Author Topic: Caring for the Indoor Cat  (Read 2844 times)

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Caring for the Indoor Cat
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2008, 14:57:26 PM »
Reference CAT DETECTIVE by Vicky Halls  
Vicky’s books have a great insight into cat behavior.  Her books are highly recommended and available from all good books stores or online here http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss_w_h_/026-8564421-8663645?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=vicky+halls&Go.x=10&Go.y=13
Her lastest book Cat Counsellor: How Your Cat Really Relates to You is now out.  
Vicky is currently tutoring the Intermediate and Advanced Feline Psychology courses for the Animal Care College and continues to lecture throughout the UK and Europe on various aspects of Feline behaviour.
Please visit her website here http://www.vickyhalls.net/index.html .



THE INDOOR CAT
Ten percent of cats now in the UK are believed to live exclusively indoors and this number is increasing. Many cats have their access to the outdoors restricted in some way. Cat welfare charities recommend that cats are kept indoors at night to protect them from any number of hazards more evident during the hours of darkness. We all love our cats, sometimes the perils of outdoor life seem too much to bear and we consciously decide to become our pets' bodyguard, only allowing them outside under strict supervision.

In an ideal world no cat would have restrictions on its movements and no cat would ever be bred that was so modified it had to be confined for its own safety But, as we all know, this is not an ideal world. Ownership of a cat kept totally or partially confined indoors requires extra effort to ensure that the cat is suitably compensated.
Cats that have free access to outdoors will potentially enjoy a full and natural lifestyle. The constantly changing outside world will provide all the mental and physical stimulation required to keep the individual healthy. However, as soon as the cat's world becomes shrunk to a static area within four walls it is difficult to see how he can entertain himself to the same extent. The modern trend towards minimalistic living must be the ultimate tragedy for the indoor cat. Whilst the clean lines of single pieces of furniture against stark walls may appear aesthetically pleasing to our taste but what a cat must make of it all. Where are the nooks and crannies? Where are the secret areas to explore? Where are the high resting places? Where are the moving objects?

If the cat becomes bored, frustrated, depressed or generally stressed in such an environment it is hardly surprising that things start to go wrong.  Behavioral problems that are caused, in part or wholly, by an inappropriate environment include
Inter-cat aggression
Attention-seeking aggression to humans
Inappropriate urination or defecation urine spraying
over-grooming
self-mutilation
fur plucking stereotypies (compulsive disorders)
obesity
anxiety
depression
over-attachment
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis

It is worth noting that all these potential problems could be prevented if we took a little time and trouble to adjust our homes to suit our cats' needs as well as our own. It isn't necessary to consider these changes as chore-based, rather negative elements of cat care. They can be fun and greatly enhance your relationship with your pet. Sometimes your cat would appreciate your showing your love in other ways apart from stroking and petting.

What is environmental enrichment?
Environmental enrichment is a phrase that is becoming very popular in the veterinary world. It embraces an animal's natural habits and behavior and endeavors to make provisions that stimulate and challenge the individual and enable it to perform natural behavior in an artificial environment. This works well in zoo enclosures and is no less relevant for Sooty in his laminate-floored lounge.

Important resources for your cat
Resources within the home represent all those things that provide nourishment, entertainment, stimulation and security for the pet cat. They may be items purchased or made specifically for your pet or objects of furniture utilized by the family in general. If you ensure there are sufficient quantities and types of resources for the number of cats in the household it means that every effort is being made to promote their well-being and emotional health. These resources include
food
water
vegetation e.g. a source of grass
litter trays
social contact
high resting places
private areas
beds
scratching posts
scent stimulation e.g. catnip and valerian
predatory play
toys
novel items
fresh air


Food
A natural diet would require hunting for several hours a day and the consumption of as many as a dozen small rodents. How many cats living naturally eat twice a day from a predictable source? Cats spend up to six hours a clay hunting, foraging, stalking, catching and consuming prey. The availability of food twice a day, or even 'ad lib', in a food bowl in the kitchen, does not represent any kind of challenge whatsoever.
The normal feeding regime for the average pet cat potentially leaves a void off five hours and fifty minutes that it needs to fill with other activities. The time is often filled with sleep in an otherwise static and uninteresting environment. Exciting and stimulating challenges utilizing moist or wet food is going to be difficult, the possibilities, however, are endless if you are feeding a dry preparation.
The idea of `food foraging' works on the principle that obtaining smaller amounts of food more frequently in a variety of locations represents a more natural way of feeding for a top of the food chain predator.
It would not be unreasonable to expect our cats to work a little harder for the food they obtain throughout the day. After all it wouldn't come easily in the natural life of a predator. They should be able to obtain food in locations throughout the house, both on high and ground level.

When you first endeavor to secrete the biscuits in various hiding places your cat will probably follow you around and gobble up the stash in the usual five minutes. This is not the object of the game despite its being another example of how incredibly opportunistic cats are at conserving energy. It is always difficult to be one step ahead of even the average cat but, in this instance, it may be necessary to shut your cat away or have airtight containers in various locations rather than one place where food is always stored. This will enable you to secrete the biscuits randomly when your cat least expects it.

When you first start this regime it will be very tempting to abandon the concept of food foraging as it must surely constitute cruelty of the most sadistic kind. Your cat will sit howling by the now empty food bowl in the kitchen and stare at you with pitiful eyes and sunken cheeks (obviously this trauma has caused immense weight loss). Some cats are less capable than others of dealing with change in a predictable and routine existence and this dramatic turn of events could cause some stress in the more delicate emotional types. This doesn't mean that the foraging should necessarily be abandoned since it could well promote increased self-confidence as your cat faces new challenges. The transition with these cats should be gradual and include a small amount of food still available in its usual place.
Other locations should initially be close to the original and moved further away over a period of seven days. This should ease the burden on even the most sensitive individual.
 
Once your cat is used to obtaining food in novel locations the acquisition can become more challenging:
- Build cardboard pyramids of toilet roll or kitchen roll tubes. Place five tubes side by side and glue together. Add four tubes on top and stick them together in a row and to the tubes beneath.          Continue to build with decreasing numbers in each row (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) to form a three-dimensional triangle. Place single pellets halfway along each tube and allow the cat to obtain the food by using its paw. Variety can be introduced by leaving some tubes empty and placing five or six biscuits in others. If your cat really gets to grips with this idea you will find him sitting staring at an empty food triangle awaiting the appearance of the `mouse' with quiver¬ing anticipation. Great fun. These triangles may need replacing regularly so keep an ongoing stock of toilet roll tubes. If your cat is blessed with unusually large paws you may be advised to use the tubes in¬side wrapping paper instead for a much larger circumference.

-  Place biscuits inside small cardboard boxes with the lids slightly open to encourage the cat to knock the box over or remove the food with its paw.
-  Place biscuits inside cardboard egg boxes with the lid partially shut.
-  Place biscuits inside paper bags with the top lightly folded shut.
-  Place a couple of biscuits inside a rolled-up piece of paper and throw it for your cat. He will pounce on the `prey' and pull it apart to reveal the prize.
-  Stick two yogurt pots together to form a diamond shape. Make holes in the pots, approximately the size of a two-pence coin, using a soldering iron (this will ensure the edges are not sharp). Attach a piece of elastic through a smaller hole in the top and hang about two or three feet off the ground. Place dry food inside and encourage the cat to tap and agitate the pots to obtain the food as it falls through the holes. To guarantee your cat's safety make sure that the elastic has a breakaway section just in case he gets caught up in it during a frenzied attempt to get at the biscuits.

-  Some cats will enjoy chasing biscuits if you throw them across the floor. This is a nice opportunity to have some interaction during a feeding session.


Water
If you are utilizing the dry-diet food-foraging approach it is essential that there is every opportunity for your cat to drink. Whilst most commercial wet foods contain 85 per cent moisture, the dry formulations require extra drinking to maintain a good hydration balance and urinary tract health. The majority of owners always provide water in the same location as the food bowl. We like to have a glass of water with our meal so why wouldn't Tigger? It doesn't work that way for cats, who naturally hunt for food and search for water on separate occasions to satisfy either hunger or thirst.

The presence of water near the food can actually deter some cats from drinking sufficient fluid and this could be dangerous on a dry diet. Finding water elsewhere can be extremely rewarding; how many times has your cat drunk from the glass by your bedside table?
There should be at least one water container per cat in the household plus one' in various locations completely away from the food.
Some cats object to the chemical smell from tap water so filtered or boiled water can be used.

