7 Tips to Keep Your Indoor Cat Happy and Healthy

Pet parents have long debated the merits of outdoor versus indoor living for cats. Many outdoor proponents feel their cats need the fresh air to satisfy their natural instincts. But those with indoor cats point out the inherent dangers of a free-roaming feline.

There’s no question that outdoor cats are at a much higher risk of many diseases and parasites, as well as becoming victims of other animals, car accidents, animal cruelty, toxins and more. Plus, outdoor cats can negatively impact an area’s small animal population. And if they aren’t spayed or neutered, there’s a good chance they’ll end up contributing to pet overpopulation.

Still, to ensure an indoor cat’s well-being, it’s vital to provide enough mental and physical stimulation for them to express their feline tendencies. Here are seven tips to help you keep your indoor cat happy and healthy.

1. Make the indoors interesting

Cats enjoy being outside because there are many ways for them to indulge in their natural behaviors. But with a little effort, you can replicate that indoors for a safe, enriching environment.

Offer your cat a variety of toys they can play with and “hunt” on their own. “Some simple and cheap options are cardboard boxes, large paper bags (with the handles removed for safety) and crumpled-up pieces of paper,” Best Friends Animal Society says. “Other options are catnip-filled toys, springs, and wall- or door-mounted toys.” Keep some toys stashed away, so you can regularly rotate in something new. Plus, be sure to provide a few different scratching toys to fulfill that instinctive behavior. And to make things even more interesting, you can treat your cat to a food puzzle, plant some pet-safe grass or even bring in safe outdoor items (such as sticks or leaves) for your cat to investigate.

2. Provide plenty of perches

orange tabby cat looking out a windowCredit: Konstantin Aksenov/Getty Images

Besides interesting toys, another way to greatly enrich your indoor cat’s life is by providing them with feline-friendly places to hang out. “Upright structures and elevated perches will serve your cat’s climbing and clawing needs,” Best Friends says. “To let your cat experience a bit of the outdoors while indoors, place perches, cat furniture (such as cat trees) or resting areas by the windows in your home.” And to really give them some mental stimulation, hang a bird feeder also known as “cat TV” somewhere outside where your cat can see it.

Furthermore, give your cat some quiet spots where they can go to feel safe and comfortable. “Calming activities are just as much a part of enrichment as stimulating activities,” according to Best Friends. “ Closets, open crates, high shelves, cat trees, the space under beds and rooms sectioned off with baby gates are great places to put a comfy cat bed or blanket to create a safe place.” Just make sure your cat will be unbothered when they go to their quiet zone, so they can enjoy their peace.

3. Spend quality time together

It probably should go without saying that you’re also a huge part of your cat’s enrichment and not just because you feed them and clean the litter box. When you play with your cat, it not only helps to strengthen your bond but also satisfies their natural desire to hunt. Many cats even the ones who seem indifferent to all your other attempts at friendship can’t help but to chase a wand toy or laser pointer. Just make sure they catch a toy eventually, or they might become frustrated.

Besides play, be sure you spend enough time hanging out with your cat. Some cats might not show their appreciation by snuggling in your lap, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy your company. Pet them, brush them and talk to them. Find the activities that your cat seems to enjoy most. You even can work on some tricks, such as “sit” and “wave,” for a mental and physical workout and to earn some bragging rights over your neighbor’s dog.

4. Build a ‘catio’

There are some ways to give your indoor cat the enrichment of the outdoors while still maintaining their safety. And one of those is by creating a “catio” or a cat-friendly outdoor enclosure.

“A cattery/catio provides a way for a cat to enjoy the outdoors without danger of being attacked by another animal, struck by a car, lost or stolen,” Best Friends says. “They can be made with a variety of materials and constructed in a range of shapes and sizes. They can be free-standing or attached to a house or garage, inexpensive or higher end, plain or fancy, bought or built.” Best Friends offers some resources on different types of enclosures. In a nutshell, you and your cat should view the catio as a safe outdoor extension of your home. Make sure they’ll still have access to a litter box, food and water as well as protection from the elements.

5. Take a walk

cat walking in grass on a leash and harness

Credit: fotostok_pdv/Getty Images

If you don’t have the ability to build a catio for your feline friend, consider getting them outside another way: by taking a walk. Yes, many cats can be trained to walk on a leash and harness. And though you might not see cat walks too often, maybe you can be the person in your neighborhood to start the enriching trend.

Best Friends gives some in-depth tips to teach a cat to walk on a leash. It’s critical to gradually allow your cat to adjust to their harness, watching closely for signs of stress. This process might take several days before they’re comfortable. (If the harness really isn’t working out, you also can look into cat strollers and really be the talk of the neighborhood.) Then, practice walking them on a leash inside before you try it outdoors. If your cat is doing well, head outside preferably to a safe, quiet area where you can retreat back inside if your cat becomes upset. As long as you keep the sessions positive, your cat’s confidence should build, hopefully to the point where you can start taking some healthy walks.

6. Be prepared for slips

Even if you have a cat who shows absolutely no interest in slipping out the door, there still might be a scenario in which they get out. “The occasional open window (make sure your windows have secure screens) or door offers a tempting opportunity for your cat,” the Humane Society of the United States says. “And your cat may become frightened and make their way outside if strangers come to work on your house or if there is a fire or similar disaster.”

So it’s important to be prepared. HSUS recommends that you outfit your cat with an ID collar and have them microchipped, as well. Plus, make sure they’re up to date on vaccines, following your vet’s recommendations. And keep a current photo of your cat handy that shows some of their defining characteristics. You can use it to immediately file a missing animal report with your local animal organizations and on social media. Hopefully you’ll never have to experience a day when your cat goes missing, but a few simple preparations might make all the difference in getting them back home.

7. Stick with the program

a kitten sitting on a piano

Credit: Astakhova/Getty Images

An easy way to keep a happy indoor cat is to raise them like that from a kitten, HSUS says. They’ll grow up learning how to enjoy themselves with the enrichment you offer indoors. But if you’ve adopted a cat who was used to going outside, the transition to an indoor cat can be tricky but not impossible.

“The trick is to make the great indoors as fun and intriguing as the outdoors,” HSUS says. If you’re dealing with a former outdoor cat who has no idea how to live inside, you might have to make the change gradually (safety permitting). Start feeding them inside, and slowly lengthen the amount of time they stay in after eating. Introduce a litter box and scratching post, as well as comfortable hiding spots, perches, toys, etc. You might have to go through a period of your cat letting you know just how mad they are that you’re not letting them outside, but stick with the program. Ask your vet or animal shelter for advice. And remember that an unpleasant adjustment period ultimately is a small price to pay for adding happy, healthy years to your feline friend’s life.

Main image credit: Photography by Adri/Getty Images

56 comments

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege7 days ago

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Vincent T
Vincent T15 days ago

Thank you

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Marge M
Marge M17 days ago

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David C
David C18 days ago

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Michael F

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Leo C
Leo Custer18 days ago

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Ruth S
Ruth S18 days ago

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Ruth S
Ruth S18 days ago

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Linda Wallace
Linda Wallace18 days ago

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Melanie St. Germaine

Thank you for sharing.

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