Enrich Your Indoor Cat’s Life

Cat experts and scientists agree that domestication didn’t come easy to cats. Even though cats have now been living in our homes for a century or longer, and we have made changes to accommodate them living inside, cats are biologically pretty much the same as they were thousands of years ago. Hence, their basic behaviors and needs haven’t really changed. It’s important for cat owners to remember that, and to factor it into how we care for our feline companions. In this article, I’ll overview the biology of cats, and then I’ll talk about the indoor cat’s need for enrichment and how owners can provide it.

WHAT CATS NEED

Cats are born with an instinct to chase and hunt down prey. First, their bodies have the perfect design. Their vision and hearing are much more developed than those of humans. Cat Behavior Associates describes cats has having binocular vision that provides them with excellent low-light ability, as well as hearing acuity that allows them to pinpoint the origins of a sound with amazing accuracy. Even their whiskers help them navigate in dark environments, which serves them in the detection of prey. Finally, their flexible bodies allow them to perform lightning-quick directional changes, while their powerful rear legs allow them to quickly pounce.

Second, cats have also developed strategies of sneaking and pouncing while on the prowl. Perfect Paws explains that through play, kittens develop the coordination and timing needed to successfully capture their target. They also learn to adjust their speed to the speed of moving objects and to gauge their pounces to equal the distance between them and objects. Cat Behavior Associates adds that cats walk on their toes for speed and stealth. They can also jump 6-7 times their height.

In addition, Cat Behavior Associates reports that studies have shown that when a cat is hunting, a brain chemical called dopamine is released that creates a feeling of eager anticipation, and that his release is initially triggered by the sound or scent of prey. Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University, refers to this feeling of eager anticipation as the Seeking Circuit. Cat Behavior Associates compares hunting for cats to the way kids feel on Christmas morning before presents are opened.

All this is to say that, contrary to popular modern belief, cats weren’t born to just eat and sleep. Just imagine having all the abilities of a cat and never having the opportunity to use them. Yet that’s the way it is for many of our indoor-only cats. Am I advocating that we all turn our indoor kitties loose? No, but I am advocating that we embrace environmental enrichment.

REASONS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT

At its simplest level, environmental enrichment is the process of providing our pets with stimulating surroundings that mimic the natural world. The concept seems to have originated with zoos, but has since trickled down to shelters and now our homes.

Why would cat owners need to be concerned enriching their pets’ environment? After all, cats are domesticated, right? But remember what I pointed out in my introduction, that cats are biologically pretty much the same as they were thousands of years ago. In fact, free-ranging and feral cats, so contends Pet WebMD, lead complex and busy lives compared to their house cat counterparts. Outdoor cats, according to Pet WebMD, maintain large territories that often contain a variety of habitats. They explore, scavenge, hunt, and socialize with other cats. In contrast, household cats often have little to do and easily become bored. Therein lies the problem to which that fancy concept of environmental enrichment is the solution.

Repeatedly, the message of U.S. experts is that cats should be kept indoors. They even argue that cats who grow up inside tend to show no inclination to leave the safety of home. Furthermore, these experts point out that even cats who are used to being outside can learn to live a happy and healthy lives indoors. Yet they also agree that indoor cats can get bored and that this boredom can lead to stress and even misbehavior.

Regarding the latter, because cats are sensory-driven, Drake Center for Veterinarian Medicine says that when there’s no tension release cats may develop bad habits. For example, under-stimulated cats may eat too little or too much food, feign sleep or become lethargic, over-groom or partake in other self-mutilating habits, chew inappropriate items, eat too little or too much food, or retreat into isolation. Bored and stressed cats are also at greater risk for behavioral problems such as: attention seeking, urinating and defecating outside the litter box, attacking the hands or feet of owners, or picking on companion pets. Even worse, cats can become anxious, depressed, and/or sick.

