Can Indoor Cats be Happy?
By Christie Keith
A story about my cat enclosure appeared in the March 7, 2003 edition of USA Today! Read it here!
One of the biggest contradictions in my life is the fact that I keep my cats indoors. Here I am, the big proponent of the natural lifestyle, and my cats can't go out and hunt, climb trees, and be cats?
Indoor cats might miss out on some good things, but they also miss out on getting hit by cars, cat fights, fleas, ticks, and infectious diseases. The average life span of an indoor cat is a little over 14 years; for the outdoor cat, it is barely two. While some indoor cats might miss fresh air and sunshine and exercise, the truth is, all those things and more are available to the indoor cat with a dedicated owner.
A Safe Taste of Outdoors
There are several options for those who want to let their cats have the benefits of time outdoors without the risks. One is taking your cats for leash walks, another is having a special fence on your outdoor space that is "cat proof," and the other, which is my personal choice, is a cat enclosure.
What is a cat enclosure? It can be anything from a screened-in window box that a cat can use to indulge his or her lifelong interest in ornithology, to a large, multi-level, outdoor wired-in wonderland.
The most important thing to consider when designing a cat enclosure is that it be truly secure. Cats are smart and agile, and can often get out of even the most well-constructed confinement. In my new enclosure, I had a cement sill poured around the perimeter, so nothing could dig in and no one could dig out!
You can see photos of many examples of cat enclosures at AnimalNetwork, as well as the photos of mine on this page.
Do my cats enjoy it? They sure do! They go out early every morning and watch the sun come up. They sit in its highest reaches at night and watch moths and bats swooping in the beam of the outdoor light. They roll in the dirt and eat grass on its lowest level, and watch birds in the branches of the trees from the third story. They even sit outside my office window and scold me when I have missed an important deadline, like dinner.
Cat enclosures, like aviaries, can be beautiful and exotic touches in the garden, especially with vines and climbing roses planted on the outside of them. Inside, you can plant cat grass in containers, and catmint and catnip in the ground, for a delightful feline environment that is also a joy to your eyes. And if your neighbors don't have free-roaming cats, it also means you no longer have to garden in the kitty toilet.
I personally have never successfully managed to leash train a cat, but some of my friends are big fans of a cat containment system called the Cat Fence-In System.
Basically a wire and frame barrier to be added to an existing fence, the cat fence-in system allows cats to play and roam in a confined area, without running the risk of getting out. The system includes tree-climbing and gate barriers, and won the Cat Fancy Editor's Choice Award in 1992 for best new cat product.
Information on the Cat Fence-In System is available from the manufacturer at http://www.catfencein.com/ (no commercial interest).
Update:: I recently discovered another cat fencing system that works a little differently and looks like another great option for giving indoor cats some safe time in the sunlight. It's called the "Purrfect Cat Fence" and you can find more information at http://www.purrfectfence.com/ (no commercial interest).
Want to Know More About Indoor Cats?
In his best-selling book The Cat Who Came for Christmas, the late author and self-proclaimed curmudgeon Cleveland Amory described the philosophy and history of the indoor cat movement as lived by his cat, Polar Bear. Amory's struggle (vain, as it turned out) to leash walk the cat, followed by his surrender of half his New York penthouse balcony to the cat, will inspire the most doubtful cat owner that, yes, a cat can live a happy, rich life without running lose.
Cat experts Anitra Frazier and Norma Eckoate, authors of The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners , have some sharp observations on the dangers faced by free-roaming cats in their now-out-of-print and hard to find book It's A Cat's Life. One of the cats in the book, a stray Frazier helped find a home for, ended up with an entire wired-in yard. (So much for Amory's wired-in half balcony.)
You can view more photos of my cat enclosure, including a series showing how it was designed and built, in the PetHobbyist.com photo gallery: