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February 17, 2004 > The Great Indoors...and your cat

The Great Indoors...and your cat

by Nancy Lyon

It's an important decision when bringing a cat into your life and family. It can involve over fifteen years of commitment to that animal's well being and more. As with other animals, cats provide companionship, a sense of joy and entertainment but they also require time, expense, and compassion for them as individuals. You will not only be their family but also their guardian who will make some serious life style decisions for them.

As with many cat lovers, a new family may want to let them freely wander the neighbourhood, testing the legend of cats having nine lives. Unfortunately, this is Russian roulette and the worst happens all too often and if you give careful thought to the dangers faced, you may want to reconsider.

Death or serious injury to outside cats often occurs from vehicles, unfriendly dogs and predators such as racoons and coyotes, poisons and parasites, and from communicable diseases like feline leukaemia and AIDS and other immunodeficient viruses that can be passed on through fighting and sexual activity. According to research done by Animals Magazine's "The Inside Story," the average life expectancy of free-roaming outdoor cats is 2-5 years compared to the average of 12.5 for indoor only cats. Do you want to take that chance?

A free-rooming cat is also subject to the anger of neighbors who may take a very dim view of her using their garden or child's sandbox for relieving herself. The law allows the humane trapping of cats with the provision that they are to be taken to the local animal shelter. However, often cats that annoy neighbors disappear and never resurface.

If you make the choice to protect your cat from these grim prospects -- the question is how do you keep an indoor kitty happy? And the answer is -- it's really not that difficult.

Fulfilling a cat's territorial, physical and emotional needs requires only a little thought and creativity to keep them safe, healthy and happy. This includes outdoor viewing, scratching, fresh air and exercise, rest and companionship.

To reduce the risk of your indoor cat of displaying offensive territorial behavior such as spraying, be sure to spay or neuter preferably before six months of age. It's easier to prevent than to correct.

Provide scratching posts or boxes that are stabile and have lofty perches to fulfill a cat's need to be up high. You may want to lure your cat into using them by using attractants such as catnip or commercial spray products. Place a scratching post near a window or patio door that encourages her to use it to mark a territorial boundary. Scratching is not only a way of stretching and nail sharpening, it is also a way of marking with the scent glands in their paws.

Have your veterinarian show you how to trim claws. It's really not that difficult and by doing it every month will help save your furniture from serious damage. Avoid the temptation to declaw. It is serious amputation surgery and not to be taken lightly. Using claws is instinctual in a cat and being deprived of this natural behavior can cause not only psychological problems but also ongoing discomfort and loss of self-defense.

Provide exercise, entertainment and encourage healthy fantasy with toys such as Ping-Pong balls, paper bags and cardboard boxes, crumpled up paper that encourage a game of "Hunt-And-Pounce."

By rotating toys you can keep the game fresh and stimulating. Give careful consideration when purchasing toys and choose those that don't have parts that can be swallowed and cause injury or death.

Bring the Great Outdoors- inside by screening a porch or patio that is escape proof and provides a container of sweet grass or other non-toxic plants that a give natural but safe setting. Hanging a birdfeeder just outside a window can provide hours of fantasy hunting while protecting our songbirds. Be sure that an upstairs balcony is properly screened to protect against falls. There are kits available (check with OHS) that allow you to enclose a portion of your yard adjacent to a window or patio allowing outside access without the hazards.

Loneliness and boredom can be a problem if you are gone for long periods of time. You might consider that two cats could be happier than one. This of course depends on the personality and age of your resident cat. A buddy for your cat may be the greatest thing to give a spark to your lonesome kitty's life - or it could be a disaster. Do your homework on this one before proceeding.

All in all, indoor cats give you greater opportunity to send quality time with them, and to really appreciate their individuality and uniqueness -- and a greater number of years to share with them.

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