An indoor-only lifestyle protects cats from numerous health and safety hazards, but such a restricted lifestyle can have its downsides, too. Indoor cats are more likely to experience inactivity and stress-related health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, urinary tract disorders, anxiety, and behavior problems.

Help your cat lead a healthy and satisfying life indoors by following University Veterinary Hospital’s three secrets to a fulfilled feline.

Instinct versus indoor—embracing your cat’s natural behavior can improve their mood
The domestic cat is an independent territorial and predatory species (i.e., they are designed to hunt for their food). In the wild, cats spend up to six hours per day exploring their environment and hunting for live prey, which involves natural and functional behaviors that include:

  • Scratching and climbing
  • Foraging
  • Hiding
  • Stalking
  • Capturing
  • Killing
  • Manipulating
  • Consuming

Despite their perceived proficiency, cats are estimated to be successful in only one-third of their attempts. And, because cats consume mostly small prey (e.g., mice, birds), they must find and eat several small meals to satisfy their energy requirements. 

Compare this natural behavior with the indoor cat, who receives their daily food allotment in a lump sum once or twice daily, always in the same location. This variable versus predictable resources presents a stark contrast, and adding the fact that most cat behaviors (e.g., scratching, climbing, and stalking) are considered a nuisance, makes it clear why indoor cats suffer from boredom, anxiety, and obesity-related health issues. 

Happy cats are healthy cats

Promoting your cat’s emotional and physical health starts by considering their natural behaviors and shaping their indoor environment so they can express the behaviors safely and appropriately. In this way, your cat can enjoy the best of both worlds—they can satisfy their instincts without real-world risks.

Modify your cat’s surroundings and embrace their unique characteristics by applying these three secrets to feline happiness.

#1: Create a cat-friendly environment with places to climb and hide

Sometimes cats prefer being neither seen nor heard—a stalker-esque tendency that is not only a creepy quirk, but also a hardwired habit that simultaneously protects the cat from danger and allows them to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.

Unfortunately, feline-friendly is rarely an interior design requirement. Open-floor house plans and minimal furniture leave most indoor cats feeling exposed, so create an inviting space with hiding spaces, perches, and climbing places. You can provide ample spots without adding clutter with these ideas:

  • Window seat — Add a window perch where your cat can comfortably lounge and observe outdoor activity. If possible, hang a bird feeder for extra entertainment.
  • Cat tree — These feline-friendly pieces come in various shapes, styles, and heights and can fit every living space, taste, and budget. Multi-level units with steps and ramps offer the best climbing with easy access for cats of all ages. Scratching posts and hiding boxes also appeal to cats.
  • Feline feng shui — Create narrow passages and hiding spots with your furniture, rather than leaving wide-open expanses.
  • Houseplant habitat — Design a jungle hideaway with cat-safe house plants, using soil covers, citrus-based deterrent sprays, or stone mulch to deter cats from eliminating in the soil.

#2: Feed your cat as a hunter, not a consumer

Engage your cat’s hunting instincts by providing food in new, mentally stimulating ways. This can also encourage sedentary cats to get on their paws and burn calories—after all, food is a natural motivator. Depending on your cat’s diet, physical ability, and interest in play, you can choose from a number of food-based enrichment ideas, including:

  • Scatter feeding — Hide dry food in a room and let your cat explore.
  • Snuffle mats — Tuck dry food inside the nooks and crannies in these woven mats and let your cat sniff out each piece.
  • Lick mats — Smear wet food on a grooved silicone lick mat to provide an interesting texture experience, and to encourage slow eating. Or, let your cat chase a paper plate spread with food that will move across the floor with every lick.
  • Foraging toys — Stuffable toy mice create a hide-and-seek experienceonce they find the mice, cats must manipulate them to release the hidden food.
  • Puzzle feeders — Reach boxes, DIY food toys, and cat puzzles require cats to swat, reach, and manipulate various features to obtain food or treats.

#3: Allow your cat to engage in predatory play

Cat owners often report that their cats don’t enjoy toy play—but usually this is because we expect them to play by our rules. Play with your cat—by their rules—at least once per day, to prevent boredom, obesity, and anxiety-based disorders. 

Some tips for effective engagement include:

  • Use only novel toys — Reserve special toys for during play sessions only, to prevent boredom.
  • Create unpredictable movement — Keep in mind that prey animals don’t move in straight lines or run toward their predator when using a feather wand or other interactive toy with your cat. If you’re worried about being scratched, choose motorized toys or a laser pointer.
  • Honor the predatory cycle — Remember, cats stalk, capture, kill, and manipulate their prey before consuming them, and you should see a simulation of each behavior—except the last one, of course—during a successful play session.
  • Play in short sessions — End the session while your cat is still having fun to ensure they’ll want to play again another time.

Transform your indoor feline from unfulfilled to flourishing by creating safe opportunities and allowing them to make their own choices and use their natural instincts. For more information about indoor cat wellness, or to schedule your pet’s next appointment, contact University Veterinary Hospital.