My Cat: Indoor or Outdoor?

This week, Veterinary Nurse, Alison Pearcy, talks about the needs and the life of both indoor and outdoor cats. Alison has seven cats of her own: two Maine Coons Trevor and Cedric, and five rescued moggies: Beryl, Pushka, Matilda, Claude and Zach! There’s not a lot Alison hasn’t seen or experienced on the feline scene!


Alison with Matilda and Claude, hand reared. 

My Cat: Indoor or Outdoor?

Here at The Pet Vet, we understand that the decision to own a cat, or any pet, is an important one. Couple this with the added dilemma of whether your cat should remain indoors or be allowed to explore the great outdoors and you begin to realise the responsibilities of being a pet owner.

Just like us humans, cats are individuals, and some will naturally wish to cosy up next to a fire, hide under wardrobes, climb cat towers and be happy indoors. However, if your cat has previously had the opportunity to roam outdoors, it may prove more difficult to restrict them to an indoor lifestyle. But rest assured, both indoor and outdoor cats can enjoy a healthy and good quality life.

There is not much our team here hasn’t advised on or treated, so we would like to help you with some of these key decisions with some helpful considerations outlined below. We are always on hand to chat through any concerns or questions you may have, simply contact your local surgery and we will be on hand to help.

Outdoor cats

Natural little explorers, outdoor cats will enjoy roaming their territory and seeking out their own entertainment, be that chasing rodents, nattering after birds or meeting other felines in the area. Alison’s oldest cat, Beryl, is a little hunter and often returns with a ‘gift’ for her human mum! One of the great benefits for outdoor cats is the access to the natural open space and a variety of environments with a mix of different smells, tastes and textures. Alison’s other cats do have the opportunity to enjoy some outdoor space under supervision in the garden. The two Maine Coons are harness trained and roam happily on a lead. Outdoor cats have plenty of opportunity to scratch, spray and display all their natural behaviours; and this can also help to provide them with a healthy mental workout as they process what they need to do to survive a particular situation.

Exercise

Without doubt, the outdoor cat has access to the very best exercise opportunities. Most cats will need to leap a fence or climb a gate to increase their territory; and the running and jumping involved is all working to keep them agile and healthy. Whilst the vision of a fireman saving a cat that is stuck in a tree is one we all feel familiar with, cats enjoy tree climbing and do so safely in most circumstances. The sheer energy required for an outdoor cat to hunt, play, as well as escape the odd chase from a fellow feline, all helps to keep their muscles toned, burn calories and avoid obesity.

Microchipping

We are always delighted to hear a story of reunion when a cat goes missing, which is why we strongly advise our customers to pop in to see us for a microchip implant for their pet. So simple and quick and the benefits are huge. Make an appointment today and give yourself the peace of mind that a reunion is far more likely if your cat has been chipped. Please be reminded that changes to the law regarding microchipping will make this mandatory, so don’t leave it too late.

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Risks to outdoor cats

Whilst it’s never pleasant to consider the harm our outdoor pets can come to, unfortunately, we do treat many an injured cat whose curiosity has led them to a busy road or into a less friendly environment. So, The Pet Vet team has highlighted some of the more common risks below so that you can take the best course of action to keep your furry friend safe.

Road traffic

We can’t control the traffic where we live and we know that our cats can be caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of a speedy vehicle. As vets, we know that it’s important for our cats to familiarise themselves with the wider environment and create a safe territory that they may feel they need.

What we would suggest is to consider keeping your cat indoors at night, but if they do prefer that nocturnal stroll, simply purchase a quality reflective or high visibility collar that will be seen easily by motorists. Some people like to fit a tracking collar to see the extent of their cat’s territory. But, as always, we are here should you wish to take advice on what is best for your cat.

Contact with toxic substances

Curious by nature, our much-loved furballs can be expected to get their noses into all sorts of spaces and trouble! This can include, sheds containing poisonous gardening substances, contact with rodent control pellets or simply nibbling on garden plants that are less friendly to animals. Within our own garden, we can control much of this risk, so for details of how to create a safe garden environment for your cat, click here and access our blog post focussing on safe outdoor space.

Injuries

Cats are resilient little pets, but they can also find themselves on the wrong side of a jealous neighbouring animal. We see many injuries from other cats or wildlife, which can be serious and cause pain if they become infected. Whilst you cannot prevent this happening to your cat, you can lessen their risk by choosing a time of day for your cat to roam. Some animals do learn how to share a territory, with some roaming throughout a morning period and others during the afternoon. It’s not always possible but is something to consider. If you haven’t already done so, talk to us about neutering your cat as this may help with their level of aggression.  Read more about the benefits of neutering here.

Always make sure your cat’s vaccinations are up to date and please seek professional advice for any injuries, signs of infection or changes in behaviour as soon as possible.

Indoor cats

Having read about the excitement of the natural world of the outdoor cat, it may seem a little unfair to always keep a cat indoors. But this can sometimes be the most satisfying, safest and responsible decision for some cats. Even within our own The Pet Vet team, we have some home-loving pets that never venture outdoors. Take a cat with ill health; the safety of the indoor environment is far easier to manage and can still provide your cat with everything they require. However, we often see weight issues in cats with an indoor life and are keen to stress the need to monitor diet and exercise for these pets. Which leads us on to some health considerations.

Mental health of indoor cats

The greatest challenge for owners of indoor cats is to keep their cat occupied and sufficiently exercised. Your cat is at risk of becoming bored and frustrated if it doesn’t have access to interaction with you, other cats or toys and climbing objects. Try to ensure you make time for your cat and stimulate their sense of excitement and curiosity several times a day, we love a good chasing toy that they can ultimately catch and feel a little sense of achievement!

Providing enough stimulus for an indoor cat takes some preparation and time. Being natural hunters, make sure you provide a similar experience for your indoor cat, giving them access to toys that encourage chasing, pouncing and catching. Not only will this keep them exercised but will provide the brain work to keep them mentally occupied.

You may notice that your cat also likes to find places to hide, which helps them to feel safe and secure. Simple things like easily accessed boxes or certain cat beds often provide sufficient cover. Always allow your cat to hide undisturbed, it’s a natural behaviour of a cat.

The companionship and constant of a playmate can have its benefits and may be worth investigating to see what is right in your circumstance. Alison explains that her cats tend to tolerate each other rather than get along as a family! Matilda and Claude, having been hand reared together, still have a natural bond, but Alison explains it’s hard to get cats to get on with each other. It can be a stressful time for them to be confined in groups, so Alison does everything she can to reduce their stress.  Always research how and when to approach any introduction of a new pet to avoid conflict and threats to any of your cats.

Exercise and diet

Exercise is going to be critical to keeping your indoor cat healthy and avoiding obesity. Here at The Pet Vet, we stock a range of cat toys that will encourage exercise, some that they can play with independently and others to play with their owners. We suggest choosing a variety of these as cats do appreciate and need your company for a proportion of their play time. Alison also uses puzzle feeders as she finds these can be useful environmental enrichment for indoor cats and a much more natural way for cats to eat. Cat trees for climbing, hiding and sleeping come in all sorts of configurations and sizes, so it’s simple to find one to suit all spaces and budgets. Many even have in-built scratch posts, although there is a huge market of separate scratch products for cats, too. Encourage your cat to keep their claws healthy and safeguard your furniture at the same time! It might be a surprise to learn that a kitten may need up to 10 play times each day, but they will only play for short periods of time. If yours is an older cat, try to encourage play three or four times each day.

As we mentioned earlier, indoor cats need careful diet management as they invariably move less in a smaller space than their outdoor counterparts, so require less calories. Each cat’s metabolism will be different, find what works best for your cat and always feel you can ask us for advice if you feel your cat is starting to put on excessive weight. Try to keep your cat’s food and water bowls away from each other, this is something cats have preferred since evolutionary times, when they would eat separately to where they drank to avoid contaminating water with the remains of their prey!

Toileting and litter trays

Without access to the outdoors, your cat needs to feel comfortable with its toileting routine. Litter trays should be placed in a quiet part of the house, away from food and water bowls. It is essential to keep the litter tray clean as cats do not like soiled trays and may have accidents elsewhere in the house. If you have more than one cat, we advise that each has its own tray and an additional one if possible. Ideally, we would say to situate these in different areas, though we understand that space confinements of a busy home may not always allow for this.

Risks to indoor cats

Toxic household items

Many household items can present danger to a cat if ingested. Consider that some houseplants are less than friendly to cats. So, a little check through our recent blog post, which provides an insight into common household hazards will help keep your best friend safe. Please read our more in-depth blog post on safe environments for your pet.

Escape

Yes, indoor cats may have a nose for fresh air and an open window or door could be all they need to peek outside. No matter how keen they may be to explore, once in an unfamiliar environment, they may become stressed and disorientated. We always stress the importance of microchipping your cat for this very reason, and like to remind owners to keep up to date with their vaccinations and treatments, even for indoor cats. Should an escape occur, then there is a better chance of being reunited and your cat remaining safe from parasites whilst outdoors.

The decision of outdoor or indoor cats

When deciding on whether your cat will live indoors or outdoors, we strongly recommend that you research their history, behaviours and needs as this will help you to make an informed, safe and happy decision.

All cats can become infested with fleas, ticks, worms and other parasites.  Untreated, they will plague your cat (and your home) and make life very distressing and unpleasant. Read more about the risks and preventive treatments here.

Always make sure your cat’s parasite treatments are up to date.

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Practice Senior Nurse, Sophie and her adored tortoiseshell, Molly share her weight loss success story.

When Sophie first met Molly, it was not under the happiest of circumstances. Molly was an adorable, but somewhat overweight tortoiseshell. Her parents had brought her in to the surgery to request she was put to sleep. But whilst diagnosed as obese, Molly otherwise had no further health complications; so Sophie asked if the owners would have any objection to signing her over to The Pet Vet. That was the turning point for this beautiful furry feline.

“The team here knew how much I wanted to find a tortoiseshell to join my family, so when I saw Molly, whilst I recognised this was not going to be an easy journey to reduce her weight, I couldn’t help but adopt her as
my own!

Weighing in at 8.2kg, Molly was in serious need of weight loss, so I did lots of research and I enlisted her immediately in our weight
management programme.”

Many owners are not aware of what is a healthy weight for their cat, nor the health complications associated with obesity. For some cats, weight gain can indicate an underlying health issue such as arthritis, diabetes, bladder problems, breathing issues or liver disease. So, the importance of an early check is crucial.

Proactive measures taken early on can lead to a happy and healthy long life for your pet. Weight management programmes are extremely successful, BUT it must be stressed that the cat’s owner and family must be 100 per cent committed to following it.

The Pet Vet offers weight clinics, which is often the best route to get good advice and kick start a weight loss regime.  One of our nurses will make a tailored plan and recheck your pet every two weeks. Owners should start to see results within the first two weeks and the weight clinic programme lasts for 10 weeks.

After the 10 weeks, it is crucial to keep your cat on a maintenance plan, so our nurses are very happy to continue with check-ups and provide support to prevent the weight returning.

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Sophie got straight to work with Molly.

“I put Molly on Royal Canin Satiety and bought a slow feeder bowl to increase the time it took for her to eat it. I also gave her some of her daily food allowance separately, so I could use it to encourage movement. For example, I would make a trail of biscuits so she had to walk, and I would put some on high surfaces so she would need to jump. I also bought her some toys and dedicated play time with her every day.”

Reducing weight is not as simple as reducing the cat’s normal dietary intake. Changing their daily diet at home may leave the cat lacking in essential nutrients and calories and leave them feeling hungry. A recommended weight loss diet should be followed, as these are designed to keep your pet fuller for longer, without sacrificing calories or nutrients. Exercise is also just as important. Our nurses at The Pet Vet will explain different ways to do this, as each cat will respond differently to the exercise options, so you may need to try a few techniques before you find the right one for your cat.

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Useful websites:

www.cats.org.uk

www.pdsa.org.uk

www.bluecross.org.uk

www.rspca.org.uk

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