Halls VN - talk given at the FAB Conference 2004
with free access to outdoors will potentially have a full
and natural lifestyle. The constantly changing outside world
will provide all the mental and physical stimulation required
to keep the individual healthy, both physically and mentally.
there are risks. There are approaching eight million cats
in the UK and this poses a number of problems. There are increased
risks from social antagonism and the spread of disease and
parasites. Road traffic accidents are a significant threat
to our pet cats – one in four die on the roads, often in the
first year of their lives. There are also natural predators
including foxes (comparatively rare) and other risks associated
with free roaming, for example stealing and foul play. Cats
are also free to leave home if they object to their environment,
for example sharing with other cats, disruptive household
etc. Many owners therefore make the decision to keep their
cats exclusively indoors or provide restricted access to a
garden. In these circumstances the owners have a particular
responsibility to provide their cats with an appropriate environment
cat friendly home is essential for all cats, but particularly
Kept exclusively indoors
Confined due to ill health/injury/FIV
With restricted access outside
Who go outside less because they are
Who go outside less because they are
With access to an outdoor pen
is a cat friendly home?
cat friendly home takes into consideration the needs of the
cat as a very different species from our own. It provides
an environment that is safe and stimulating. Most homes are
not necessarily the ideal habitat for a domestic cat so provisions
have to be made to cater for their specific needs.
to enrich the home environment
definition of environmental enrichment in this situation is
“making provisions within a cat's confined environment that
stimulate and challenge the individual and enable it to perform
do cats need environmental enrichment?
indoors almost automatically deprives a cat of the ability
to behave naturally and experience the challenge and frustration
that occurs in an outdoor lifestyle. Indoor cats will adapt
to their environment but can fall victim to a number of physical
or emotional problems associated with boredom and lack of
activity. In the absence of the challenge of hunting, exploring
and social contact cats will fill the void of activity with
those that are readily available such as sleeping, grooming
and eating. It is no coincidence that indoor cats develop
physical problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle (e.g.
urinary tract disease), over-grooming problems and eating
cat friendly home
it is essential to stimulate and challenge cats within the
home there is also a duty of care to keep them safe. There
are many household appliances, features and products that
could be potentially dangerous. It is important therefore
to ‘risk assess' the home on a regular basis to keep these
dangers to a minimum. There is a happy medium however between
overwhelming anxiety about all possible risks and a casual
laxity. An owner's constant concern for the wellbeing and
safety of his or her cat can cause it to develop a sense of
helplessness and inability to function normally without the
owner present. Equally, an irresponsible attitude to safety
by the owner could lead to a tragic accident.
Kitchen appliances e.g. tumble dryer,
Household items, e.g. sewing box, breakable
Household cleaning products, e.g. disinfectants
Garden products, e.g. slug pellets
Garage contents, e.g. wood preservative,
Medication, eg. Paracetamol
Toys e.g. plastic eyes/noses
Open windows on upper floors
discussing safety it is worth mentioning the greatest challenge
to the cat's perception of security in the home. If cats have
any access outdoors it may be facilitated via a cat flap.
Whilst this ‘personal door' appears to provide the opportunity
for cats to exercise freedom of choice about time spent outside
it also has a more sinister implication. Cats often see the
flap as a vulnerable point in the defences of their home where
any invader could potentially gain access. This can lead to
a state of constant vigilance and uneasiness and a definite
compromise to the individual's sense of safety in the home.
If the cat has restricted access outside or chooses to venture
out only in the presence of the owner it may be preferable
to dispense with the cat flap altogether.
owner and cat can get pleasure from environmental enrichment
and social stimulation; it doesn't have to be a chore-based
element of the owner/cat relationship. Many of the aspects
can be fun for both parties!
key to providing a cat friendly home is to understand the
objects or provisions within it that the cat considers to
be important. These ‘resources' should be available in sufficient
number and type to appeal to even the most discerning individual.
within the home represent all those things that provide nourishment,
entertainment, stimulation and security for the pet cat. These
Vegetation e.g. source of grass
High resting places
Scent stimulation e.g. catnip, valerian
are some examples of provisions that should be made in the
home, particularly for cats kept exclusively indoors. Some
of the essential provisions are often taken for granted but
even these, such as food, can be offered in such a way that
the cat is stimulated and entertained. There is no reason
why these suggestions shouldn't apply to all pet cats, even
those with free access to outdoors.
