You know how it goes. You walk into your local pet store and see all those cute little kitties staring up at you with wide-eyed adoration. Then you pick one out a calico named Fluffy, perhaps then bring her home and she immediately begins living an entirely different life than any other cat on Earth. She starts meowing at odd hours, scratching furniture, peeing where she shouldn’t be peeing and generally acting like some sort of feral beast.
In general, though, cats (and kittens) tend to adapt very well to their new surroundings once you’ve taken care of them properly. That’s because cats are naturally independent animals who thrive when left alone to do as they please. If you want to adopt a kitten, for example, you can let it go outside and come back later, but if you already own a cat, you may wonder whether you should continue to allow it access to its natural habitat.
This is especially true when you consider that many cats live outdoors in nature, hunting small rodents and insects. This lifestyle doesn’t really mesh too nicely with our modern household setups, which consist of humans, food, water, shelter and litterboxes. Cats aren’t exactly fond of litterboxes, either, preferring instead to use their natural instincts to hunt their prey by scent and urinate independently.
They also often prefer to sleep away from people and areas prone to human activity. So, does this mean we should keep these independent felines at arm’s length forevermore? Or would allowing them inside improve their quality of life?
It depends on the individual cat, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary adviser for CatChannel.com, but there are definite benefits to having cats around the house. “If they’re allowed indoors to get used to being fed by hand, they’ll learn faster,” she explains.
“They’ll also learn that indoor/outdoor cats don’t fight over toys.” And since cats spend so much time outdoors, it makes sense that they’d feel comfortable coming inside more frequently to rest and eat. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that outdoor cats return to their homes daily.
On the next page, we’ll discuss why cats might find themselves cooped up within the four walls of your home.
Most experts agree that cats benefit from spending time indoors. Not only will this help reinforce proper behavior, but it may even give them a leg up against predators. For instance, most cats will instinctively seek shelter during thunderstorms, but this isn’t necessarily instinctive among barn owls. By giving cats access to safe havens such as houses, barns and sheds, we can help ensure that they won’t end up killed or injured by dangerous wildlife.
“Indoor cats are safer and healthier,” notes Julie A. Sistrom, DVM, director of clinical services at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. “They’re less likely to be hit by cars, attacked by dogs or suffer illnesses brought into the house from other animals, including fleas, ticks or worms.”
But it’s important to note that not every cat needs to be kept indoors. Some felines enjoy living freely in the great outdoors, despite their independent natures. Whether or not your particular feline enjoys this type of lifestyle, however, it’s best to respect its preferences. Don’t force it to live indoors just because you believe it would be cruel to leave it outside. Remember that it’s your responsibility to take care of your cat’s health and safety.
Some experts recommend that outdoor cats return to their homes daily because they’re exposed to fewer parasites and diseases. Others say that’s not enough. “It’s important to remember that cats can carry rabies,” cautions Dr. Coates. “And even if they’re not sick with disease, they could still bite someone and spread a virus.”
So while we can provide a warm place for our cats to stay, they’re no substitute for the natural environment. Next up, we’ll talk about what happens when your cat tries to escape your clutches.
One of the biggest problems facing captive cats is boredom. Most felines are born to hunt, run free and explore their environments. When confined to a tiny space, they become unhappy and restless. “Cats are basically solitary creatures,” says Dr. Coates. “When you confine them, they try to cope by doing something active.”
As a result, many cats begin to exhibit destructive behaviors, ranging from chewing furniture to digging under fences and climbing trees. To prevent this kind of frustration from occurring, it’s essential to provide adequate stimulation. There are lots of options for stimulating your cat’s mind and body.
One popular method involves using puzzle feeders, which require a cat to figure out how to open certain locks to gain access to food. Another option is interactive games, such as laser pointers, balls, bells and squeakers. These types of devices work well for older cats, but younger ones may not respond as well.
Laser pointers present another problem for indoor cats. While these devices can be fun and engaging for both owner and pet alike, they emit powerful beams of light that can cause eye damage. The same holds true for television sets and computers, which can also pose hazards for cats.
To avoid accidents, it’s advisable to turn off televisions and computer monitors when pets are in close proximity. Also, never put your cat near a window, especially if you have blinds or curtains attached.
Despite these recommendations, many owners choose to ignore basic rules regarding indoor safety. After all, cats are pretty adept at avoiding danger, thanks to their highly sensitive noses and eyesight. Still, there are some dangers that simply can’t be avoided. On the next page, we’ll look at some potential threats.
There’s one thing that’s absolutely guaranteed to upset your cat: Litterboxes. Many cats detest the feeling of wet paws after using a litter box, and some refuse to ever set foot inside one again. It seems counterintuitive, therefore, that many owners insist on putting their cats down on top of a dirty litterbox. Yet this practice has been proven effective at reducing the amount of odor in a room. Just be sure to clean the box regularly and change the litter as needed.
While it may seem unfair to expect a cat to conform to our standards, eventually it will adjust to those expectations. The trick is to start slowly. For example, if your cat tends to scratch the couch, you may want to introduce a scratching post first. Once you see that the post meets the cat’s approval, you can remove the posts from the table altogether. Gradually introducing new objects into the environment helps build confidence and trust between pet and master.
Many experienced cat owners claim that their felines are happier and easier to deal with when they’re given freedom to roam the house. Even if you decide to keep your cat locked in a specific area, it’s important to exercise regular access to that area. Otherwise, the animal may become bored and develop behavioral issues.
Finally, if you adopt a previously owned cat, it’s crucial to understand its history before bringing it home. Did previous owners abuse the animal? Was it neglected? Were it treated kindly? It’s possible that the cat was mistreated and will react negatively toward you now that it’s finally yours.
It’s also possible that the cat had been abused but was rescued by an organization such as the ASPCA. Either way, it’s imperative to treat the animal with kindness and respect.
Although cats are usually thought of as indoor/domestic animals, plenty of them live outdoors in the wild. About three-quarters of feral cats worldwide live in Asia, mainly India and Bangladesh. Feral cats sometimes kill birds, mice and small mammals, and they can seriously harm reptiles and amphibians. In addition, they transmit several species of parasites and diseases to native wildlife.