There are various ways to provide water:
-  Pet water fountains. There are an increasing number of these available, some of which filter the water.
-  Feng shui water features. Whilst these are not designed specifically for cats they can be just as entertaining as the genuine pet fountains if you stick to the simple `water running over pebbles' type.
-  Tumblers. As many cats like to steal from our glasses why not provide them with one of their own? Heavy resin tumblers are now available that are non-breakable and these will be safer than glass. Ceramic, plastic or stainless-steel bowls.

There will still be a place for these in your home to ensure there is plenty o£ choice. If you have a large bowl available it can be fun to float a ping-pong ball in the water. This attracts the cat to play with the ball and the movement of the water may encourage him to drink.


Vegetation
A source of grass is essential for the house cat to act as a natural emetic to rid him of any nasty furballs. This can be purchased as commercially available `kitty grass', or pots of grass and herbs can be grown indoors specifically for this purpose.
The Feline Advisory Bureau produces a comprehensive list of plants and flowers that are potentially dangerous for cats. http://www.fabcats.org/hiddendangersofplants.html
Despite the provision of grass specifically for them, many cats will still chew house plants so reference to this list will prevent you from buying anything nasty.


Litter trays
When cats are confined we take all responsibility for the appropriate provisions. The most difficult decision we make on their behalf is that about toilet facilities. Elimination is normally a very private thing and outside cats will have very specific criteria for the sort of location that represents a suitable loo. It is almost impossible to understand what each personal preference would be but we can certainly reduce the odds of getting it wrong by following some simple rules.
-  The locations should be discreet and away from busy thoroughfares.
-  Trays should be located well away from feeding areas or water bowls.
-  The trays should be cleaned regularly.
-  The litter substrate should reflect the cat's natural desire to eliminate in a sand-like substance (remember, they are all African Wild Cats at heart).
-  Never expect an indoor cat to share a tray with another.

The ideal number of litter trays in an indoor environment is `one tray per cat plus one', placed in different discreet locations. They can be covered trays with hoods or open shallow containers but it is important that the areas represent a place of safety where the in-dividual does not feel vulnerable. Some assertive cats in multi-cat households will sit on top of covered trays or stand in front of the opening to intimidate the less confident individual.
A variety of trays, open and covered, would therefore be advisable in multi-cat households to avoid any risk of house soiling because a cat is too scared to use the normal facilities.


Social contact
Whatever provisions you make in your home there is no substitute for some exciting and loving social contact. It is important to allow your cat to dictate the type and pace of this contact so try to tune in to their needs as individuals with different characters. It is best to respond to a cat's approach rather than chasing it round to initiate contact. This persistence can be irritating or, at the worst, distressing for your cat.
Predatory play, grooming and verbal communication is important social contact between owner and cat so these areas should not be neglected in favour of the more popular hugging, squeezing and stroking.

Some cats enjoy the company of their own species so the introduction of two initially may be useful if you are away from home during the day. There is always a risk that they will have problems as they get older but the provision of the right number of resources within the home will guard against the need to compete. Some cats will stare at fish tanks, watch your child's gerbils for hours on end or tease the family dog mercilessly so it is important to remember that company can come in different forms.


High resting places
Cats are natural climbers and it is important that the home environment reflects this by providing opportunities to rest and observe proceedings from an elevated vantage point. This will encourage essential (exercise and is particularly important in a single-storey home without stairs.) Cats like to go up when they feel threatened so if you don't have an upper floor your cat will need to find a high area on top of a cupboard or a shelf. Any places provided should be located in such a position that the cat is able to get down; it is always easier to climb up.

Here are some suggestions for suitable locations.
-  Tall scratching posts are available as modular units and they are often floor-to-ceiling structures. Many provide platforms and enclosures for resting and represent challenging climbing frames. If you or a member of the family is a DIY enthusiast in every sense of the word then you can make your own modular centers. Sisal rope can be purchased in pre¬cut lengths for wrapping round the upright pillars.

-  Free-standing cupboards and wardrobes have large areas where a cat can rest or hide in a high place. It may be necessary to place furniture nearby to give your cat a halfway platform for ease of access. They are more likely to find this area appealing if you don't signal its presence too strongly or try to put them there yourself. Cats have a naturally suspicious element to their character and over enthusiasm on your part may be the best way of ensuring they avoid the area at all costs.

