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When I picked up a grown-up cat who was used to running around where and when he wanted, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.
First, I had him microchipped and neutered. And then I decided to leave him inside.
He disagreed with this and began the constant wailing, the scratching of the door and the attempts to lock when he saw the slightest opening.
I have often wondered if what I was doing was cruel.
“There’s no question that they can be perfectly happy inside,” says Richard Malik, Veterinary Intern (specialist) at the University of Sydney.
“You will go through two weeks of hell, but they will get used to it.”
Dr. Malik said he decided cats were doing better inside after seeing so many of them being asked for help after being hit by cars or injured from fighting other cats.
“Now I live on a farm. I have poisonous snakes, goannas, foxes, wild dogs, and eagles as potential dangers if they go outside. I’m not ready to wear any of them,” he says.
“My motivation is for cat health and longevity. I like the environment, but that’s not my main driver.”
Studies have shown that cats kept indoors live much longer than cats who run around ad libitum.
Regina Hall-Jones is a Sydney-based cat behaviorist and says most of her clients keep their cats in check these days.
“Every cat is different … some cats are really grateful to just be inside and not have the stress of being outside,” she says.
Here are some tips from Dr. Malik and Ms. Hall-Jones to think about when trying to turn a street fighter into an indoor-only cat.
Plan ahead and create (vertical) space for them indoors
Dr. Malik says cats love to lie in the sun because they have a higher thermo-neutral temperature than we do. (
Delivered: Richard Malik
Doing a little planning before locking the doors can help keep your kitten happy indoors.
“If you can, enrich the indoor climate,” says Dr. Malik.
“The main thing is that cats love vertical space.”
It’s great to have things like scratching posts to scratch, climb, and sit on, but some can be expensive. Cheaper options are do-it-yourself with boxes and thick ropes wrapped around bars.
Dr. Malik says that placing a number of cat beds at different heights will give your home the ability to be where they want to be.
You can make your own cat beds with old clothes with your scent and cardboard boxes. Most cats love an empty box.
“You are only limited by your imagination,” says Dr. Malik.
The more trash cans, the better
Cody’s five-year-old husband couldn’t stand being kept too well in the house and ended up at the vet with health problems.
Dr. Malik and Ms. Hall-Jones say it is generally best to have one litter box per cat plus one extra. Cats can be very fussy about their toilets so make sure you keep them clean. Try different types of litters to see what your cat likes best.
“Make sure your cat uses the litter box regularly before you even keep your cat indoors,” says Ms. Hall-Jones.
Unfortunately, Cody * realized that the worst can happen when your cat is stressed out using the toilet.
When Cody decided to keep two cats indoors – with access to an outdoor cat run – they had big problems with the older cat, and he developed crystals in his urine that caused urinary obstruction.
“Everyone has suggestions. We did EVERYTHING and more. At one point our house had half a dozen trash cans,” says Cody.
“After that, we had to take him to the vet every day to see if he was urinating (and it cost money every day). He wasn’t.
“The vets had run out of ideas so we asked if we could let him out again. They said it was worth a try.”
Cody says they allowed the cat back outside and that his bladder problems have cleared up. The younger cat is still very happy to be held back.
Yes, you can train a cat
They are the roommates who don’t seem to have any fluff to give – cats. But the cat actually wants to interact and learn from you, explain our experts.
Routine is important for cats, so make changes slowly if you can
Ms. Hall-Jones says cats love routine and changing it up can be very stressful for them.
If you are able, make small changes to your routine over time until the new routine is what you expected. For example, if you leave the cat indoors at night, slowly increase the amount of time he or she stays indoors until they stop going outside.
“You have to be consistent. Routine is really good, it helps you feel more confident,” she says.
Both Dr. Malik as well as Ms. Hall-Jones say that it is also best to only tackle the task of bringing a cat indoors at a time when your own life is not stressful. Try to do it at a time when you are free and don’t do it during very stressful times like when you have just had a baby.
Play and bond with your cat
Spending time with your cat brushing, playing, and patting them will be a great way to bond with and entertain your pet. (
Pexels: Yuliya Kota
Many people fear that if a cat is kept indoors, it will become fat and bored.
“A lot of people think that when a cat is outside, it is doing things all the time and is active, but I’d probably suggest that they sleep most of the time,” says Ms. Hall-Jones.
“If you have an indoor-only cat that you are mentally stimulating through interactive play, they are likely to get a lot more exercise than the cats that sleep outside.”
Playing with your cat for five to ten minutes a day will make them feel stimulated, says Dr. Malik.
Cat toys don’t have to be an expensive laser. often a crumpled piece of paper, which they use as a ball for hunting and hitting, is enough. Fishing rod toys with fake birds or mice can work well – find out what works for your cat.
If you’re concerned about your cat gaining weight, feed them wet food over dry food, says Dr. Malik.
“Wet food is really good. Meat is really good. So dry is not good [for weight loss]. “
Access to secure outdoor space and movement
Michelle’s two cats are allowed in the garden under supervision and are otherwise kept indoors. (
If you have the money, space, and ability to build a cat enclosure, it is best to have it attached to the house so the cat has the opportunity to come through a cat flap and go as it wishes.
Michelle, * in Adelaide says her family give her two cats supervised outdoor time in their yard.
“We leave them outside several times a day,” she says.
“We stay outside for about 20 minutes and then just shake the bowl of cat biscuits and they come running back.”
Dr. Malik says it is important when you give the cat access to the outdoors to think about the dangers out there – could a dog get in? Will they be exposed to fleas and paralytic ticks? Are other cats walking around your yard and possibly exposing them to disease?
Walking a cat on a leash is becoming increasingly popular, says Ms. Hall-Jones, but it’s not suitable for every cat.
If you want to train your cat on a leash, make sure you start where it is safe and see if your cat will like it.
Both Ms. Hall-Jones and Dr. Malik say there is no one size fits all to keep a cat healthy and happy, but containing them as much as possible can keep your moggy safe.
There are free resources available to help you with indoor cat safety suggestions through organizations like the RSPCA. Your vet and local animal behaviorist can also assist you with the transition.
* The names have been changed for data protection reasons.
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