Cats may be cute and cuddly, but they also can be a challenge to care for, especially if they are indoors all the time. Felines are natural hunters and get bored easily, so they have a tendency to be curious. That can cause some problems, like when they decide to scale your curtains to get a better view of your living room.
When you understand a cat’s basic needs, you can raise a healthy pet and live with them in harmony.
Keep Life Interesting
To most indoor cats, life is humdrum, monotonous. So you have to keep them occupied as much as possible.
“Our misunderstanding of cats as ‘low-maintenance’ pets has led to cats that are bored and stressed. This has resulted in an epidemic of feline obesity as well as stress-associated diseases” like urinary tract infections, says Ariel Mosenco, DVM, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Cats need interactive play time that will satisfy their hunting instincts and keep them active.
For you as an owner, that means a variety of toys and lots of one-on-one time to help ward off a pudgy pussycat.
“Some cats will play fetch, so throwing a toy down the stairs so the cat has to run up and down works well, says Arlene Gardsbane, DVM, a veterinarian in Silver Spring, MD. “Laser pointer toys are great to get a cat to chase. As well as toys on the end of poles.”
For cat owner Colette Bennett, having more than one kitty has been a blessing. Bennett shares her Atlanta apartment with her boyfriend and three cats; Ender, who’s 9, Noodle, a 3-year-old female, and Ichi, a 1-year old male. She finds the cats occupy one another’s time.
“The younger two also chase each other and wrestle a lot, “Bennett says, “So that helps to keep them active.”
Litter Box Locale
Cats also need their own space. You may not have a whole room to give them, but try to make sure your kitty does have a special area of your home to call his own with food and water, a scratching post, a bed, and a litter box.
“The litter box location is crucial,” says Chris Miller, DVM, co-owner of Atlas District Veterinary Hospital in Washington, DC. You may want to keep it in a secluded area to avoid the smell, but if it’s too hard to get to, your cat may stop using it.
Keep a large litter box in a well-lit, quiet part of your home. “If the area is too dark and scary like a basement, or noisy like a laundry room, they may avoid using the box,” Miller says.
And keep a cat’s food and water in a different area. Like you, cats don’t want to eat where they’re also using the bathroom.
While you’re scooping, pay attention. Miller says a cat’s litter box use (or non-use) can help you know when something is wrong with him. Some signs that warrant a trip to the vet include blood in the litter box, if your cat makes a lot of trips but only pees a little, and meowing or making other sounds when he goes.
Feeding Your Feline
For many cats, it’s a good idea to create a feeding schedule, typically two meals a day, about 8 to 12 hours apart. Your vet can tell you how much your pet should eat every day based on his size and how active he is. And though you may worry that your cat will get hungry, it’s best not to leave a bowl of food sitting out all day. That can mean your cat could decide to eat as much as he can, which could make him gain too much weight.
If your cat begs when you sit down to eat, resist the urge to feed him from your plate. Some human foods are bad for cats, like onions, garlic, raisins, some nuts, and chocolate. Other foods, like milk, are hard for many kitties to digest and can make them sick.
And always make sure your cat has access to fresh water 24/7.
Collars and Claws
Even if you keep your kitty indoors only, cats are excellent escape artists. Always have a collar on him with his name and your phone number in case he makes a break for it. Many humane societies say microchips are the best way to get your pet back to you safely.
And should your cat get out, he’ll be at a disadvantage if he’s declawed. So many vets say it’s best to keep your cat’s claws if at all possible.
“In my opinion [declawing] should be a last resort as it is a painful procedure for the cat,” Gardsbane says. “It should only be considered if the cat lives with someone with an impaired immune system, where getting a cat scratch could be fatal.”
Worried about your furniture? Bennett says she’s found other ways to ward off potential damage from her cats.
“We have one big scratching post they love (we rub it with catnip every few weeks) and several smaller cardboard scratchers in other rooms. They tend to use these rather than our furniture, although before I got them Noodle did rip up the leg of a table I really liked.”
Most cat experts will tell you that it’s easier to keep an indoor cat healthy than one that goes outside, because you know what he’s up to and can get medical help quickly if he’s sick.
But Bennett says when it comes down to it, it’s really the connection between owner and pets that helps her cats stay healthy. She says love and attention are the best things to keep your indoor cat content.
“No matter how aloof a cat may seem, they do rely on their relationship with you, and not just for food. Spend time on them and you'll watch the bond grow. It's one of the most satisfying things I've ever known, and to me they are family.”