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Keeping cats indoors or outdoors?

Improved knowledge, better care of cats and good nutrition are all vital parts of the Cat Care for Life programme that you as an owner and your veterinary clinic provide for your cat. This has a major impact in helping cats to lead longer and healthier lives. Certain health and lifestyle choices can also have an important impact on this – one of these is whether to allow your cat to have outside access and how much outside access to give them.

Cats are designed to be top hunters – they are active, clever, strong and agile, with highly tuned senses of smell, hearing and sight that make them exceptionally aware of the world around them. With all these assets, it is not surprising that although cats spend a lot of their time sleeping or resting, when they are awake, they like to be active.

Allowing cats to go outdoors provides a rich environment for them to explore and use their energy. It provides much-needed interest for them and allows them to establish a territory for themselves. But there are dangers too, especially for younger cats that are more adventurous. Going outside brings risks of exposure to infectious diseases and traumatic or fighting injuries, among other things. It is always best to keep kittens con ned indoors until they are around 6 months of age when they will have been neutered and have had their full set of vaccines. Keeping cats in at dawn and dusk when wildlife is at its most fascinating is also sensible.

The choice of whether cats should be kept confined indoors or allowed outside is a very individual one. While most cats would probably benefit from going outside to explore a larger territory, and engage in hunting activity, this is simply not practical for all owners. Even when it is, not everyone wants to let his or her cat out. If cats are kept mainly or exclusively indoors, providing a rich environment for them to explore and use is vital.

These are some tips to help enrich the indoor environment for a cat and make it a more suitable living space:

  • Provide opportunities to ‘forage’ for food by hiding small amounts of a daily ration of dry food in different places. Using feeding puzzles and balls can make feeding more interesting and challenging.
  • Have a variety of water receptacles to drink from.
  • Locate food and drinking bowls away from litter trays and separate from each other.
  • Have at least one litter tray per cat in the house and at least one extra, in various quiet locations.
  • Set aside regular times every day to play with your cat (using a variety of toys) or groom it.
  • Allow your cat access to as much space in the home as possible. Cats love to climb up onto high objects where they can rest and observe their surroundings in safety. Make sure your cat is able to do this safely in the home.
  • Provide scratching posts or panels.
  • Use new toys, other play items such as cardboard boxes and paper bags to provide interest.
  • Where possible, consider building enclosed outside runs to allow cats to go outside safely.