The Indoor Cat

The Indoor Cat

Oh, the life of an indoor cat . . . big stretch in the morning, wake up the human (at indecently early hour), eat, freshen up, search for sunny spot, ready for nap and repeat, all day long, every day. Sounds quite dreamy to us busy humans; but are we really doing our felines a favor?

The indoor cat is certainly at greatly reduced risk for contracting infectious disease (parasites, feline viruses) and avoiding environmental harm (cars, predators, harsh Alberta winters). Numerous studies have shown that the indoor cat can outlive their outdoor counterpart by at least a decade, but the trend towards keeping cats indoors is linked to many behavior issues which compromises the human-animal bond and in extreme cases can lead to relinquishment or euthanasia. The most common behavior problem of indoor cats we see at Park Veterinary Centre is inappropriate elimination.  The next two most common are excessive grooming and inter-cat aggression.

Pet ownership inherently involves a commitment to provide nourishment, water and shelter. But it is important not to forget about emotional and behavioral needs; cats need an opportunity to express their natural feline behaviours which include:

- Hunting

- Playing

- Defending Self

- Perching

- Eating


Here are some tips from your cat-friendly Sherwood Park veterinarians at Park Veterinary Centre:


So why does a cat who is well fed need to hunt? Surprisingly, the feline hunting instinct is not physiologically connected to hunger cues (hence why we see cats playing with their prey rather than ingesting every time). An outdoor cat would typically stalk prey up to 10 times per day. Clearly, the indoor cat does not have that same opportunity (or so we hope!) so an alternative outlet needs to be provided. There are many toys that bring out the instinctive stalk in cats, but not all cats will respond equally – some cats are attracted to toys that squeak and move rapidly, while others prefer more ‘prey like’ toys of varying color and texture. Ideally, aim for 3 play sessions daily and allow the cat to dictate when the play session is over. Many cats will get bored with a chase toy in just a few minutes, but are still interested in playing, so the key is to have a variety of toys available. Using catnip to increase the toy appeal can also prolong their interest in the activity. The best time to conduct a play session is when the cat is awake and eliciting attention from humans (aka . . . on their terms). One word of caution though, try to avoid allowing the cat to use your body as prey – sounds simple, but many people play the ‘chase the hands under the covers’ or ‘running hands along the couch’ game, which sends the wrong message – humans are not prey!

There are many commercially available toys on the market; at ParkVeterinaryCenter we carry several lines of cat toys including:

-          Cat It Senses – motion activated illuminated ball with elevated speed circuit

-          Kong Glowz – nighttime play, glow in the dark, cat nip toy

-          Kong Refillables – soft toy with cat nip

-          Amazing Honeysuckle – soft toys, variety of colors and shapes

-          Spot Pet Laser

-          Spot Micro Mouse – remote control


These are some simple ideas that can be used from around the house items:


-ye-old pyramid of paper towel rolls (glue together, punch holes in them or place small toys in the tubes)


-puzzle feeders (cut holes in a plastic bottle that are just a little larger than the diameter of the dried cat food; file the holes so that there are no sharp edges that could harm your cat. Fill the bottle with dry food; watch your cat play with the bottle and get rewarded as the food falls through the holes)





So we have figured out how to entertain the cat for all of 20 minutes; now how are they going to spend the remainder of the 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day?


We all know that cats will happily log several hours of slumber during the day, but the waking hours . . .  consider a cat activity center. The hub of the activity center is the cat scratch tower. A good tower has a center that can be accessed from several angles and is located centrally in the house rather than tucked away in the basement. Safely secure toys on the tower for batting as well as automatic toys to provide entertainment in your absence.  Cats deal with stress by climbing (the higher the better) so the tower must have several levels. High vantage points are especially important in multi-cat households – allowing the cat to escape and observe ground level from a safe place.

Available at ParkVeterinaryCenter:

-          FroliCat Automatic Laser Light  – Automatically moves laser in random pattern

-          FroliCat Dart Rotating Laser Light – Automatic Rotating laser

-          FroliCat Twitch – Automatic Teaser with timer

-          Petstages Easy Life, Scratch, Snuggle and Rest – corrugated bowl for resting or scratching, catnip as a bonus

Hiding is another method of dealing with stress for cats. In the wild, hiding allows the predator to scope out a situation without placing themselves in danger. In the home, hiding provides an escape from the household activity and should be encouraged by providing access to nooks; boxes and sufficient areas of perching (clean off the top of the refrigerator!) Of course, a cat that is spending the majority of time in hiding should be evaluated by your veterinarian as this can be an indicator of disease.


For outdoor cats, relying on their hunting skills for meals can consume plenty of time and energy. It is thought that an outdoor cat requires 8-10 mice per day to support daily nutritional requirements- this is achieved on average over 30 hunting expeditions per day. For the indoor cat, being served food in a bowl every morning can leave them with a lot of time and energy to expend. Some effective solutions include:

-          Divide the daily portion into several rations and place in puzzle or toy feeder, so kitty needs to work for the meal

-          Scatter the daily portion of food into several bowls around the house and let kitty hunt for it

-          Feed the kitty in an elevated location, encouraging them to expend energy every time they decide it’s time to eat

-          Use an automatic feeder that doles out meals on a timer

Available at ParkVeterinaryCenter:

-          FunKitty Eggcersizer – food dispensing toy

-          EatWell 2 meal feeder

-          Petsafe 5 meal feeder

So in the end, there are many options to maintain a cat indoors happily and effectively. It stands to reason that access to the Great Outdoors would complement the aforementioned strategies when steps are taken to ensure safety. Getting a feline acquainted to a leash and harness can be a nice way of spending a pleasant afternoon in the backyard – supervision is required to prevent predation and avoid self-trauma from getting tangled in the leash.

An alternative would be an outdoor pen – ensure that this has the same amenities as the cat scratch tower indoors in terms of varying heights, access to hiding areas and protection from the elements as needed.


All of the above can help enrich the quality of life of your indoor cat.   If and when there are health or behavior concerns (which are often symptoms of underlying health concerns) please contact us; any of the Sherwood Park Veterinarians at Park Veterinary Centre would be please to help wherever possible.  This might mean diagnostic testing in addition to a thorough physical examination, and may lead to therapies which span the gamut between supplements, hormones, anti-inflammatory medications, laser therapy, prescription diets, and traditional medications. 


Our goal at Park Veterinary Centre includes enriching the quality of life and relationships of your companion animals of all kinds.