Indoor Cats Need Stimulation, Exercise To Thrive

By Dieter Kohlmaier, DVM

Domestication of the cat occurred between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Despite this history, these common household pets have retained many instincts that served them well in the wild – and we need to understand these innate characteristics to avoid serious behavioral and health problems.

There has been a strong push in recent years to prevent cats from venturing outdoors. Cats that spend time outside are at risk of being hit by motor vehicles, straying, acquiring infectious diseases and being attacked by predators. But, while living an indoor lifestyle may be safer, it may also predispose cats to a variety of medical and behavioural problems. Obesity from lack of exercise and overfeeding, for instance, is much more likely to occur in the indoor cat, who has to spend far less energy hunting for its food. Researchers now believe that idiopathic cystitis – a condition prevalent in indoor cats marked by increased frequency, pain and urgency of urination of unknown origin – is related to stress.

Our primary goal, then, is to enrich the environment of our indoor cats, and we first need to understand what is considered normal behaviour before we can make changes to suit their needs.

Cats, for instance, have vastly different sleep patterns than humans, often sleeping for 90% of the day, divided into short periods. It is only because some of their most active moments occur when we are trying to sleep that we think they are nocturnal. To accommodate this, we can play with or stimulate our cats more during the day to minimize their night-time energy bursts.

Cats are predators and strict carnivores. So, no matter how cute your furry friend might be, her natural tendency by introducing toys that resemble these delights – you will quickly discover which one your cat prefers. It is a more realistic experience if they toys move, or if you can move them in some way. That being said, many cats will gladly chase a ball or a crunched up piece of paper. To stimulate cat’s predatory nature, you can hide kibble around the house and allow them to hunt for it. This will also increase the amount of exercise they get.

Not seeing much interest in playtime? Like dogs, cats can be trained to play. Training is best introduced at a young age, but all felines can learn to love their toys. For most it comes quite naturally. And play isn’t just for kittens – keep it up when they are full-grown.

Cats are solitary animals by nature, but can live in groups of 20 or more in the wild; the majority of these will be females with one or two males. If there’s more than one cat in your household, ensure that each has a private place of their own – a pet carrier or even a box lined with a blanket should suffice.

Dogs are the number-one natural predator of the cat, so don’t be surprised if your cat isn’t at all that impressed when you bring a new puppy home. While you shouldn’t expect your cat to have a warm and fuzzy relationship with the dog (though some do), you will often see a good relationship develop when a kitten is introduced to a home with a dog.

Cats also enjoy scratching and climbing, and vertical scratching posts and cat trees are effective in catering to these urges. Finally, it is imperative that the litter box is cleaned out frequently, as cats in the wild will seldom urinate or defecate in the same place.

Enriching your cat’s environment can be easy and fun for both of you, and it provides them with the stimulation they need to reduce stress, increase exercise and get the most they can get out of their indoor life.

Pets Magazine – It’s a Jungle In Here

July/August, page 22

The indoor pet iniative is a great source of information to us as pet owners. These tips on enriching the lives of our pets are a fun and creative way to keep our pets happy and healthy through their lives. Check them out at the link below:

http://indoorpet.osu.edu