SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Creating an enriching home environment for your cat

Cats may be kept indoors, indoors and outdoors but confined to your property, or as indoor/outdoor cats that are allowed to roam beyond your property. There are pros and cons to each of these choices of environment for your cat.

The decision about whether you will let your cat outdoors is one that should be carefully considered. There are many risks to your cat associated with going outdoors, including the risk of motor vehicle trauma, cat fights, injuries from other animals like dogs, infectious disease, straying/getting lost, get stuck or injured somewhere and infectious disease. Cats also pose a risk to wildlife. Some people make the decision to keep their cats indoors or contain their cats to a safe and secure area such as a fenced garden, cat enclosure or “catio”. Particularly if you live near a busy road or a sensitive wildlife area, you should consider keeping your cat contained for his/her safety, and that of local wildlife.

If you do keep your cat indoors or contained you need to provide a lot of enrichment for them to try and make sure that they have a full, happy and interesting life. The main downside of keeping cats contained is that they can get bored and do not exercise enough and this can lead to behavioural and health problems related to stress, boredom and/or lack of activity. There are lots of ways that you can enrich your cat’s life, including spending a lot of time interacting with the cat, feeding the cat using food toys and puzzle feeders, providing a variety of toys on rotation, providing scratching posts and climbing opportunities and vantage points. See our article on cat enrichment for more ideas.

If you are going to allow your cat to be outdoors, wait 3-4 weeks for cats, or 6-8 weeks for kittens (or once your cat has settled; this may be longer for some more timid animals) before letting the cat/kitten start to go outside. When the cat/kitten is ready, introduce him/her to the garden in short supervised outings. Gradually get the cat used to this bigger territory before giving him/her free range. Kittens should be supervised outside to protect them against other cats, dogs or potential threats.

It is best to keep cats inside after dark. This is the time when they are most likely to fight with other cats, be involved in motor vehicle accidents, and is when they generally most active hunting. If the cat has access to a litter tray, is given a cosy bed and plenty of attention, and is used to this routine, the cat will be content.


Cat doors

If your cat is allowed free access to the outdoors, a cat door is a good idea. Cats like to go in and out of the house when they want; a lockable cat door is a convenient and easy way to allow the cat to do this without having to leave a door or window open or constantly getting up to let your cat in or out! To teach your cat how to use the door you can pull a string or toy through it to encourage your cat/kitten or put food through the door. Be patient and do not force your cat to use the door. You might need to initially hold the door open for the cat and show them that it opens by pushing it; you may also need to prop the door open initially.


Litter tray setup

Any cat that spends time indoors will need to have at least one litter tray. It is important that these are set up in the most cat friendly way possible to minimise the chance of the cat not feeling comfortable using the tray.

Cats like their litter tray to be in a quiet area away from their food, water and bed. Keep the tray in the same place, so your cat/kitten knows where it is. If you have a large house, you will need more than one tray in different areas of the house. For multiple cats, you will need at least one tray per cat plus one extra, all in different areas. Even a single cat should have at least 2 litter trays to choose from.

Most cats prefer a litter tray with a deep litter similar in consistency to sand that the cat can scratch around in and properly bury their waste in. You can use clumping litter so that both urine and faeces can be scooped out regularly, maintaining the litter tray spotlessly clean. Just be aware that it is best to avoid using clumping litters until your kitten is 4 months old as they could cause gastrointestinal blockage if enough is ingested (this is not a large amount in a small kitten).

Cats do not like dirty litter trays so always keep the litter trays clean to help avoid problems. Remove all urine and faeces at least once a day. Once a week or every few weeks (depending on the litter system you use) wash the trays in hot, soapy water or 50:50 water and white vinegar. Rinse well and avoid strong smelling detergents and perfumes.


Going away

If you go away, whether for the week-end or a longer holiday, you will need to make arrangements for the care of your cat. The best option is to get a trusted person to come and stay and care for your cat in your home. If you are going for a short period of time and your cat has no significant health issues, you can arrange for a neighbour or a pet sitting service to make daily visits and care for your cat at home.

If you are going for longer than a few days to a week and are unable to have someone stay with your cat at home, or your cat has health problems that may put him/her at risk if someone is not very regularly checking on the cat, the best option may be to put the cat in a boarding cattery.

If you decide upon the cattery, your cat will need to be up-to-date with his/her vaccinations and have an up-to-date vaccination certificate. It is important to do some research and choose a boarding cattery that will provide your cat with good care and an environment he/she will be comfortable in; often your veterinarian can recommend somewhere, some veterinary clinics offer cat boarding; this may be a good option, particularly for cats with health issues that need careful monitoring.

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