SPCA New Zealand

Keeping your cat safe and happy at home

26 April 2020
Keeping your cat safe and happy at home

It’s 10pm – do you know where your cat is?

If your cat, like many of the domestic felines living in New Zealand, is free to roam, then the chances are the answer is no. Cats are busiest during the nighttime after all!

But what if you could know where your cat was all the time – safe from traffic and predators, happy and healthy in the comfort of your own property?

With a large portion of the population now living in cities and densely populated urban environments, preventing your cat from roaming from your property is an increasingly common practice for pet owners concerned about their furry friend running into trouble out in the big wide world. It is also a surprisingly controversial topic!

Known by experts as ‘cat containment’, the practice of keeping your cat within the boundaries of your property is a very effective way of minimising their chances of coming into harm's way. Just as dogs are required to be kept inside or within a fenced area, so too can cats be restricted from straying from your property.

While most cat lovers would not disagree that there are numerous threats posed out in the big wide world, many are also not sure if they could – or if they should – try to keep their cat contained. For those who have grown up with cats who roam, it might even seem impossible to keep your curious, adventurous furry friend happy from running free!

Yet, with time, patience and planning, many cats can adapt well to an indoor lifestyle – and, with the practice becoming more and more popular, it has never been easier to create a stimulating, enriched environment where your cat will thrive. Read on to find out how your cat can have everything they need, without even having to leave the house.

Why contain your cat?

There are many reasons why you might choose to keep your cat at home, and for many owners their cat’s safety is their main concern. 'Stay at home’ cats are more likely to enjoy longer, healthier lives, and are significantly less likely to encounter a number of risks – including car accidents, poisons, parasites, disease, and other animals who might fight or attack them. ‘Stay at home’ cats will not get lost, stuck or injured and you will be able to monitor their behaviour and health more closely.

Your circumstances may also be an important factor in whether you choose to contain your cat. If you live near a busy road, or are the owner of a cat with special needs - such as being deaf, blind or missing a leg - containment may be essential to ensuring that your pet does not come into harm’s way.

Another reason you might choose to keep your cat indoors is to prevent them from causing harm to other animals and, in particular, native wildlife. If you live in an area with nearby native bush, keeping your cat inside is a foolproof way to ensure they do not pose a threat to New Zealand’s sensitive biodiversity.

Every cat is different, and some will adjust to a contained lifestyle more easily than others. For many people who successfully contain their cats, the key is starting early. Most kittens will adapt well to life inside if they are kept at home from an early age. If your cat currently roams, the best way to help them settle into a contained lifestyle is to introduce it gradually.

You can do this by initially keeping them inside only at night, then slowly increasing the time that they are contained during the day. If your cat has everything it needs, and becomes used to this routine, then you might be surprised how well they settle into a ‘stay at home’ lifestyle.

Keeping your stay at home cat happy

For a healthy and happy contained cat, they need to feel your home is their home too - and it is important to fill their environment with opportunities to meet their physical and behavioural needs.

First and foremost, as you likely already do, you will need to supply the basics: food, water, litter trays, resting and hiding places, as well as places to scratch and mark. Offer more than one choice for each resource - one cat will need at least two litter trays, two feed stations, two water bowls, three different types of scratching surfaces and three resting and hiding places in different locations. For every additional cat you have, you will need to provide additional resources.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when containing your cat is how you will ensure that they get all the play, exercise and fun they need. While cats often seem content to nap and lounge for much of the day, all felines need enrichment to ensure they live full, active lives – and indoor cats especially require plenty of interesting sights, smells, tastes and experiences in their environments to maintain their physical and mental health.

Fortunately, there are lots of simple ways for owners to help enrich an indoor cat’s life – many of which can be as fun and interesting for you as they will be for your four-legged-friend! Spending plenty of time interacting with your cat is a great way to help keep them entertained indoors – even just petting or grooming can go a long way to building your bond and giving them stimulation and engagement.

Play time is another important thing to do with your cat. Not only is it fun for them, it’s also a great way for them to experience visual sensory enrichment and with so many different kinds of cat toys available, you have plenty of options to keep your cat active. Wand toys, stuffed mice, balls to chase or feathers are popular choices for many cats.

Puzzle feeders, which distribute small amounts of food while they play, are also a great way for your cat to get some exercise when they eat. They can also help prevent overeating! It can take a few trials to figure out what toys your cats like best, but don’t give up. Provide a variety of options and keep them on rotation so that your cat doesn’t get bored.

Creating a cat friendly home

Of course, you can’t always be there to keep your cat entertained!

For contained cats, it is essential that their environment be as cat friendly as possible so that they can express normal feline behaviours without needing to roam. There are so many ways you can do this, and plenty of easy and affordable options on the market that you can use to make your home an oasis for your cat.

While the most obvious way to contain your cat is to keep them within the home, there are ways to give your cat the best of indoor and outdoor living while still restricting them from leaving your property.