predictable availability of food twice a day (or even ad lib)
in a food bowl in the kitchen does not represent any kind
of challenge whatsoever. Cats would naturally spend up to
six hours a day hunting, foraging, stalking, catching and
consuming prey. They would eat about ten mice a day, probably
involving about thirty attempts at capture. The normal feeding
regime for the average pet cat potentially leaves a void of
five hours and fifty minutes that it would need to fill with
other activities. The provision of interesting and stimulating
challenges utilizing food is inevitably difficult with the
tinned variety but the possibilities are endless if the owner
is feeding a dry preparation. Cats should be able to obtain
food a little and often. Dry food can be made available all
over the house in various locations, both on high and ground
level. (The cat will probably follow the owner around whilst
he or she is secreting the food. It may therefore be necessary
to shut the cat away or have airtight containers in various
locations rather than one place where food is always stored.)
Once the cat gets used to obtaining food in novel locations
the acquisition can become more challenging, for example:
Build cardboard pyramids of toilet roll
or kitchen roll tubes and stick together to form a three-dimensional
triangle. Place single pellets half way along each tube and
allow the cat to obtain the food by using its paw.
Place dry food inside small cardboard
boxes with the lids slightly open to encourage the cat to
knock the box over or remove the food with its paw.
Place dry food inside cardboard egg boxes.
Paper bags can provide interesting receptacles
Throw individual pellets of food for
the cat to chase and eat (this works most effectively on a
Stick two yoghurt pots together to form
a diamond shape. Place holes in the pots, approximately the
size of a two pence coin, using a soldering iron (this will
ensure the edges are not sharp). Attach a string through a
hole in the top and hang about two or three feet off the ground.
Place dry food inside and encourage the cat to tap and agitate
the pots to obtain the food as it falls through the holes.
majority of owners always provide water in the same location
as the food bowl. Cats naturally hunt for food and search
for water on separate occasions to satisfy either hunger or
thirst. The presence of water near the food can actually deter
some cats from drinking sufficient fluid, particularly if
they are on a dry diet. Finding water elsewhere can be extremely
rewarding and there should be at least ‘one water container
per cat in the household plus one' in various locations away
from food. Some cats object to the chemical smell from tap
water so filtered or boiled water can be used. There are various
ways to provide water including:
Pet water fountains
Feng shui water features
Tumblers (many cats will drink from a
glass by the bedside table!)
source of grass is essential for the house cat to act as a
natural emetic. This can be purchased as commercially available
“kitty grass” or pots of grass and herbs can be grown specifically
for this purpose.
centres provide stimulation for cats as well as giving
them an ideal high resting place
are natural climbers and it is important that the home environment
provides opportunities to rest and observe in high places.
This will encourage essential exercise and is particularly
important in a single storey home without stairs. Any high
resting places provided should be located in such a position
that the cat is able to get down; it is always easier to climb
up. Here are some suggestions for suitable locations:
Tall scratching posts are available as
modular units and they are often floor-to-ceiling structures.
Many provide platforms and enclosures for resting and represent
challenging climbing frames.
Free standing cupboards and wardrobes
have large areas where a cat can rest or hide in a high place.
It may be necessary to place furniture nearby to give the
cat a halfway platform for ease of access.
Shelves can be constructed specifically
for the cat's use. It is important to provide a non-slip surface
as many wooden shelves are extremely slippery. Bookshelves
and other shelving can also provide sanctuary if a small area
is cleared for the cat's use. Keeping expensive breakable
ornaments on shelves or mantelpieces is inadvisable!
Securing a section of closed weave carpet
to a wall represents a challenging climbing frame. This can
be fixed by using double sided adhesive carpet tape and wooden
batons at the top and bottom (secured with screws and rawlplugs).
A heavy duty cardboard tube from the
inside of a roll of carpet can be utilised indoors and covered
with carpet (inside out).
need ‘time out' from owners and other cats in the group. These
can be areas under the bed, inside cupboards or wardrobes,
behind the sofa etc. A cat should never be disturbed whilst
using a private area.
assortment of beds should be provided in warm, sunny, quiet
or communal areas. Cat beds can be expensive and rarely chosen
by the average cat when they can choose an alternative such
as the owner's bed, chairs, sofas or radiator hammocks.
tray per cat plus one ideally should be placed in different
discreet locations away from food. These can be covered or
open but it is important that the areas represent a place
of safety where the individual does not feel vulnerable. Fine
grain litter substrate tends to be preferred. A regular cleaning
regime is essential and polythene liners and litter deodorants
can be unpleasant for some cats so should be avoided.
need to scratch to maintain their claws and mark their territory.
