Q: I just adopted Sam, a loving multi-colored kitty from the shelter. I already adore him. Can Sam be happy as an indoor cat, never going outside? Or, should I let him outside so he can explore the neighborhood? What do you think about installing an electric fence so he stays in the yard?
A: Sam can be happy living indoors and never venturing outside. Living indoors will also insure Sam is healthier and lives a longer life. An added benefit for not letting Sam go outdoors is that your veterinarian bills will be reduced. Cats who are allowed to roam outside face risks of contracting parasites, being stolen, dying prematurely from diseases, poisons, cars or from encounters with dogs, cats and wild animals.
I do not recommend electric or invisible fence solutions. Besides being inhumane, cats who are intent on chasing a potential meal may follow the prey animal outside of the fence boundaries, despite being shocked. Unfortunately, once the cats are outside their safety zones, they commonly won’t go back into their yards, since they don’t want to receive another painful shock. Avoiding the shock is more motivating then the familiarity and safety of their back yards.
There are other alternatives to invisible fences. Keeping the cat inside is the best alternative. Building a large outdoor enclosure is another good solution. Additionally, there are fencing systems available that keep cats in their yards without inhumanely shocking them, while keeping most predators and other animals out. One is installed on top of your existing fence. It extends up about four feet, and then has an added section which angles in at 45 degrees. Another fencing system is similar, but is a free-standing solution. One potential challenge with all fencing systems is that they don’t stop flying predators, such as large hawks and eagles who sometimes see cats as potential meals.
Instead of letting Sam outside, consider making his indoor life more interesting and fun than the outdoors. Start by increasing his environmental enrichment and providing him entertainment. Since cats love to climb, provide Sam with tall cat trees/gyms or install accessible carpeted cat shelves around the perimeter of select rooms in your home. Consider placing cat furniture near secure windows so that Sam will have the benefit of watching the neighborhood activities. Place plenty of horizontal scratchers as well as scratching posts throughout your house. Interactive toys such as ball and tract toys and puzzle boxes will also help keep Sam entertained. If you feed Sam dry food, make him work a little for it by putting some of the food in puzzle toys and treat balls. Some cats enjoy watching television. There are DVDs available just for cats that feature birds, squirrels, fish and other animals. Don’t leave the television on a station that features animal shows since the sounds of animals in distress may cause Sam to feel stressed. It is also important to interact with Sam, playing with him, grooming him, engaging him in activities that he enjoys. Clicker training is also a wonderful activity that will challenge Sam, keep him stimulated, strengthen the bonds between you and him and it’s fun for both of you. And don’t forget the option of adopting another cat buddy for Sam.