In contrast, an enriched environment can lead to a happy cat. First, there’s physical health. Their muscles get a good workout, their bones stay strong, and they’re more likely to develop a normal, healthy appetite. Second, there’s mental health. Drake Center for Veterinarian Medicine points out that cats who have positive experiences usually have more confidence. Finally, there’s social health. Environmental enrichment will increase and strengthen the bond between you and your cat.

To my surprise, during my research I also found articles about how to provide environmental enrichment to dogs. Many dog owners already take their dogs for walks and make time to play with them, even if they don’t avail of training opportunities and other ways of interacting with their dogs. Yet many pet experts still write at length about other ways to engage dogs. And so, surely, our beloved cats, who were born to chase and to hunt but tend to spend their lives sleeping on beds, deserve a more stimulating environment.

I think I’ve made my case for “why”. Now I’ll turn to “how”.

IMPROVING YOUR INDOOR CAT’S LIFE

In the wild, cats not only hunt prey, but they also serve as prey for other animals. Therefore, cats feel most vulnerable while eating, drinking, or eliminating. For that reason, these basic needs should met away from confined spaces and startling noises.

There’s really not much else to say about water and litter boxes. You might invest in a water foundation, as some cats like the bubbling action. When it comes to litter boxes, part of creating a healthy environment involves using ones that are clean, the right size, and located in an area that’s appealing to the cat. Some sources say that to keep a litter box clean: waste should be removed twice a day; the litter box should be emptied, cleaned, refilled with fresh litter weekly; and the litter box should be replaced yearly. Also, the rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, with these litter boxes being placed in different locations. If your cat isn’t using the litter box consistently, there should be an extra box available, but you should also arrange for a check-up to confirm that she doesn’t have an infection.

Enhancing Food

Healthy Pets suggests that to add enrichment, try placing a treat in a new area each day. Start by hiding the treat in the same spot each day. After a few days of this, hide the treat near the original location but not exactly in the same place. Once your cat has gotten used to “hunting” for the treat, move on to more remote areas. This should be done daily, so your cat gets used to the routine.

You can also include food-related environmental enrichment through puzzle feeder toys. A puzzle feeder in its basic form is simply a sturdy object with a hole in it, from which treats or dry food can fall out of as a cat bats it about. My husband and I bought a couple commercial ones for our cats this past Christmas and they have been a big hit.

If you feed wet food, Cat Behavior Associates advises you can instead set up puzzle feeders.  Something as simple as a muffin tin, by dropping small amounts of wet food in covered compartments. For cats who eat too quickly, you can smoosh the food, so they have to work harder for their reward.

Cat Behavior Associates tells how to make homemade puzzle feeders by using plastic water bottles. You simply cut holes in the bottles and place treats inside. Even the round cardboard insert from paper towels apparently works well. Cut holes, put treats in there, and fold the ends closed.

Finally, Cats Protection Channel offers various ideas through videos. Below are a sample of couple cheap ways to entertain your cat.

GOING BEYOND THE BASICS

Healthy Pets says the goal is to “create an environment of plenty” for your cat. That doesn’t just mean providing plenty of food and water and litter boxes, but also includes things to do.

Stimulating Senses

Earlier I said that cats have hearing and vision that is superior to ours. When you’re trying to provide your cat with things to do, think eyes and ears and even nose.

Access to windows, preferably through perches, towers, and other elevated spaces, will provide mental stimulation as your cat looks out the window. Some cats get the same effect through the visuals and sound effects of videos; popular ones contain close-ups of prey, such as birds and rodents. All my cats enjoy sitting at the window, while my one formerly feral cat is fascinated by the internet and even by television.

When you’re not home, you can provide auditory stimulation through music or television. I don’t know how my cats react to these types of sounds when left alone, but I do know my formerly feral cat seems to enjoy music.

Your cat’s keen olfactory senses can be stimulated with cat-safe herbs or synthetic feline pheromones. All of my family’s cats enjoy catnip.

Accommodating Normal Behaviors

If environmental enrichment is about providing stimulating surroundings that mimic our pets’ natural world, then you need to know that scratching, climbing, hiding, and hunting all come naturally to cats.

Scratching is about marking territory. To accommodate this need, supply horizontal or vertical scratching posts; the latter is the most popular. Ensure the scratching post is covered in a rough material that cats like to scratch, such as wood, sisal, rough fabric, or cardboard. Being able to stretch the muscles and displace anxiety by scratching is a vital part of cat life. If your cat lacks interest in one type of post or material, keep trying other varieties until you find the right fit.

Cats climb for multiple reasons. The first reason is to keep watch for prey, and so as to attack from above. The second reason is for safety; to get away from other cats in the house, and to eliminate the possibility of attack from behind. The third is as a display of status, which is especially important if tension occurs between cats. To accommodate this need, buy or build a cat tree; the ideal cat tree includes hiding spots, perches, and hammocks or shelves for beds. Elevated walkways can also create vertical space. The more vertical space, the more territory the cats will have available to share.

Hiding is about finding safe and secure places from predators. An economical way to accommodate this need might be as simple as a box with a hole in it or paper bags. To use the latter, Cat Behavior Associates says simply fold a one-inch cuff at the top to make the bag sturdy, then cut the bottoms of the bags, fold a cuff around that end, and then tape bags together. You might also invest in commercial fabric tunnels. We have one that we placed behind our recliner.

Finally, hunting used to be about survival. Even though your cat may be well-fed, that instinct hasn’t disappeared, and can be accommodated through play with toys.

Toys can be categorized into two main categories: self-play and interactive. The first are especially good if you need to leave your cat alone for hours on end. The cheapest toys are plastic rings from milk jugs and empty toilet paper rolls. Other low-cost toys are furry mice and crinkle balls. You can heighten your cat’s fun with self-play toys by placing them in objects such as empty tissue boxes or hiding them around the house to inspire curiosity.

Interactive toys are great for strengthening the bond between you and your cat, because they require your involvement. These toys, which I call danglers, are standard at our house. From Cat Behavior Associates, I also got the idea of moving interactive toys (otherwise described as wand or fishing pole like toys) like prey so that our cats can practice their hunting skills. Have the toys hide, quiver, dart to another hiding place, etc.

Drake Center for Veterinarian Medicine writes that a recent study revealed that the number one favorite toy for cats was a used hair band tied to a string and pulled across the floor. Number two was a cat Kong.

Training Cats

Training provides cats with a great mental workout. Those of you have read my previous articles on this subject know I’m a firm believer that, just like dogs, cats can learn a number of useful behaviors like sit and come as well as fun tricks such as beg and roll over. To be successful, you must use positive reinforcement methods (such as clicker training) since most cats cannot be forced to do something they don’t want to do.

Agility is something normally associated with dogs, but cats (and other animals!) can do it too. You don’t have to enter an agility competition, but you can clicker train your cat to an engaging obstacle course in your home. My cats jump through hoops and tunnel through boxes.

Providing Companionship

Cats are social creatures. If you spend lots of time away from home, your cat might benefit from a feline companion. After a gradual and positive introduction, having a buddy can make a huge difference when it comes to enriching a cat’s life. This sure has been the case in our house!

Be forewarned though that trying to predict how two or more cats will get on living under the same roof is impossible. Female cats apparently tend to get along better with other cats than males do, while intact males can prove difficult in a multi-cat household. Finally, Healthy Pets cautions problems with inter-cat aggression can arise when a new cat is brought home, when two cat owners blend their feline families, and even among cats that have lived peaceably together for years. Just like human families can have challenges!

THE FINAL WORD

While it is true that cats enjoy sunshine, fresh air, and exercise, they don’t need to live outside to be satisfied. Some thoughtful planning on our part can help cats to live fully-enriched lives within the safety of our homes. In this article, I’ve suggested a variety of ways. Check out the below links for more information, and check back here for future posts on this topic. Now go create a playground for your cat!

WHAT CATS NEED

WHY ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT

IMPROVING YOUR CAT’S LIFE

Guest Post: Keeping A Cat Safe Outside

Reprinted with permission from Missy Zane, How to Live with Cats. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright January 14, 2016.