If provisions are not made for this then cats will scratch
items of furniture. Scratching posts should be as tall as
possible to allow the cat to scratch vertically at full stretch.
Panels can be attached to walls at the appropriate height
if space is at a premium. Some cats prefer to scratch horizontal
surfaces so a variety of scratching areas should be provided.
cats enjoy the company of their own species and sources of
advice actively encourage owners to acquire more than one
cat when keeping them indoors. However problems can arise
when the individuals reach social maturity and find themselves
competing for limited resources within a territory that is
relatively small. These problems can potentially be minimised
by providing sufficient resources in the home and keeping
the appropriate number of cats for the size of property. There
is no formula for the recommended number of cats per square
metre floor space but common sense should prevail. Keeping
seven cats in a two-bedroom cottage is asking for trouble!
Townhouses also represent a uniquely challenging environment
for cats with the narrow staircases leading to each floor
becoming areas worthy of defence and conflict.
contact with humans is important but the level should vary
according to the personality of the cat. An owner should ideally
respond to the cat's approaches or desire to interact rather
than chasing it round to initiate contact. This can be irritating
or, at the worst, distressing for some cats. Predatory play,
grooming and verbal communication represents important social
contact between owner and cat and is often better received
than ‘kissing and cuddling'. Some cats enjoy the company of
dogs and many will tease the family labrador mercilessly so
it is important to remember that company can come in different
rod toys are ideal to simulate the movement of prey. Those
toys attached to fur or feathers are always popular. Every
cat is an individual but most prefer something as close to
the natural prey animal as possible. The toy should be agitated
in front of the cat (not in a rhythmical swing but a random
movement) to allow the cat to catch it from time to time.
All toys of this kind should be kept in a cupboard out of
reach when not being used.
soon become predictable and boring if they are allowed to
remain motionless in the same place all the time. Natural
fur and feather of a similar size to prey animals or those
impregnated with catnip are popular. These should be stored
away and brought out from time to time to maintain their novelty.
Small toys (like fur mice) can even be placed inside the food
foraging receptacles. Many cats enjoy retrieval games and
this can represent an opportunity for social contact as well
stimulation - catnip
of cats respond to the smell of catnip and this can potentially
produce a temporary euphoric state. If it is used sparingly
this can be a fun distraction. Catnip toys can easily be made
at home and used to good advantage for ten minutes a day or
every other day. Loose dry catnip is always more potent than
sprays or treats.
stimulation - valerian
herb has a calming effect on cats and some respond extremely
well to valerian tea bags. These can be offered dry to cats
(remove any string or staples) and they will rub and roll
on them, giving a similar response to catnip. Valerian tea
bags can be placed into cardboard boxes or cardboard foraging
tubes to encourage exploration with a good reward at the end.
items should be brought into the home on a regular basis to
challenge the cat's sense of smell and desire to explore novel
things. Wood, stone, plants, cardboard boxes, paper bags etc
can be placed in various locations and left for the cat to
decide how to explore and to what degree. It is important
that the cat is regularly vaccinated and treated for parasites
if items could potentially have been in contact with other
cats outside. New items should also be of different textures.
Stimulating the cat's senses is extremely important and this
also includes novel sounds but beware playing loud music etc.;
a cat's hearing is extremely sensitive and this could be distressing.
over windows will allow fresh air to enter the house. This
alone will carry challenging smells from outside and be a
focus of attention for the bored house cat.
facial pheromones are important signals of familiarity and
security secreted naturally from glands in the cat's face.
A synthetic version of a part of these pheromones common to
all domestic cats is available. Feliway, manufactured by Ceva,
can be purchased in spray and ‘plug-in' Diffuser form. This
can have a useful calming effect on cats when moving house,
decorating, adding furniture, visiting the vet, introducing
new cats etc. The presence of a Diffuser can relax a cat sufficiently
to promote play and relaxation. It is important not to rely
too heavily on the presence of Feliway if a cat becomes anxious.
There is an underlying cause for this emotion that should
* * * * *
ways that an environment can be enriched for a cat are many
and varied based on the principles described about; owners
are limited only by their imagination. An understanding of
the provisions necessary for a cat friendly home will ensure
that our pet cats remain as happy and healthy as possible.