A secure outdoor area attached to your cat’s indoor space via a window or cat flap, or a freestanding enclosure, sometimes called a ‘catio’ allows your cat to experience the sights and sounds of the world minus the risks. Another option is to give your cat access to a garden secured with an escape-proof fence. By increasing the height of your fence or attaching a cat-proof rolling bar on top, and blocking any other potential escape routes, your cat can enjoy the outdoors without being to stray in other properties.

If you own your own home or have permission from your landlord, making these alternations can be a surprisingly simple and very effective way to keep your cat safe and happy. If this is not an option for you, there are still plenty of ways to make your inside space a cat-friendly environment.

Along with toys to play with, one of the best things you can give an indoor cat is special places where they can go to get away and feel safe. Cats love to hide in cupboards, wardrobes and underneath beds, but also enjoy having elevated spots where they can observe their domain from above while being safely out of reach.

Cat trees, scratching posts, climbing frames and even removable platforms that you can affix to your walls or windows for your cat to perch on, all give cats a greater range of moment - places to escape to when they need alone time, and provide interesting vantage points from which to watch the world go by.

Monitor your cat closely for signs of stress or boredom. This can manifest in numerous ways, such toileting outside of their litter tray, scratching furniture, overeating, or excessive grooming. If you are concerned about your cat, consult your vet– there may be some simple changes you can make to alleviate your cat’s anxiety or introduce some more excitement into their life.

Choose what's best for you

Whether you contain your cat inside, or with a mix of indoor-outdoor living, it remains important to ensure they have a registered microchip, and wear a collar with tags. It is also essential that your cat is desexed – both for your cat’s own wellbeing and to prevent unwanted litters of kittens should they ever escape containment.

Only you can decide what’s best for your cat and your circumstances. Some cats, particularly those who have roamed for years, may not be suitable for a contained lifestyle. However, with time, patience and a bit of imagination, many cats can adapt surprisingly well and live fun, full happy lives - while you enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they are safe.

How do I keep my cat at home?

You can contain your cat by cat-proofing an outdoor area, using a combination of indoors and a secure outdoor enclosure, or keeping your cat indoors.

Option 1: Access to a yard with an escape-proof fence

You can give your cat the best of indoor and outdoor living, while still being safe, by making your backyard escape-proof.

Before you make changes to your backyard, check with your local council for consent requirements about the height of your fence.

Option 2: Access to an outdoor enclosure – ‘catios’

A secure outdoor area attached to your cat’s indoor space via a window or cat flap, or a freestanding enclosure. An outdoor area linked to the inside of your home allows your cat to choose where they spend their time.

The enclosure should be safe from dogs and other cats, and include a variety of platforms at different heights, hiding places, food, water, litter trays, and protection from the weather and extremes of heat and cold.

Option 3: Enriched indoor living

You can meet your cat’s needs inside your home by providing enough space and areas for toileting, sleeping, hiding, scratching, and playing, and access to food and water.

Your indoor cat can enjoy outdoor sights, smells, and sounds with cat-proof flies/security screens which prevent them escaping from open windows and doors.

Keeping your cat safe and happy indoors

  • Provide all essentials: Food and a separate water source, toileting areas, resting and hiding places, as well as places to scratch and mark.
  • Keep them engaged and stimulated with toys, play and interaction.
  • Experiment with DIY projects to make your home more cat-friendly – you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enrich your cat’s environment!
  • Monitor your cat for signs of stress or boredom, and periodically add new elements to their environment to keep it interesting.
  • Even if your cat is contained, ensure they are microchipped, desexed and vaccinated.

If you’re wondering how you can keep your cat happy and entertained, you’re not on your own!

Social media is a wonderful place to get advice and ideas to keep your contained cat content. Check out these Instagram accounts for ideas, inspiration - and lots of cute photos.

  • @deziandroo – Feline veterinarian Dr. Lynn Bahr founded Dezi & Roo to help enrich the lives of cats and their owners. Packed full of tips and tricks to keep your cat entertained, Dr. Bahr even designs and sells toys specifically for indoor cats in her online shop!
  • @catioguy – If you’re interested in building a catio, this is a great place to get inspiration! This Los Angeles based company designs and builds custom catios that cats love – and share photos of all their satisfied kitty customers as they go!
  • @chirpycats – Chirpy Cats is the brainchild of a self-confessed cat lady, with the goal of helping cats live happy, safe, enriched lives. Head to her blog to find plenty of ideas and DIY projects for a cat-friendly environment!
  • @maruhanamogu- with over 290 000 followers, Maru and his sister Hana are some of the most famous cats on the internet – and, living in an apartment in Japan, some of the most enriched! With a love of boxes, tubes and toys, Maru and Hana keep very busy with adorable results that will inspire your own playtime with your cat.

Want to know more?

Make sure to check out SPCA's guide on keeping your cat safe and happy at home. Read more at www.spca.nz/stayathomecat

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