Letting a cat go outside doesn’t necessarily mean just opening the door and letting him go. There are all kinds of ways to keep a cat safe outside.

Leash training a cat is easier than you may think. Or try supervised outdoor time with your cat. Most cats love hanging out with their humans outside, and if you’re outdoors, your cat will probably stay with you. Walk around the yard together, or work in the garden, or just sit in the grass and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. If your cat wanders further than you want him to go, don’t run after him. A cat can outrun a human anytime. Walk a few feet behind him and pick him up when he stops to eat some grass or watch a bird flying by. When you’re back inside, give him some treats or wet food as a reward for going in when you want him to.

Another possibility is to build an outdoor enclosure for your cats. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just large enough for the cats to have room to run and chase the bugs flying by. At least some of the enclosure should be on the ground, not a patio, so the cats can roll around in the dirt and nibble grass.

If you have a fence, putting PVC piping on top of the fence will keep the cat in your yard.

Letting Cats Go Outside On Your Terms, Not Theirs

Black cat on fence

Cats are creatures of habit, and if you establish a routine for letting a cat go outside, he’ll probably be there waiting when you want him to come in. First, establish your own routine. Decide when you’re going to let him out and back in and try to let him out and in at about the same times every day.

For most cats, food is a powerful motivator. If you give your cat wet food the second he comes in, he’ll be at the door waiting at dinnertime. If he doesn’t eat wet food, give him some treats as a reward for showing up when you want him to.

You can also establish a routine for taking a cat out on a harness and leash so he doesn’t nag you nonstop to go outside. Try to establish a consistent walking schedule. Will you go out every day when you get home from work? Or will you go out just on weekends, after you’ve finished running errands and doing your weekend chores? Get the cat’s harness and leash out and ask him if he wants to go outside. Use the same words every time you go out. He’ll learn your cues and get used to your schedule and won’t ask to go out at other times.

Your Cat Needs An ID

orange cat© katrinaelenaz
Fotolia.com

Even if your cats never, ever go outside, they should be microchipped and wear breakaway collars with tags. If your cat is wearing a collar, no one will mistake him for a stray if he gets out. And if he gets lost, the person who finds him will know how to contact you.

Microchipping a cat isn’t without controversy. Complications are rare, but they can occur. According to the WebMD website, it’s possible, although very rare, for cats to  develop tumors at the site where the chip was inserted. Microchips can migrate away from the place where they were inserted, too. While this won’t cause health problems, it can make the chip hard to find.

Still, the benefits of microchipping a cat, even a cat who stays indoors, outweigh the risks. A microchip will never fall off and get lost in the woods, and it will always be readable. Most shelters and vets scan lost cats to see if they’re chipped. If your cat gets lost, that microchip could be his ticket home.

Precautions If Your Cat Goes Outdoors

  • Keep your cat inside on Halloween, New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. It’s too noisy and too busy outside. And people can do terrible things to cats on Halloween.
  • It’s also a good idea to make sure your cat is inside during heavy storms or when there’s a lot of snow on the ground. Snow can cover his familiar scents and the signposts he created with his claws.
  • If your cat doesn’t come home within a few hours of his usual time, begin searching for him immediately. Look under bushes, in trees and inside neighbors’ sheds and garages. Post fliers and file a lost report with your local animal control agency. The longer your cat is missing, the harder he’ll be to find.

Was this information helpful. Please comment below. I’d love to know!

Missy Zane’s journey within into the heart and mind of cats began more than 20 years ago when she discovered 16 beautiful feral kittens living in a parking lot. According to Missy, the purpose of her website is to serve as s a “how to” guide for those of us who live with cats. The articles aren’t just based on research and study, but also on what she has learned from the cats themselves after years of living with them, working with them, and rescuing them.

The Indoor/Outdoor Cat Debate

When I first planned my series on cat overpopulation, I thought I had picked three straightforward ways the average cat owner could help to reduce numbers. First, ensure your cat is spayed/neutered. Second, keep your house cat inside. Third, support Trap-Neuter-Release. When I began to research the reasons for keeping cats inside, however, I found myself being educated on how complicated the indoor/outdoor issue is. In this article, I’ll overview the history of the domestication of cats, as well as the pros and cons for keeping them indoors.

HOW CATS WERE DOMESTICATED

Cats began their relationship with humans over 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, which encompasses modern-day parts of Asia. Whether the Ancient Egyptians started the process of domestication or whether cats essentially domesticated themselves is anyone’s guess. What is agreed upon is cats helped to protect stores of grain from the growing rodent population. In doing so, they improved the quality of life for Egyptians who were so thankful that they turned the cat into a sacred creature to be worshipped.

As time passed, other ancient civilizations also began to also find the cat of use for keeping rodents away from their goods. All along the ancient Asian trade routes, cats were being desired by and finding acceptance among humans.

As to how cats came to North America, Alley Cats says that from Europe, cats boarded ships to the Americas, reportedly tagging along with Christopher Columbus, with the settlers at Jamestown, and aboard the Mayflower. Once in North America, cats continued their service as mousers, even serving as official employees of the United States Postal Service as late as 19th and early 20th century.

I’ve been able to confirm the history of domestication of cats through reputable articles such as ones by Scientific American, but the history of how cats became house pets is less substantiated. Alley Cats writes that towards the end of the 19th century, more Americans began to keep cats for their company as well as their mouser abilities, but emphasizes that during all this time cats were allowed to come and go freely from human households. They even quote Sam Stall, author of 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization and of The Cat Owner’s Manual, who writes: “Back in Coolidge’s day no one thought of confining cats indoors—not even one belonging to the president of the United States.” CatChannel (from the creators of Cat Fancy) expert Jeanne Adlon adds her own thoughts, stating that because of their mouser abilities, “Cats became a common fixture on farms and eventually their poise and personality got them inside to warm themselves in front of the fire.” Alley Cats claims by the end of World War I, cats were commonly accepted as house pets in the United States, more Americans began to keep cats for their company as well as their mouser abilities. Moreover, historians confirm that cat shows were being held in New York as early as 1877. Whatever the real date is, cat experts and scientists do agree that domestication didn’t come easy to cats.

CASE FOR AN INDOOR CAT

If domestication didn’t come easy, and cats are still pretty much the same biologically as they were thousands of years ago, why do most cat experts in the United States promote keeping cats indoors? Repeatedly, the message is that keeping cats indoors protects them, us, and wildlife. How so?

Environmental Concerns

The nature of cats is that they love to hunt. Cat Behavior Associates reports that studies have shown when a cat is hunting, the brain chemical dopamine is released which creates a feeling of eager anticipation, and this release is initially triggered by the sound or scent of prey. As such, a cat’s prey drive is so strong that even well-fed cats will hunt birds and other small animals when given the opportunity.

While no one really seems to mind when cats catch rodents, and in fact barn cats are encouraged to take on this task, protest does arise when the predatory instincts of cats are directed toward birds. The impact made by one cat might be small, but the total impact of all the cats who are allowed outside could be more significant.

Safety Concerns

Times have changed since cats first caught rodents for Egyptians in the Fertile Crescent or even in colonial towns in America. There are many potential hazards outdoor cats face. Below is a rundown of them from the American Humane Association and Little Big Cat:

Animal cruelty: Roaming cats may be at risk for animal cruelty. They may end up being trapped and abused in the name of “sport”. Some people have been known to shoot and kill cats with arrows or guns.

Cars:

Even a stopped car can be dangerous. Fan belts can rip the fur and skin right off the cat’s body and slashing through the muscle. Little Big Cat warns that, “Those few that survive carry the scars for the rest of their lives.”

Leaking antifreeze can also kill. A cat walking through even a small spill of antifreeze and then licking its paws has ingested a fatal dose.

