Yes, there are many benefits to keeping your cat safe at home (contained within your property boundaries). Contained cats are less likely to become lost or injured (e.g., hit by a car or attacked by a dog). They are also less likely to get into cat fights and have cat fight-related injuries (e.g., abscesses) or catch infectious diseases such as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). Containment also minimises the risk they will harm other animals or cause disturbance to neighbours.
Where cats are contained, steps must be taken by owners to ensure that adequate exercise and environmental enrichment are available. Contained cats do not have to live totally indoors – access to an outdoor escape-proof enclosure is highly recommended as this greatly increases the opportunity for activity and stimulation for contained cats allowing them to experience the benefits of outdoors in a safe way. There are also specialised backyard fences that can help stop cats escaping (e.g., fences that have rotating tops or lean inward), and if you have a balcony or verandah this can be cat-proofed through the use of netting. These can be a great way to allow contained cats to still have access to the outdoors without being able to go beyond their home property boundaries.
Some cat owners also like to take their cat into the backyard under their direct supervision so they can have some time outdoors. If you do this, make sure your cat is safe and won’t jump over the fence and get lost or hurt.
A kitten or cat who has only ever been contained to their owner’s property is likely to cope better with living in this way as they have never known any other lifestyle. Start training kittens to be contained early on!
A cat who has experienced living outdoors beyond the owner’s property boundary may become distressed if suddenly kept totally indoors. In these cases cats may begin to display behavioural problems due to the stress of confinement and their health and welfare may be compromised. For these cats, ensuring that they have access to the outdoors via an escape-proof enclosure or specialised backyard fencing is highly recommended. Enclosures and fencing should not be electrified. A gradual reduction in the amount of time that the cat spends beyond the property will also allow them to adjust to containment to the owner’s property over time.
Cat containment tips
Here are some measures you can take to ensure that your home is a feline-friendly, stimulating environment where your cat is unlikely to get bored.
- Provide plenty of horizontal and vertical climbing space. Cats generally like to gain vertical height to view scenes from above and they also tend to feel safer that way. Cat ladders/trees, window hammocks, cat condos and cat castles are just some of the products available to help provide an enriched environment.
- Provide plenty of safe toys to keep your cat amused – it is a good idea to have a variety of toys hidden away so you can give your cat different toys to play with on different days. Ensure all toys are safe for cats; for example, avoid string toys or smaller objects that may be swallowed as these can become an intestinal obstruction, which can be fatal.
- Provide hiding areas. Cardboard boxes with holes cut into them are great for hide and seek games. Your cat may love games that involve you and you can help ensure they have opportunities to perform normal behaviours such as climbing, scratching, pouncing, chasing, stalking and exploring.
- Provide opportunities through environmental enrichment for your cat to scratch, run, jump, hide, play, smell, taste and see different things, interact with people they like and other compatible animals! You are only limited by your imagination, but some examples include tall multi-level cat scratch towers, shelving to make platforms and high walkways for your cat, purpose built tall multi-level cat furniture (and using steps or ramps to allow your cat to access tops of cupboards, and making these places comfortable for them with a bed or box to hide in!).
- Provide several scratching posts as cats love to scratch to keep their nails in good condition and to scent mark (providing scratching posts also helps to direct the scratching behaviour away from places you’d prefer they did not scratch). If you have any plants make sure they are safe for cats (check with your vet first if you’re unsure) and be aware that certain common plants, such as lilies, are fatally toxic to cats, so make sure these are not present anywhere in your home or on your property.
- Ensure that you spend enough quality time with your cat, including playing with them, grooming them, giving them cuddles, and even training them! Try hiding their favourite treats in different locations around the house for them to find, or use a food ball or puzzle feeder where your cat plays with the ball/puzzle to obtain the treat!
- Cats love to bask in the sun; make sure your cat has a nice sunny spot to lie in and window sills to sit on so they can keep an eye on the outside world and watch scenes outside which provides entertainment for them.
- Cats can be social animals so we recommend considering having two cats that get along well with each other and can keep each other company while their human owners are out. The RSPCA recommends considering adopting two cats together, e.g., a sibling kitten pair, two kittens of similar age, or any two cats that are known to get along well.
- Contained cats should have at least one litter tray available for each cat plus a spare. These should be kept away from eating and sleeping areas and in different areas around the house. Litter trays must be cleaned regularly to ensure they are not smelly or dirty which could be off-putting for your cat. This could potentially result in cats avoiding using the litter tray and urination problems.
- Provide separate food, water bowls and sleeping areas for each cat – following the same rule of thumb as for litter trays – at least one of each of these resources should be available for each cat plus a spare). Ensure clean fresh water is available at all times.
- Research shows that pheromones can help to calm stressed cats. If your cat appears stressed, talk to your vet about pheromone sprays or diffusers.
Despite keeping your cat contained to your property boundary you will still need to have them microchipped and registered with the council so that if they do accidentally get out and become lost they can be reunited with you. A collar and external ID is also recommended, just in case your cat escapes. We also strongly advise that you have your cat desexed as this will reduce the likelihood of accidental pregnancy, fighting and urine spraying and the desire to roam to find a mate.
Visit the RSPCA Australia Safe and Happy Cats website for more information.