Cat in cat furniture
We all love our cats and want the best for them, so it may be difficult for you to deny them what seems like their hearts’ desire — to roam outdoors and enjoy all the big wide world has to offer.

The problem is, the freedom of being outdoors comes with many risks to your beloved feline. As Dr. Marty Becker points out, outdoor cats typically have shorter life spans and are vulnerable to predators, disease, accidents, parasites and, as unthinkable as it may be, even human cruelty.

If you consider your responsibility as a cat owner to ensure your cat is safe, comfortable and happy (and we hope you do!), keep him indoors and create an enriching, safe world that engages his natural instincts. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Perches, Climbing Systems and More

When creating your cat’s indoor environment, consider how cats live in the wild. You might find outdoor cats climbing trees, running along fences, sitting on top of high places to survey their territory or hiding in secluded places to rest. By creating opportunities for these types of activities for your cat indoors, you can safely imitate outdoor life.

Cat style expert Kate Benjamin, co-author with Jackson Galaxy of the book Catification, points out that enriching your cat’s environment doesn’t have to be expensive. You can move furniture around to create opportunities for your cat to jump from place to place, for example.

If you do want to invest a few bucks, try installing a window perch, so your cat can observe birds and squirrels. Or use cat trees to give your cat perching options. Consider climbing systems, so your cat can traverse from spot to spot, leveraging his natural agility.

Natural Instincts and Playtime

Since indoor cats don’t need to hunt for their food, it’s important to give them other ways to express their natural predatory instincts. Playtime is perfect for this!

The Ohio State University Veterinary School’s Indoor Pet Initiative explains that cats have different “prey preferences,” so while one cat might like to play with wand toys resembling birds, others might prefer furry toys that look like mice or smaller, fast-moving toys that mimic bugs. Try different types of toys to determine which type of “prey” your cat likes best.

Food puzzles also encourage your cat to use mental and physical energy to obtain his food, according to cat and dog trainer Mikkel Becker. This can help cats stay challenged and keep them from being bored, which can lead to behavioral problems.

Surfaces to Scratch

Scratching is a natural behavior cats engage in to mark their territory, keep their claws in tiptop shape and stretch their bodies, so make sure to provide scratchers in your home to allow your cat to exhibit this instinctual behavior (somewhere other than your sofa, of course).

Try different surfaces and shapes until you find something your cat likes to use. As the Indoor Pet Initiative points out, some cats like to scratch on horizontal surfaces, while others prefer scratching vertically. Some cats prefer sisal rope as their scratching material of choice; other cats like cardboard or even carpet. 

Safe Outdoor Experience

You may even go so far as to give your cat actual outdoor time in a safe and secure way. Some cat owners build custom “catios,” which are enclosed patios designed to allow cats to safely spend time outside. Catios are secure, with no spots for wily cats to escape and usually include perches and lounging areas, so the cats can spend the day happily watching the world go by.

Another way to give them an outdoor experience is on leash. Believe it or not, cats can be trained (when they want to be) to walk on a leash, Mikkel Becker says. Special cat harnesses are made specifically for this purpose. Imagine your neighbors’ surprise when you go trotting down the street with your cat on a leash!

Some owners even like to attach the leash to a patio chair, fence post or stake in the ground and allow their cats to roam, supervised, of course, in the yard.

However, even if you’re planning to supervise your cat, you should remain aware of potential exposure to outdoor cats. If there’s a possibility that outdoor cats may come up to the catio screen or come up to the cat when he’s out on a leash, then there’s the possibility of disease transmission (like feline leukemia). Discuss this with your veterinarian and consider vaccination before letting your cat outdoors; you’ll also want to consider your cat’s increased risk of exposure to parasites, such as fleas and ticks.

Don’t Forget the Greens

If you’ve noticed that your cat loves noshing on your houseplants, he’s just doing what he’d likely do out in the wild. Instead of living with chewed-up plants, why not offer your cat potted cat grass or a catnip plant to nibble on? You can purchase seeds or potted versions at most pet and garden stores and re-pot at home so you never run out of safe greenery for your favorite feline. Just be sure to choose something completely cat safe and check the ASPCA Pet Care poisonous plant database when in doubt.

There’s no need to feel guilty for keeping your cat from the excitement of outdoor living. Make sure to create an enriching, stimulating environment in your home, and your kitty is more likely to live a happy, long life right by your side — indoors.

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