By Maureen Blaney Flietner
My friend Sherry called in tears. Her cat had not come home. I was confused. Where had he been? She explained that she had been letting him outside each night for months to "be a cat." He would always return each morning.
But one morning he wasn’t there. Nor was he there the next morning, or the following mornings. Sherry was desperate. She plastered signs around her neighborhood. She asked the town’s road crew members if they had seen, or found, her cat.
for Your Cat
Try these indoor enrichment options:
- Install window perches.
- Provide vertical space, such as cat trees or the tops of bookcases.
- Supply hiding locations, such as a box.
- Provide toys to stalk and pounce on. They make cats happy, according to The Indoor Pet Initiative of The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (indoorpet.osu.edu/cats). It suggests that cats like toys that squeak, chirp, jitter, swing or vibrate. Those actions remind them of moving meals and entice them to interact. Rotate the selection to prevent boredom.
- Play with your cat using toys, such as a wand. That interaction allows it to use its natural quickness and agility. Let your cat catch the toys so it does not become frustrated.
- Put in a DVD so your cat can enjoy the visual stimulation of birds, fish and insects on the screen.
Sherry’s cat never returned. She hopes some kind person took him in. But her thoughts about the other possibilities became nightmares.
What actually happened to her cat is anyone’s guess. Hit by a car? Attacked by another animal? Poisoned? Trapped? A deliberate target of some sick mind? Injured in a fall?
Could Sherry have handled her cat’s need for stimulation any differently?
Yes. There are options. An indoor-outdoor lifestyle is possible—but control is key, according to the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. Allowing cats to roam freely not only increases their risks of disease and trauma but also puts songbirds and other wildlife at risk.
One option? A harness and leash. First, the harness must fit properly, says Diane Eigner, VMD, owner and director of The Cat Doctor in Philadelphia, and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Let the cat get used to the harness in short bursts, perhaps a half-hour, while you oversee reactions. Use treats and distractions to derail protests. Next, attach a leash. Whether you can walk your cat depends—on your cat. Some enjoy a walk if they can explore an interesting area. Others resent being controlled but will explore if you just hold the leash.
Another option? A cat-proof enclosure. Sturdy units expose cats to outdoor sights, sounds and smells while limiting risks. Eigner prefers enclosures that can be accessed through a pet door so the cat can come inside when it chooses. Check the pet door regularly to ensure it moves freely.
Stand-alone units require extra supervision so the cat can’t escape when being put in or removed. That’s when using a harness and leash comes in handy.
A unit with wheels allows you to put the cat inside while it’s still in the house before rolling it outside. However, that movement will frighten some cats.
Of course, any unit will need a place for fresh water and some spaces out of the hot sun.
A cat that goes outside needs parasite control specific to your region, says Eigner, and your pet should be microchipped. Make sure you register the microchip and keep your contact information current.
The best choice, however, is to keep your cat indoors and provide the enrichment it craves.