Cats do not have an innate instinct to avoid busy streets. Few will look both ways, especially if startled or being chased, and they frequently do get hit by cars.

Loose dogs and wild animals: While cats may be good hunters, they also often wind up being the hunted. Injuries from these attacks can be serious and even fatal. The concern becomes even more serious for owners of declawed cats, because the lack of claws means cats have no ability to defend themselves.

Theft: Little Big Cat reports that an estimated two million pets are stolen every year. The site goes on to tell of an undercover investigation in 1990 of well-known biological supply companies and documented Class B licensed dealers delivering hundreds of live cats of unknown origin to those companies. According to the investigation, tens of thousands of cats die every year so that students can dissect them.

Toxins and poisons: Toxins from herbicides and pesticides that are sprayed on gardens are often ingested because they have a pleasant taste. Cats may also end up accidently exposed to rodent poisons when they hunt and eat rodents that have recently ingested poison bait.

Trees: Some cats that climb trees are afraid or unable to climb down. In some cases, they may be up in a tree for days until they become dehydrated and weak to the point that they fall and suffer severe or fatal injuries.

Health Concerns

While not necessarily life-threatening, several common parasites can be easily picked up by cats who are allowed to roam outside. These parasites can cause a variety of moderate to severe symptoms, such as scratching, skin infections, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition, these parasites can transfer themselves from cats to other animals and to people. If they hitch a ride into your home, they can be difficult to eradicate.

Even more serious is the fact that cats will more likely become exposed to diseases outside, a number of which can be potentially fatal. Common examples include:

  • upper respiratory infections (or URI)
  • feline distemper (panleukopenia)
  • FIP (feline infectious peritonitis)
  • feline leukemia (FeLV)
  • feline AIDS (FIV)
  • FIP (feline infectious peritonitis)

Messy Beast states that the #1 disease of outdoor cats is an abscess resulting from a bite wound. Bite wounds usually become infected, causing large volumes of pus to accumulate beneath the cat’s skin, sending the cat’s temperature soaring and making it feel sick. Antibiotics and sometimes surgery are often necessary to help resolve the problem.

Overpopulation Concerns

Unaltered cats especially should be kept inside, because letting them out is going to result in unplanned litters. Why? Because many cats “come into heat” as often as once every few weeks. A fertile can produce an average number of two to three litters in a year, with four to six kittens being born per litter, for a total for 87 kittens in a single year. When you consider that half of those kittens will be female, and that each of those female kittens can also produce 87 kittens in seven years, the numbers add up quickly. One common stat is that a single unfixed cat and its offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in a seven year period.

In a perfect world, we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. But the reality is 1.4 million unwanted cats are euthanized each year. In addition, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) there are an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats. Clearly, we have a pet overpopulation crisis, and the one message animal welfare experts keep repeating is this: spaying and neutering is the best way to change those numbers.

Bottom Line

Because of all of the above threats, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is less than five years, whereas an indoor-only cat has a life expectancy of fifteen or even twenty years. Perhaps that’s the reason why, according to The Humane Society of the United States, the majority of pets owners choose to at least make their cat an indoor/outdoor cat.

CASE FOR AN OUTDOOR CAT?

If lifespan were the only factor, it would seem no one in their right mind would let a cat outside. But what about a cat’s emotional well-being? Most cat experts in the United States contend that cats who grow up inside tend to show no inclination to leave the safety of home. Furthermore, these experts point out that even cats who are used to being outside can learn to live a happy and healthy life indoors.

Case-closed, right? Not necessarily. The debate became a curiosity for me when I discovered that cat experts outside the U.S. don’t always agree with confining cats indoors. The journalistic side of me wanted to know why, and whether their logic was valid.

In Europe, writes Pete Wedderburn in The Telegraph, it’s common for people to feel that cats have a right to range freely. Indeed, Wedderburn elaborates, some Europeans feel so uncomfortable with the idea of cats been kept indoors that they feel that it’s equivalent to keeping a rabbit in a small hutch or a hen in a cage.