-  Shelves can be constructed specifically for your cat's use. It is important to provide a non-slip surface as many wooden shelves are extremely slippery and your cat could end up leaving the shelf sooner than he intended if he takes a giant leap to get there.
Existing bookshelves and other shelving can also provide sanctuary if a small area is cleared for your cat's use. Keeping expensive breakable ornaments on shelves or mantelpieces is inadvisable in a house¬hold with an indoor cat. Once he gets used to travelling around the home using every surface apart from the floor you will need shares in Superglue.

-  Securing a section of close-weave carpet: to a wall represents a challenging climbing frame. This can he fixed by attaching double-sided adhesive Carpet tape to a clean wall surface. The carpet is then stuck to the back of the tape and wooden batons are positioned at the top and bottom (secured with screws and raw plugs) for added security. It is advisable to have shelves or cupboards nearby to enable your cat to come back down without too much trouble.

-  A heavy-duty cardboard tube from a roll of carpet can be utilized indoors. Covered with carpet or sisal twine if you are feeling particularly rich (as you will use a great deal) and secured to a wall or ceiling, such a tube is about as near to a tree as your cat will get indoors. It makes a great climbing frame for your cat and will provide hours of exercise.


Private areas
Cats need `time out' from owners and other cats in the group so there must be a number of places where they can hide without fear of being discovered. They can be under the bed, inside cupboards or wardrobes or behind the sofa. The golden rule is that these places are sacrosanct and a cat should never be disturbed or acknowledged whilst using one.


Scratching posts
Cats need to scratch to maintain their claws and mark their territory. If alternative provisions are not made then cats will scratch items of furniture. Scratching posts should be as tall as possible to allow the cat to scratch vertically at full stretch. Panels can be attached to walls at the appropriate height if space is at a premium. Some cats prefer to scratch horizontal surfaces so a variety of scratching areas should be provided. Once again, the maxim 'one per cat plus one' will avoid any obvious competition in multi-cat households.


Beds
There is a wide variety of commercially manufactured beds including everything from a leopard-print bean¬bag to a wooden four-poster, but cat beds are rarely chosen by the average cat when they can have an alter¬native such as the owner's bed, a chair or a sofa. Your cat will want to sleep in different places depending on mood or time of day. He will choose quiet places, sunny areas or warm laps in front of the television. A radiator hammock is great in the winter for those cats who have been heat-seeking missiles in a previous life. If your cat reckons `if it's good enough for you it must be good enough for me' you may want to personalize his area on your bed with a synthetic thermal fleece to contain all the fur and muddy pawprints.


Scent stimulation
Catnip
Two-thirds of cats respond to the smell of the herb catnip (Nepeta cataria). Cats will rub their faces on it and even eat it and the resulting effect on their behaviour seems to range from a profound calm to a temporary euphoric state. Some cats can even become quite aggressively excited so I would advise you to offer your cat a small amount first and stand back and see what happens. If your cat responds to catnip it can be used sparingly to provide a fun distraction in all sorts of different ways.
Manufacturers of cat products have on the popularity of catnip and marketed it in varying forms including packets of loose dried herb, edible treats, aerosol spray, impregnated toys and even soapy bubbles. Probably the most potent is the fresh growing version in your garden although it is very hard to keep a plant to maturity as it is so totally trashed by all the cats in the neighborhood. If it is grown surrounded by other sturdy plants or through a topiary wire you might get an established plant. The next best alternative is probably the packets of dried catnip sold in most pet shops.

Valerian
This herb has respond extremely well to valerian tea bags. These can be offered dry to cats (remove any string or staples) and they will rub and roll on them, imitating their response to catnip. Valerian tea bags can be placed in cardboard boxes or food-foraging triangles as previously described to encourage exploration with a good reward at the end. Some cats may be tempted to eat the bags so it is best to provide one under supervision first to monitor the reaction.


Predatory play
Fishing-rod toys are ideal to simulate the movement of prey. These can be highly entertaining for your cat with the minimum of effort on your part.
The toy should be agitated in front of the cat (not in a rhythmical swing but with a random movement) in such a way as to allow the cat to catch it from time to time.
Cats will often watch avidly and only pounce when the object of their attention is still, so remember to stop the thing moving occasionally.

There are a number of good fishing-rod toys on the market but it is best to avoid those with large heavy objects on the end, you don't want to render your cat unconscious with an over-enthusiastic swing. These toys are best stored away when they are not being used because your cat might just get tangled in one if he tries to play with it when you are not there.

If you fancy a bit of DIY why don't you try making your own fishing-rod toy?
Here are a few suggestions:
Use a garden bamboo cane for the rod. Attach string or fine elastic to the end o£ the cane using a very sticky adhesive tape, such as carpet- or duct-sealing tape. Some cats will like the string on its own without anything attached.
Have a variety of small items that can be attached at different times to maintain the novelty of the toy.
Try a twisted cellophane sweet paper (this looks like a butterfly)
Try two feathers (this can be made to `fly' above your cat; very tantalizing).
Try a small strip of fake fur or a small commercially made fur mouse (approximately 2 centimeters long). •
Try four pipe cleaners bent around each other to form a spider.
Try attaching a thin strip (approximately 1 centimeter wide X 1 meter long) of thick fleece material instead of the string; or attach this to another cane as a separate toy.

Many cats enjoy retrieval games, which can represent an opportunity for social contact as well as play. The elasticated towelling hair bands are just the right size for a cat to pick up and they seem to be very popular. The younger your cat is when you start the better, but even adults can get the idea that the game will continue if they bring the hair band back to you.


Toys
It is also useful to have toys that your cat can play with when he is on his own. Toys soon become predictable and boring if they are allowed to remain motionless in the same place all the time, so think twice before you place a basket of cat toys in the corner of the room.
Toys made out of natural fur and feather of a similar size to prey animals are popular but many owners find the use of real fur rather distasteful. It will not encourage your cat to go out and kill anything remotely furry bear in mind that this is basically what they are designed to do anyway. Many commercially available toys are made from fur that is a by-product of a food source, which may make the non-vegetarians among you feel a little easier about purchasing them.

Toys should be stored away in a self-sealed polythene bag with a small pinch of catnip inside if your cat is susceptible to the charms of this amazing herb. A random selection can then be brought out daily to main¬tain their novelty. Small toys (like fur mice) can even be placed. inside the food foraging receptacles for a bit of added interest. (A word of warning regarding small fur mice: some have plastic noses and eyes and these are best removed before your cat plays with them.)

Here is a selection of rubbish that your cat may find fascinating and won't cost you a penny.
A scrunched-up piece of paper thrown across the floor (tin foil works just as well).
A cork (champagne, of course!).
The plastic seal on the top of a milk container (under supervision only, as this is quite small and could be swallowed).
Cardboard boxes.
Paper bags.
Supermarket carriers (handles removed)
A walnut (they make a great sound).
An empty crisp packet tied into a knot.


Novel items
Your cat now has a multitude of high resting places, beds, scratching posts and feeding stations but even these, after a while, will be predictable and potentially boring. Whilst a degree of predictability is very reassuring it is still important to challenge your cat with exciting new experiences.
Anything that comes in through the front door is worthy of investigation because it will be laden with a host of different aromas that are well worth a good sniff. New items should therefore be brought into the house on a regular basis to challenge the cat's sense of smell and desire to explore novel things. Wood, stone, plants, cardboard boxes, paper bags, etc. can be placed in various locations and left for your cat to explore.
 It is important that your cat is regularly vaccinated and treated for parasites if items could potentially have been in contact with other cats outside.


Fresh air
Nothing contains more cat information than a good dose of fresh air; watch your cat the next time he steps out of the house and just sits and sniffs for a while. There are a number of secure grills that can be fitted to open windows that will allow fresh air to enter the house without the risk of your cat's falling out or escaping. Challenging smells will be carried in from outside and become a focus of attention for the bored house cat.


Synthetic pheromones
Feline facial pheromones are important signals of familiarity and security secreted naturally from glands in the cat's face. A synthetic version of a part of these pheromones common to all domestic cats is available. Feliway, manufactured by Ceva, can be purchased in spray and ‘plug-in' Diffuser form. This can have a useful calming effect on cats when moving house, decorating, adding furniture, visiting the vet, introducing new cats etc. The presence of a Diffuser can relax a cat sufficiently to promote play and relaxation. It is important not to rely too heavily on the presence of Feliway if a cat becomes anxious. There is an underlying cause for this emotion that should be investigated.


It can never be ideal to keep cats exclusively indoors, but there are numerous reasons why some owners feel that it is the only option. An understanding of the cat's need for a stimulating environment will ensure that he remains as happy and healthy as possible.



 


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