The reason behind this question frequently asked of our clients is to give us a better idea of health issues that might need to be addressed at their cat’s yearly visit. Both options have very distinct advantages and disadvantages associated with them. Outdoor cats are more prone to coming into contact with other cats who could be carrying diseases such as Felv and FIV. Other hazards such as loose dogs, fights with other cats and vehicular encounters are the reality for the outdoor cat. On the upside these cats are usually much more physically fit due to their hunting and greater over all physical activity. While our recommendation is to keep cats indoors to insure that they stay safe and potentially live a longer life, there is a much larger prevalence of behavioral problems and obesity and its associated problems in this population. So what is a cat owner to do to keep their cat not only safe, but happy and healthy?
A 2007 article in the Smithsonian attributed the domestication process of cats to having started around 12,000 years ago and it is thought that they domesticated themselves. “Cats were delighted by the abundance of prey in the storehouses; people were delighted by the pest control. We think what happened is that the cats sort of domesticated themselves,” Carlos Driscoll, one of the study’s authors, told the Washington Post. “The cats invited themselves in and over time, as people favored cats with more docile traits, certain cats adapted to this new environment producing the dozens of breeds of house cats known today. In the United States cats are the most popular house pet with 90 million domesticated cats slinking around 34 percent of U.S. homes”. *
With this origin, it is easy to see why a cat’s natural tendency is to want to be outdoors hunting. Overcoming this tendency can be not only complex but frustrating for cat owners. This is where environmental enrichment can play an important role for indoor cats and their owners.
What is Environmental Enrichment?
Environmental enrichment is generally understood to mean improving the living situation of captive animals to enhance their health and quality of life. Information about all the different areas of enrichment for cats can be found in another article on our web site at https://aztecanimalclinic.com/resources/pet-care-library/feline/environmental-enrichment-for-cats/
One of the most common ways to enrich your cat’s life is to provide them with outlets for their natural need to hunt and explore. Providing climbing ramps and perches along ceilings, walls and over doors allows them to explore, lounge at higher elevations and observe their environment from above. Wall mounted cat perches are also a great space saving idea for smaller homes and apartments where you don’t want to take up valuable floor space.
For many indoor cats, this is often enough to keep them physically fit. It also provides cats in multi-cat households the ability to have their own space away from other cats that they might not interact well with. These walkways and “observation” decks can be as elaborate as you wish using any combination of commercial cat tree perches, boxes and shelves. These structures can also be extended to the outdoors in many forms of enclosures. Some are free standing in nature and can be easily transported if you travel with your cat.
Others are more permanent free standing structures either built from scratch using lumber or a pre-made dog run as its foundation. The most popular are those that create an extension of the indoor environment to include elements of the outdoors, such as smells, sounds and fresh air. One easy approach is to enclose an existing 3 sided outdoor patio with mesh to keep cats safely contained while allowing them many of the attributes of being outside.
Suggested resources for more information on making your own catio cat enclosure or other indoor climbing walls for your cat: