Q: I have had cats for years and most all of my cats lived indoors only. They always seemed very happy and well adjusted.
My old cat passed away a couple years ago and I got a new kitten from the pound. This one is a real crazy buckaroo! He is always running and jumping on everything! He is super playful but ends up scratching me and waking me up at night. I just can’t play with him enough.
Well—he learned how to dart out of the house when I open the door to let the dogs out and there was no stopping this one. He takes off and doesn’t come back until he gets hungry. He really is much happier now that he gets outside and can climb real trees and run around. I worry that he will get injured or sickened by feral cats in the neighborhood.
I know that cats should be kept indoors but it is like trying to lock up a mustang. I gave up and installed a cat door and I now let him come and go at will. I feel that at least he can always get back inside immediately if he is fleeing danger. What precautions can I take to keep him as healthy as possible and prevent contagious diseases?
A: I understand your dilemma and your concerns. I have seen other people struggle with this type of situation over the years.
Living indoors is always the safest place for your cat and most homes can be modified to make your cat much happier.
One solution to your cat’s outdoor cravings is to build him an outdoor gazebo-like porch that he can access from the cat door. You can plant small trees and bushes in it and he can go out and lie in the sun and watch the birds, squirrels, and lizards. There are even portable small structures for sale online that can attach to a cat door.
If a cat porch isn’t possible, try large ledges by windows. Cats always enjoy an indoor cat jungle gym for climbing, scratching, and a high-up look-out post or hiding box. You can also install climbing shelves on your walls. These can be helpful for cats with adventurous natures.
There are many websites that have great articles on how to enrich your indoor environment for your cat. They address the cats’ needs for climbing, scratching, hunting, and perching. Try reading “The Indoor Cat Initiative,” by The Ohio State University.
In addition to the suggestions on this site, try a puzzle toy for his food. Extra litter boxes are always good. Grow a patch of kitty greens. Try a stress reducing food like Hills c/d stress diet or a Feliway plug-in diffuser to help calm your cat with pleasing pheromones.
Some cats will find a way to explore the outside from time to time and they do need extra protection just in case they go wandering. He needs to have a microchip and a breakaway cat collar with nametag. I recommend that you get him tested at least yearly for feline leukemia (Feleuk) and feline aids (FIV). He needs to have his rabies vaccine and FVRCP vaccine.
FVRCP protects him from feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (cat distemper and upper respiratory infections). These are the “core” vaccines that all cats should get. He should also get the feline leukemia vaccine series and a booster every two years. Please bring a fecal sample to your veterinarian at least twice a year to check for internal parasites.
Intact males cats are the most likely to roam and get into fights with other cats. Make sure that your cat is neutered.
With a little creativity on your part, you should be able to find a way to make your active cat feel happy and fulfilled in his indoor sanctuary.
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.