Over the past number of years, cats have become the most popular pets in North America, with over 70 million pet cats in the United States alone. The lifestyle of the average pet cat has also changed, so that over fifty percent of pet cats are kept exclusively indoors. Statistics show that the average life span of indoor cats is about 14 years, while the average for cats that are allowed to roam free outdoors is reduced to 4 years.
The benefits of an indoor life are numerous. Outdoor cats may be exposed to various types of toxins, to parasites such as fleas, ticks and worms, or to infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline infectious peritonitis, upper respiratory infections, panleukopenia and rabies. They are at a greater risk of being injured in an automobile accident, a fight with another cat or an attack from a predator such as a dog or wild animal. Viewing things from an alternative perspective, outdoor cats are natural hunters and prey on rodents and songbirds – by keeping your cat indoors, you will keep bird lovers happy!
The main drawback for indoor cats is that they get less exercise and may suffer from boredom or anxiety when confined within four walls. Some behaviorists speculate that this contributes to behavior problems such as house soiling, excessive grooming and other neuroses. This is supported by the fact that these behavior problems are relatively rare in countries where cats are regularly allowed out of the house, and relatively common in Canada and the United States, where more cats are confined indoors.
Fortunately, we, as cat lovers, can provide stimulation for our cats and enrich their lives. It is our responsibility to provide opportunities for our cats to exercise, play and otherwise interact with family members. In some cases, the ideal option is the company of another cat. A multitude of cat toys are available in the retail market, and creative pet owners can invent inexpensive playthings from paper bags, cardboard boxes or other household items to satisfy even the most finicky cat. You can devise interactive games using a flashlight, a laser pointer, a fishing pole, or a battery operated toy. Climbing structures are great for exercise and allow your cat to view the world from high up, while a seat that allows your cat to look outdoors through a window may provide hours of distraction, especially if there is a bird feeder strategically located nearby. Patient cat owners can train their furry companion to walk on a leash and you can enjoy strolls in the fresh air.
The idea is to create an environment in which the cat is happy and gainfully occupied. For more ideas on enriching your indoor cat’s life, call our clinic or visit The Indoor Pet Initiative by Dr. Tony Buffington and The Ohio State University at http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/.