How can I make my indoor cat happy?

Of course, indoor cats benefit from the safety of their environment. The other side of the coin to this benefit is that they are likely to lack stimulation and the facilities to express normal behaviour. To make your indoor cat happy you should be thinking about how to overcome these potential obstacles.

Happy cat
Happy cat. Photo: Instagram.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The quality of their environment

I am stating the obvious but the quality of their environment has an impact upon their state of happiness. To use a well coined term, an “enriched environment” will help to make your cat happy. What is an enriched environment? I return to the original statement which is that it is an environment in which a cat can behave as naturally as possible and express all the usual behaviours that they would normally enjoy if they were outside. Most cats enjoy climbing and jumping. They like to use elevated areas and vantage points. Therefore, one aspect of an enriched environment is to create vertical spaces such as shelves, climbing posts, walkways, windowsills and platforms. Humans think horizontally but cats think both horizontally and vertically.

Homemade vertical spaces for cats
Homemade vertical spaces for cats. Photo: PoC.

Cats spend a lot of their time resting and snoozing. It is important that their rest areas are comfortable. In one study, cat welfare improved when laboratory cats were provided with soft resting surfaces. These were pillows. Another study found that domestic cats preferred polyester fleece to cotton-looped towel, woven rush-matting and corrugated cardboard for lying on.

Classy cat window box
Classy cat window box. From Catio Spaces

Cats also prefer wood to plastic and materials which maintain a constant temperature such as fabric, hay, straw and wood shavings. In multi-cat households there should be sufficient space for a cat to rest comfortably alone. Cats hide in order to cope with stressful situations. Therefore, there should not only be open resting areas such as shelves, there should also be resting areas where cats can conceal themselves such as in boxes or igloos. Perhaps visual barriers such as vertical panels or curtains can help cats to be out of sight. Vertical spaces can become more complex by adding dividers.

Indoor cat by the window
Indoor cat by the window. This cat experiences both natural seasonal light indoor light. Photo in public domain.

It is a known fact that in multi-cat households there should be one litter tray per cat and Jackson Galaxy says you can add one extra. This will help to avoid competition over litter trays. The trays should be sited away from food and resting areas. The type of litter should be suited to the cat. You will find out what he or she prefers including the type of litter tray i.e. whether it is closed or open.

Quantity of space

I have an article on this website in which I discuss whether a domestic cat can live in one room satisfactorily and contentedly. It is a well viewed webpage so perhaps you should read it by clicking on this link. In multi-cat households there should be enough space so that they can maintain distances between themselves of at least 1 m. The more space the better, I think, should be the basic rule. Domestic cats probably demand a home range up to several acres or more. Therefore, in living inside a home they are already quite restricted as to their natural movements. Catios are a great extension if possible.


Cat buddies looking out the window
Cat buddies looking out the window. Photograph by Felicity Berkleef.

This essentially refers to cats who are friendly with each other. I have to refer to Jackson Galaxy again and say that if you are going to adopt from a rescue centre and there are two cats who get along at that centre then adopt them both. Having two cats requires less work than having one because they can entertain themselves and in doing so make themselves happier. However, new cats should not be introduced into a resident cat’s home without considerable thought. There cannot be an assumption that the cats will get along. In fact the presumption should be that they probably won’t get along and therefore this will not necessarily make the resident cat happier.

The sensory environment

Tailormade cat window box
Cat Solarium

Domestic cats have very highly tuned senses. Therefore, the quality of the external environment is important. Indoor cats spend a lot of time on windowsills looking out the windows. They need to watch the activity outside. They are seeking stimulation. You can make indoor cats happier by allowing them free and easy access to observational posts where they can look outside the home. You might go one step further and give your cat access to enclosed outdoor runs. Or a miniature form of catio which can be attached to a window. You can buy these commercially or have them made up. They slot into a window frame and replace the lower part of a sash window, for example. This will allow a cat to not only observe the outside but also smell it and thereby use their sense of smell. This would be olfactory enrichment. I think it is an important aspect of cat caretaking to provide olfactory enrichment. It will make them happier.

Crackhead ginger tabby cat slides into pile of catnip
Crackhead ginger tabby cat slides into pile of catnip. Photo in public domain.

Catnip is also quite an interesting way to stimulate a cat and is a form of olfactory enrichment. It goes further than that because it is a kind of mild drug for a cat. Olfactory communication is also part of a cat’s behaviour. They do this through scent marking. They have scent glands in their paw pads. When they scratch they deposit scent onto a scratching post. Provide a very nice large scratching post or at least two or three of them including some scratching boards. Scratching also allows a cat to express their marking behaviour because it leaves visual signals i.e. striations in the object that they are scratching.

Tootsie scratching a scratching post. Tootsie is a poly Maine Coon with a smokey coat.
Tootsie scratching a scratching post. Tootsie is a poly Maine Coon with a smokey coat.

Cats need to scratch for the reasons stated above and to keep their claws in good condition. On the issue of auditory enrichment, it may be suitable depending upon the cat to provide music designed for cats. Certainly cats need human conversation. They need the sound of their owner’s voice. This requires his or her presence. One aspect of making a indoor cat happier is to be present for longer. This may be difficult but a cat left alone for a long time may suffer from separation anxiety as we know and they may become stressed. Part of an enriched sensory environment is the presence of the cat’s human companion.

The occupational environment

Oxford playpen
Oxford playpen. Image: Amazon

A substitute for a cat’s perpetual desire to hunt is to play-hunt. This requires the input of their human companion to provide toys which can be destroyed so that they replicate true hunting. The most effective toys are the ones that can be destroyed by a cat. Playing with a cat is very important particularly a cat who is nervous and retiring in character. Or a cat who needs to be further socialised. Cats are naturally inquisitive and like to explore. This brings to mind the need, ideally, to provide structures which can be explored by a cat such as boxes and new objects introduced into their lives.

The nutritional environment

I won’t go into detail here but this is about providing an excellent diet. Cats like to feed numerous times throughout the day, this may be between 5 to 9 times a day. I would suggest that small portions of wet cat food is the ideal. This means small sachets. I would select foods that are supplied in small sachets. It should be the highest quality wet cat food that is affordable. Dry cat food can be used for grazing at night. High quality food will help to keep a cat healthier and a healthy cat is a happier cat.

The most important

Cat lover Jordan Hagen
Cat lover Jordan Hagen. Photo: his FB page.

The most important aspect of making an indoor cat happy is for their human companion and guardian to be loving towards them, to be concerned about their welfare at all times, to be protective, to interact with them whenever possible, to gently pet them, stroke them and comb them to check for fleas on a regular basis. This intimate interaction between cat and person both in terms of companionship and functionality is the most important aspect of keeping a domestic cat happy.

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