Messy Beast even warns that some indoor cats develop neurotic habits, and others become reclusive. Messy Beast claims that behavior problems of this type are rare in households, indeed in countries, where cats are regularly allowed out of the house. In contrast, “the highest incidence of neurotic behaviors in cats is in the United States where keeping cats inside is the most prevalent style of ownership.”

I don’t know about you, but this concerned me enough I had to keep reading about our European counterparts. According to Messy Beast, in Britain an estimated 88%-92% of cats have access to outdoors. Messy Beast moreover noted that British indoor/outdoor cats frequently reach their teens and a good number reach their twenties. Feral cats also apparently manage to live into their teens; the Cat Action Trust reported that one neutered outdoor cat living on communal vegetable gardens was 19 years old. The oldest feral on record at the time of the article was 28 years old and living as a free-ranging cat with access to a barn.

What about places besides Britain? A cursory examination of sources suggest a few commonalities. First, cats that are allowed to run loose are spayed/neutered. In fact, the aforementioned author who wrote about the British indoor/outdoor cat policy specifically emphasized the benefits of this procedure. While criticizing the claim that indoor cats live twice as long as outdoor cats, saying no one has yet produced enough statistical evidence to support this claim for house cats in contrast to feral, Messy Beast stressed that “neutered cats live longer and house pets are more likely to be neutered than free-living cats; but this longevity difference is due to neutering, not to indoor-living.” Second very few countries actually seem to abide by a strictly outdoor cat policy. Instead, cats most often seem to be labeled indoor/outdoor cats. When cats are allowed outside, the recommendation at least seems to be that cats are supervised, contained in outdoor run attached to the house, or walked on leashes. Three, in countries where cats have been part of society for a shorter time, the indoor lifestyle is becoming increasingly common due to potential problems of cat predation upon wildlife.

I read a few extensive documents about the differences in lifestyles between European and American cats, as well as some elaborate discussions on pet forums about the issue. From these, I pulled a couple additional points which I thought worth your consideration.

First, Groovy Cats & Dogs quotes cat fancier “Eyebrows McGee” as clarifying some cultural differences. For example, not only have cats been in Europe longer than they’ve been in the U.S., but there are fewer large predators (such as hawks, cougars, bears, and coyotes) in residential and urban areas. On a similar note, there are pathogens in the U.S. that do not exist in Europe, which American cats have not developed defenses against. McGee even says that the short existence of the cat in the U.S. (and other places such as Australia) hasn’t allowed for native animals to have evolved the ability to escape cats. Finally, car traffic in the U.S. is apparently faster and more prevalent than in Europe. Notes McGee, “There are few pedestrian footways connecting larger areas, and road crossings are not as pet friendly. Moreover, it is illegal in most incorporated areas of the United States for most pets to be off-leash, and therefore people are not looking for pets wandering even residential streets, in contrast to Europe where this is considered quite normal.” In other words, even if European cats truly do fare well outdoors (and not everyone from Europe seems to agree that they do), that doesn’t mean American cats should be allowed to roam.

A second issue, and the one which I’ll pay more attention to as part of subsequent posts this week, is the well-being of an indoor cat. Opponents to the indoor-only cat philosophy tend to mostly attack the unnatural limitations of this type of lifestyle. And, if nothing else, the debate has convinced me that they have a point. Cats have instinctive needs to express certain behaviors. If indoor life means that they cannot engage in these activities, they’re likely to become stressed. At a minimum, this can cause boredom and obesity. At the extreme, this can cause behavioral issues and sickness. Either way, the result is often unhappy owners, which can lead to cats being allowed to run loose or being dumped at a shelter to become someone else’s problem.

While researchers admit more studies need to be done to determine the exact reasons why more cats are abandoned and why fewer cats are retrieved from shelters than dogs, experts do agree that owners do have a responsibility to provide for the behavioral needs of cats which would normally be obtained in the natural environment. These include the need to hunt, the option to retreat and hide, the pleasure of climbing and, in general, to have a sense that they’re in control of their own activities.

