Your cat may be an indoor cat for various reasons.
You could live on or near the main road and don’t want to risk their safety, or they may not be healthy enough to venture into the big wide world as they are too young or have FIV. You may want to protect local wildlife, too.
Luckily, indoor cats are no longer a rare thing. But it can be hard to substitute some parts of their natural lifestyle. Exercise is important for a cat’s mobility and mental function, after all.
For instance, an outdoor cat could easily get their recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day just by strolling through your neighbour’s gardens or playing with other local cats. For an indoor cat, they will likely have less space, fewer stimulants and perhaps no other cats to play with either.
Why exercise is important for cats
Like us humans, keeping fit can have a whole host of benefits for cats:
- It can keep them at a healthy weight. Overweight cats are more susceptible to injury and joint issues
- Exercise can also prevent joint issues, through movement
- Cats can develop heart issues if not active enough
- Less likely to develop lower urinary tract disease
- Unhealthy cats can be at higher risk under a general anaesthetic
How to give your indoor cat enough exercise
An ‘indoor cat’ doesn’t have to be kept inside 24/7. There are now ways in which a cat can be taken outside safely and securely but to a limit.
Catios and enclosures
If your cat is pining for the outdoors, a catio or cat enclosure is a fabulous idea. It allows your cat to have controlled access to the outdoors, and you don’t even have to keep a beady eye on them.
A catio can attach securely to your house, so your cat is free to come and go in and out through a window, door or catflap.
Don’t worry, there aren’t too many adaptations to make – simply screw it to your home to ensure it is sturdy. It can be used on a patio, grass or even a balcony, with special models available that are easy to adjust in size.
We would recommend buying as large a catio as possible. This way, you can fill it with toys, multiple levels for climbing and give them a more ‘natural’ open feel.
You could even join them in there for a bit of bonding time if it is large enough. Wooden catios are easier to attach to brick or stone, but metal catios are sturdier and require less attention and upkeep over time.
Use a cat harness
Your cat is technically allowed outside as they are healthy, but it is the ‘free rein’ part which you have a problem with. Where are they going? With what other cats are they spending their time?
Or, maybe you live in an apartment so letting them out when they want to go is a bit tricky.
You may have thought “this isn’t an issue that dog owners face, with their leads and harnesses going on walks”. However, a harness is no longer just for dogs.
You can also take your cat for a walk, using a dedicated lead and harness set. It isn’t the norm but is a lot more popular than it once was. They can still explore, get fresh air and get to know their local area (which is good on the off-chance that they do one day escape through an open window or past the postman), but you can keep them back a little bit and ensure they get home safely.
It could take a little while to ensure your cat is happy to wear the harness, but once they are comfortable and there is no risk of pulling a Houdini, you can join all the dog paw-rents in the park. If you’re adopting a kitten, try to get them used to harnesses and carriers from a young age.
Fill your home with toys
All pets like toys, whether you have a strapping big Great Dane or a teeny hamster. It doesn’t only keep them occupied with mental stimulation, but they also learn behaviour control.
The same applies to cats, although there is an emphasis on movement with cat toys. Interactive cat toys are probably the best option if you want to keep your cat entertained and active. They can chase, pounce, and stalk to their heart’s content without harming anything. This is probably the easiest and most risk-free way to keep your cat active indoors.
You can also buy toys that require your input, as opposed to being automatically interactive. This can be good for giving them a bit of variety and also teaching boundaries. They will also be less likely to attack your sofa or your ankles if they are exhausted!
All of the behaviours encouraged with toys are what they would naturally do in the wild when catching prey. It is also what your cat would probably do to birds and field mice in your own back garden if they were allowed out.
It isn’t fair on cats to completely restrict this behaviour, so cat toys mean that they can get it out of their system in a controlled environment, and they will maybe also learn one day to be a bit more gentle. Cats hunt and chase in short 5-10 minute bursts, so it is super easy to keep them occupied in this manner.
Tip: Feed them after their play session, and then they will feel like they have ‘worked’ for their food
Don’t forget about scratching posts, either. When they are outside, they will find natural surfaces to sharpen their claws on. So, indoor cats may need a few extra scratching options dotted about the house as well as your ‘traditional’ scratch posts, to give it a more natural feel.
A puzzle feeder will give them the mental stimulation they need, too. And the end reward is food, which I am sure we can all agree is a pretty good incentive to get active.
Again, it gives into their underlying hunting needs and will prevent them from getting bored. Having one of these to hand, as well as your traditional toys, is perfect for variety.
Kong does some great puzzles which are easy to hide food in and will last well beyond your cat going a bit OTT.
Cat exercise wheel
Yes, you heard right.
“Like a hamster would use?!”
Well…yeah. But larger, of course. And designed specifically for a cat. These large wheels allow your cat to run like the wind without even leaving the living room. So if activity levels are a real concern, and you have the space, a cat exercise wheel like the One Fast Cat Exercise Wheel could be a perfect addition to your home.
It is even great for outdoor cats as it would allow them to burn off some excess energy so they aren’t quite as wild through the night.
Not every cat will probably use a wheel, so it is best for those who have an awful lot of energy to spare. And you must supervise them when using it, as well as ensuring it is always safe to use.