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Indoors Only: That's Where Your Cat Should Be
Telling a cat owner that his or her cat should stay indoors will often elicit indignant responses such as, "It's only natural for a cat to go out," or "How could I deprive him of so much pleasure?" or "Cats can take care of themselves." The fact is, none of the above is a good reason, only an excuse. Cats allowed to roam at will sometimes pay with their lives, and taxpayers pay millions of dollars each year for animal control services to rescue, treat, feed, and house many of the cats that roam "at large" in the country.
There Is nothing "natural" about a cat being outside. When humans domesticated cats (about 6,000 years ago), they removed them from the wild and changed their ecological role. Cats are no longer wild predators that fit into an ecosystem, but are dependent on humans, receiving the things they need to live from people.
Nothing "Natural" About It
Although cats retain their hunting instincts, there is no natural need to them to hunt. True predators in the wild only kill what they will eat, whereas a cat kills for play, not always eating what catches. The number of wild predators in relation to the number of species is kept in check by numerous natural controls such as weather, availability of food, mates, and other predators. Domestic cats upset balance. A well-fed house cat doesn't need to hunt to survive, yet cats kill untold numbers of wild animals while being almost wholly unaffected by the natural controls on numbers. One study in a small village in England found that house cats responsible for between one-third to one-haIf of all house sparrow deaths in that village. This fact becomes even more alarming when you realize that birds were one of the less frequently caught specimens (small mammals led the list).
Wild animals have enough problems surviving against the encroaching human population without having to satisfy the hunting instincts of neighborhood felines.
Cats Can Cause the Same Problems as Dogs
In addition to inflicting damage to area wildlife, free-roaming cats cause many of the same problems that dogs do. We do not tolerate dogs roaming at large because they can be a nuisance. Cats break into garbage, too, and dig up the neighbor's flower beds, defecate in children's sand boxes, ruin bird watching for people with feeders, and add to the burgeoning cat overpopulation problem. Free-roaming cats also pose a hazard to motorists who try to avoid hitting them on roads.
Also like dogs, outdoor cats can transmit diseases to people. Cats allowed to roam at will are even more likely than dogs to come into contact with rabid wild animals and thus spread diseases to people. And cats that go outside are more likely to carry toxoplasmosis, which can be contracted by pregnant women and their unborn babies when they change litter boxes or garden in soil where cats have buried feces. These threats can be avoided by keeping cats indoors.
Risks to Outdoor Cats
Of course, the most important reason to keep a cat in is for the animal's own safety. Cats like to go outside, but for their own good, they shouldn't be indulged. After all, young children might like to play outside unsupervised, but allowing them to do so is negligent. The same is true for allowing cats out.
Outside threats to cats are numerous and take their toll on cat's lives. According to Barbara L. Diamond's article
"Bringing the Outdoors In" (Cat Fancy, April 1990), "While the average outdoor or indoor-outdoor cat lives two to three years, an indoor-only cat's average life span is 12 to 15 years or more." A look at just a few of the hazards facing outdoor cats explains why their lives can be so brief.
Keeping Cats Happy Indoors.
Owners will swear that their cats will be miserable if they are cooped up in the house all the time. This attitude perpetuates itself if the pet owner makes no effort to provide the cat with a stimulating environment. But with a little attention to what a cat likes and needs, a pet owner can create a home that keeps the cats healthy, safe, and happy.
In her April 1990 Cat Fancy article, "Bringing the Outdoors In," Barbara L. Diamond suggests that cat owners take a few minutes to view the home from the cat's perspective" in order to "shape the healthiest and most rewarding indoor environment possible." Here are some tips from Diamond (along with a couple of our own) to help cat owners keep their pets amused and fit behind closed doors:
"Open screened windows to let some fresh air in. Fresh air and sunshine are great for cats. Just be sure the screen is secure. if window ledges aren't wide enough for the cats to sit on, shelves are available that attach to ledges for cats to perch on and watch the world go by.
"Plant pots of indoor greens for cats to chew on. Grass, bird seed, alfalfa, or catnip will provide cats with fresh, tasty treats that aren't exposed to chemicals and pesticides.
"Give cats something to do while everyone is away. Hiding a few treats around the house gives the pet something to look forward to. But cats do catch on to this game quickly, so you have to be sneaky. Open paper bags left out or open closets can give cats new frontiers to explore.
"Provide a companion pet for cats who would be alone otherwise. A compatible dog or a kitten of the opposite sex will keep a cat company and will also keep him or her more active.
Offer the cat toys that are safe and stimulating. 'When choosing toys, try to think like a cat," Diamond advises. "Is the toy furry or feathery? Can it be made to hop or fly? Does it move and feel like small prey?" These kinds of toys will provide cats with the most exercise and amusement.
Diamond also cautions, "Avoid toys with small or loose parts that can become lodged in your cat's throat or be swallowed." And don't forget a cat's need to scratch and climb.
A scratching post at least two feet high is essential -- a floor to ceiling pole with perches is even better. "Play games with your cat. Human companionship is a very real need for cats. What better way to provide this and make your cat happy than by playing with him or her? In addition to playing with cat toys, a cat may also enjoy games of chase, peek-a-boo around doors, capturing nontoxic soap bubbles, or chasing light spots created with a flashlight or reflective object.
If cats have their owner's love and attention and lots to do on the inside, they won't miss the great outdoors, which, after close examination, isn't so great for cats at all.
Helping an Outdoor Cat Adjust to Life Indoors
Although it takes patience and work, an outdoor cat can be turned into a perfectly content indoor pet. The key is to make the conversion gradually and to provide lots of attention and stimulation while the 'sat is indoors. Begin by only letting the cat outside during the middle of the day. Cats do most of their hunting between dawn and dusk, and this change will help shift them from the hunting urge. Gradually shorten the length of time the cat is outside until you no longer let him or her Out at all. Cats are creatures of habit, so you must be careful to slowly replace their old routine of going outside with a new one of staying in. Substitute outside excursions with periods of special play time. Supervised trips Out on the balcony, deck, or patio can make the transition from outside to inside a little easier. Some cat owners even screen in porches or small enclosures from their homes. These enclosed "outdoor" environments protect the cats yet allow them to get fresh air and sunshine.
Provide plenty to keep the cat occupied inside. Especially important is extra play and attention time. Cats need human companionship to be happy, and when they spend all their time out of doors, they get very little TLC. An outdoor cat may welcome the indoors if he or she gets lots of love, attention, and play.
This is a tough one, but don't give in to your cat's wails to be let out. If you are diligent, your cat will eventually see that all the fuss is getting him or her nowhere. It is true that some cats will develop behavioral problems when they are no longer allowed outside. Most of these problems can be attributed to a change in routine that is too abrupt or to lack of attention and stimulation inside. If your cat becomes destructive or unhousetrained, consult a veterinarian or animal behaviorist to find ways to solve the problem. Remember that these symptoms can also be attributed to boredom and loneliness.
Rhonda Lucas Donald ©1990 The HSUS.
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