Enrichment for your Indoor Only Cat

We hear it all the time: “My cat will go crazy if I don’t let him roam outside!” Many cat owners let their cats roam freely outdoors.  However, cats who are allowed to roam outside face many potential dangers. It’s one of the reasons MEOW Foundation has a strict indoors-only policy for adopters.

Whether it’s being hit by a car, catfights, fighting with wildlife or being taken in by someone who thinks they are a stray, outdoor cats face many more risks than cats who are kept indoors. Outdoor cats are also detrimental to other animal populations including birds and other prey species. With so many risks, why do so many people let their cats roam? The myth persists that roaming outdoors is the only way a cat can get enough stimulation to have a fulfilling life. However, there are so many ways to provide enrichment to an indoor-only cat!

Indoor Enrichment

Cats can have a happy and full life indoors with toys and regular play. With the wide variety of cat toys available, it’s easy to find one that your cat will like. While many cats enjoy playing on their own, most of them also want time with you. Consider a wand toy, laser pointer or other game where you and your cat are engaging with each other.

It’s not all about toys! There are lots of other ways to help your cat burn some physical and mental energy. Lick mats are a great way to provide your cat with a fun treat. It is a silicone mat with bumps and ridges that you can fill with your cat’s favorite food. You can give it to them as is, or freeze it to make the fun last even longer. Lick mats – or snuffle mats, which let you hide dry food in folds of fabric for your cat to find – will allow your cat to work for their food in a more active way.

Having Fun Outdoors

Many people like to spend time with their cat outdoors. However, we recommend only letting your cat outdoors on a harness and leash under full supervision, or in a closed-in and escape-proof “catio” (in fact, MEOW requires our adopters to avoid letting their cat outdoors if not supervised and harnessed, or securely closed in). A harness and leash provides your cat with freedom to explore while being closely monitored and unable to run away. You can easily harness train a cat to feel comfortable wearing it and even enjoying time in it. The harness and leash should be a positive experience for your cat. They eventually will associate it with fun outdoor time with you! You can train them by putting it on them for short periods of tim. As they feel comfortable and confident in it, you can increase the time they spend in the harness.

There are also accessories such as cat backpacks or strollers that are a safe option to allow your cat outside. It provides them with a safe view of the outdoors in a protected space where they can’t escape. If you think your cat would enjoy this, you should test it at home to ensure they are comfortable inside the enclosure.

Another great option is a catio (“cat patio”), which is an outdoor enclosure that lets cats experience the outdoors while keeping them (and wildlife!) safe. Catios offer cats healthy exercise time as well as safety from outdoor hazards like cars, predators and poisons. Catios come in many shapes, sizes and forms, or you can make your own.

While it’s fun to go outside with our cats, it’s not a requirement! Indoor cats do not necessarily need time outdoors as long as you are providing sufficient stimulation, toys and other enrichment opportunities for them inside. However, you can also bring the outside in! Cat-safe plants like cat nip, wheatgrass or cat grass are fun (and tasty!) for your cat.

Trial and Error

Not every cat loves every toy or activity! Whether it’s a new toy, a harness, a catio or a cat backpack, be sure your cat is comfortable and enjoying the experience. With the right enrichment activities and enough time spent engaging with you, your cat will be just as happy indoors with you as they would be roaming outside.