THE CAT OWNER’S RESPONSIBILITY

In my introduction, I stated that I found myself being educated on how complicated the indoor/outdoor issue is. Although I still believe that cats should be kept indoors, I also appreciate how the great outdoors can be beneficial to our cats. This sentiments in mind, I’m excited to share a guest post with you about the safe ways to allow cats outside. On the flip side, my research also confirmed and expanded my belief that when environmental enrichment is used, cats and owners will feel such satisfaction that the outdoor issue will no longer become an issue. I’ll be offering some suggestions how in a post later this week. Stay tuned for more articles related to the outdoor/indoor cat debate!

GENERAL

HISTORY

DEBATE

INDOOR

OUTDOOR

Our Most Euthanized Pet

According to a 2015-2016 survey by American Pet Products Association (APPA), 35% of all households in the United States own a cat, with the total number of pet cats reaching almost 86 million. Of those, almost 97% of households consider cats to be family members or companions. Obviously cats are important to Americans. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that 1.4 million cats are euthanized each year, according to the ASPCA. Just as bad is that cats are being euthanized at a higher rate than dogs. For the timeframe of 1994-1997, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy Shelter Statistics Survey reported that 71% of cats that enter shelters are euthanized, whereas only 56% of dogs are euthanized.

Even here in Nebraska, cats aren’t doing well. On its website, The Nebraska Humane Society claims to be unique among animal shelters, by being the facility that houses all animals with nowhere else to go, and states that it is “proud to say that we have not had to euthanize a healthy, adoptable dog, for lack of space, in several years.” At the same time, it states that for cats, the story is less happy. “Cats are a major challenge for every shelter in the country, due to their overwhelming numbers…. at times, we run out of space.”

If we love our cats so much, why are so many being killed? Or as the author of The Top 10 Book of Mysterious Mousers, Talented Tabbies put it, “Cats, the most popular pets in the United States, are also the most euthanized animals in the world.”

So what can the average cat owner do? Over the next few weeks, I’ll cover three ways. First, you can ensure your cat is spayed/neutered. Organization after organization is reporting that sterilization programs result in significant drops in euthanasia rates. Perhaps that’s why The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has taken the position that “the only method of population control that has demonstrated long-term efficacy in significantly reducing the number of animals entering animal shelters is the voluntary sterilization of owned pets.” In addition, the veterinary community has formally acknowledged the importance of safe, efficient, accessible sterilization programs as the “best antidote to the mass euthanasia of cats and dogs resulting from overpopulation.”

For anyone who wants to join this latter fight, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offers a low-cost spay/neuter voucher program, in cooperation with nine Lincoln vet clinics. People pay what they can afford toward the procedure and LAA pays the rest. Coming in February, LAA will offer a Fix Me Meow voucher. For just $25, you’ll be able to get your cat spayed/neutered, and vaccinations will also be covered. Since 2010, LAA has altered about 2056 pets, averaging about 372 pets per year.

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Second, you should keep your domesticated cat inside. It’s obvious why you should keep your cat inside if it hasn’t been altered. Letting an unaltered cat run freely is a recipe for accidental breeding, which contributes to the pet overpopulation. There are also indirect ways that outdoor cats contribute to overpopulation, which I’ll cover in an upcoming series of articles.

Third, you can support Trap-Neuter-Release. According to The Humane Society of the United States, cats are divided into three distinct populations: those living in homes as personal pets, those being cared for by shelters and rescues, and those residing in our communities. This latter group, known as community cats, consist of abandoned, stray, and feral (unsocialized) cats. In the United States, there are an estimated thirty to forty million community cats. Many animal welfare groups advocate for a TNR approach to their management. In future posts, I’ll share information about successful TNR communities.

Through the above efforts, many cats have already been saved! To find out more about spay/neuter, the indoor pet initiative, TNR, and check back in the weeks ahead for posts by myself and other bloggers on these important topics.