New Zealanders want to keep their cats inside but is it healthier for cats?

NEW ZEALAND-NEWS AND COMMENT: The cat news emanating from New Zealand (stuff.co.nz) is that New Zealanders are “locking down their cats for good”. In other words, there is a trend for keeping domestic cats indoors full-time. And it has been found that when people do this, they do it for their own peace of mind and to improve the health of their cat. The conservationists want cat owners to do it to protect wildlife but this objective is often not on the radar of cat owners.

Full-time indoor Bengal cat gets much needed exercise
Full-time indoor Bengal cat gets much needed exercise. This is the home of Vikki Skinner who is a cat rescuer. She is organised in terms of entertaining her cats inside the home and believe that things are changing in New Zealand towards indoor cats. She wants New Zealand’s cats to be kept inside. Photo: DAVID UNWIN/STUFF.
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THERE ARE ARTICLES ON FULL-TIME INDOOR CATS AT THE BASE OF THE PAGE. THERE ARE MANY MORE – PLEASE SEARCH.

Massey University veterinarian and animal welfare lecturer Kat Littlewood thinks like I do on the issue of keeping cats indoors. There is no automatic improvement in domestic cat health if they are kept indoors full-time. Obviously, accidents, injuries and even death on the road, which occur outside, are eliminated. And in America there are many predators killing cats. But set against that, a full-time indoor life is essentially unnatural and therefore the owner has to do an awful lot to make it more natural. And the problem is that a lot of owners don’t up their game.

You have to ‘catify’ the home to use the words of Jackson Galaxy. It’s about “catification”. But most people don’t do it. The cats might be lucky if they have a catio to enjoy and from which they can observe the world. Or even better, a garden enclosure. But if you don’t have these benefits cats tend to semi-shut down and snooze the day away. They get bored. They eat when they aren’t hungry. Often on the dry cat food. At this point you are entering the dangerous territory of feline obesity if you’re not careful.

Feline obesity brings with it a myriad of potential health problems such as feline Type II diabetes mellitus. And if you bring in a cat used to the outdoors and lock them down, they will be stressed which can bring on conditions such as cystitis. They might become anxious and depressed which impact health. Cat tend to soak it all up while the human is perhaps not fully aware of what is going on. They might think that their cat is safe and therefore they feel better and more comfortable. They don’t have to worry about where their cat is going to and if they going to be lost and so on.

But it isn’t as simple as that. There is an argument that the added dangers of allowing a cat to go outside are offset with the improvement in their mental state. The cat doesn’t worry about being involved in an accident. It’s the person who does. I’m not recommending them domestic cats are allowed to roam freely. I’m just pointing out that both methods of domestic cat caretaking, namely indoor/outdoor and full-time indoor, have their upsides and downsides.

Littlewood allows her cat to go outside and brings him/her inside at night to safety. A night-time curfew is a compromise. Although as cats are crepuscular, they will still hunt at dawn and dusk so night-time curfews don’t really protect native species from predation by domestic cats.

The chief veterinary officer of New Zealand’s Veterinary Association, Helen Beattie, agrees with me. She says that indoor cats can lead healthy and happy lives but their caregivers must put the work in to offset the downside, in terms of health, of confining cats like zoo animals.

I am in favour of confining cats provided it is not detrimental to them. A lot of people who don’t know better shout from the rooftops that all domestic cats should be kept indoors at all times. They don’t see the complications of it. I would bet my bottom dollar that if all the cats of the world were suddenly kept indoors full-time the sum total of unhappiness in the domestic cat population would go up dramatically. This is because there would not be a commensurate improvement in cat caregiving.

People adopt cats because they are supposedly easier to care for compared to dogs. But the truth is they are not if you are doing a good job. Cats will quietly tolerate and suffer in silence if they are unhappy and stressed which might give the impression to the owner that all is well.

Cat owners say that their cat is happier inside the home full-time. How do you know? How do you measure happiness in a domestic cat? I don’t think you can say with confidence that your cat is happier because they are inside all the time. What you’re saying is that you are happier as a human cat caregiver and you’re projecting that happiness onto your cat. It’s a false state of affairs.

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