cat can be between 12 and 18 years, while a free-roaming cat may live for as little as 3.

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Still, it's not always catnip for indoor kitties, whose instincts are still telling them to hunt, stalk, scratch, and mark their territory. When they don't have a chance to do these things comfortably, some indoor cats can get depressed, bored, irritated, and even sick.

You can keep your indoor tabby bright-eyed and bushy tailed and make kitty’s indoor world a safe and happy one with these tips for a feline-friendly home.

Fun and Games

Bring the outdoors in. Whether your cat has always been indoors or was once an outdoor kitty, try giving him as many of the joys of the outside world as you can, suggests cat trainer Alice Rhea in her book Good Cats, Bad Habits.

  • Plant a few pots of cat grass and catnip in a sunny window. Or create a jungle of cat-pleasing plants in pots big and small. Be sure the plants you offer are cat-safe. Many greens can be toxic to cats, including amaryllis, chrysanthemums, English ivy, iris, lilies, tulips, and more.
  • Mount bird and squirrel feeders outside a few windows so kitty is entertained by his furry and feathered neighbors. 
  • Offer lots of perches by windows, on shelves, and via cat trees so kitty can keep an eye on the wildlife outside.
  • Create a secure outdoor enclosure so kitty can get even closer to the birds, breezes, and squirrels. The enclosure can be an existing one, like a screened porch, or you can build one kitty can reach through a cat door or window. To make the enclosure safe, be sure it has walls and a roof -- think something that looks like a chicken coop you can build with wire or plastic fencing. Or you can make a roofless enclosure as long as the walls are at least seven feet high and capped with a one-foot high fence angling inward.

Provide lots of solo diversions. TVs, computers, games -- most of us are happy to stay indoors when we have fun things to play with. Well, kitty wants entertainment, too. Fortunately, it's usually much cheaper to amuse your feline friend.

  • Scratching posts and cardboard scratch pads give kitty the chance to expend energy, remove worn claw bits, and play. Make these spots even more enticing with a sprinkle of catnip.
  • Offer lots of toys, and to keep kitty's interest, rotate through the stash, removing some toys and re-introducing others every week or two. Your cat doesn't need fancy play things. A paper bag, a box, or a few balls of wadded paper are all great entertainment.
  • Hide a few dry treats throughout the house. Some cats will hunt for these hidden treasures for hours. You can also buy treat-dispensing toys.
  • Some kitties love "cat videos" full of bird and small mammal close-ups. Pop in one of these DVDs specially made for cats and see if yours starts tracking the motions of the other animals and talking at and swatting the screen. You can also try computer screen savers of flapping butterflies, scurrying mice, burbling fish, or bouncing balls.
  • Try feeding your cat several small meals a day instead of two big ones.

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