a tabby and white cat stands on a windowsill and looks out of the window

Indoor cats

  • Cats who live indoors still need to exhibit their natural behaviours to remain healthy
  • If you’re thinking of getting an indoor cat you will need to set up your home so that your cat physically and mentally healthy
  • Indoor cats can experience behavioural problems, but our advice can help

Whether your cat lives inside permanently or is on strict instructions to be kept indoors for a period of time due to an injury or illness, our advice will help you make sure they are happy and healthy.

Natural cat behaviour

Stalking, hunting and climbing are just some of the things that make a cat a cat. Our modern day moggies are descended from African wild cats but to this day they still retain those genetic instincts that enable them to hunt and catch prey, and being able to show those behaviours keeps them mentally stimulated and happy. 
 

a black and white cat swipes at a toy in front of them
Cats need to be able to exhibit natural behaviours even if they live indoors

Having access to the outside world is the best way to allow a cat to do all of these things, but when it’s not possible for cats to exercise these natural behaviours outside, they will need an alternative way of doing so inside. Cats who aren’t given the opportunity to act in their natural way will not only become unhappy, but it is likely they will develop behavioural problems too. For these reasons, Blue Cross does not recommend keeping cats as indoor-only house pets, unless there is a really good reason why the particular cat should be confined inside.


Thinking of getting a house cat?

If you’re hoping to add a new cat to your family and you specifically want a cat who will live indoors, it’s really important to choose a cat for whom living indoors is the right situation for that individual cat.

Choose the right indoor cat

Cats who have previously lived outside will not cope well with a change of lifestyle where they go from having the freedom to explore a wide area to their surroundings only being inside. There are lots of things you can do to keep indoor cats entertained (see below) but this may not be enough to satisfy the mind of a cat who is used to being able to do all the things that are in their nature outdoors, and will likely result in problem behaviours including clawing at and urinating on furniture and carpets. Blue Cross does not rehome healthy cats to homes where they must live indoors, even if they have lived as indoor-only cats in the past, unless we feel an inside lifestyle is right for that particular cat.

We do rehome cats to indoor-only homes where the cat has a health problem which prevents them from going outside.

Thinking of getting another indoor cat?

Adding another indoor cat to a household where you already have one or more indoor cats is likely to cause problems. 

Cats like to have their own territory in which to live their daily lives of both exploring and relaxing, and they tend to want to do these activities on their own. Where multiple cats live in the small area of a house or flat, the space available to each cat is limited, and that’s when conflict can occur. Cats become easily stressed when they don’t have their own space, and you are likely to see problem behaviour such as spraying and scratching, and aggression towards each other becomes more likely.

Find out more about multi-cat households here.

Reasons why some cats are kept indoors

On average, cats who are kept inside do live longer than cats who go outside, and this is largely due to the number of cats killed in road accidents.
Common reasons why people choose to keep their cat indoors include:
•    Living near a busy road
•    Living in an area with a high cat population
•    Cat has health problems
•    Cat is elderly

The majority of pet cats in the UK do have access to the outside world. International Cat Care estimates the number of pets kept indoors is 10 per cent.

Be realistic

Cats who live indoors have only your home as their day and nighttime environment. Cats like exploring, scratching, and tearing about sometimes, and if your home is the only place they can do this then your soft furnishings are likely to take a hit. If you’re houseproud, an indoor cat probably isn’t the pet for you.


How to keep your indoor cat happy and healthy

If you choose to keep your cat indoors, or you need to because of a health issue, you will need to make sure your cat can exhibit their natural behaviours inside. These include:

Hunting behaviours

Cats are natural predators and although in our modern world they rely on us for food, their need to do all the things that makes them cats remains ingrained. Hunting behaviours include staring, stalking, hiding, pouncing and catching. All of these activities are brilliant mental stimulation for cats, and many keep their bodies in shape too.

A selection of toys and games will help keep your cat’s brain active. Fishing rod toys are great for stalking and pouncing. Toys needn’t be expensive. Cats love boxes and will happily play inside structures made from newspaper and cardboard. Why not make them a tent, or even their own castle? Putting some treats inside a used toilet roll and getting your cat to find them is another good brain workout.

a cat scratch tree with several posts and levels for cats to sit on
Scratch posts or trees encourage cats' natural behaviours

Sharpening their claws

Scratching posts give your cat something to scratch that isn’t your furniture. Scratching trees are even better for indoor cats as they have different levels for your cat to explore, and encourage climbing. Scratching also helps to strengthen your cat’s muscles. The post needs to be high enough for your cat to reach up fully. Indoor cats ideally need more than one scratching post in different locations in the home. A good place to keep them is near their bed/a favourite sleeping spot.

Climbing and resting

Climbing is brilliant physical exercise for cats and getting up high means they can find a quiet spot to watch the world go by, and relax. It’s especially important for indoor cats to have a number of safe spaces high up that they can access without the risk of falling. You could clear a top shelf, put a cosy bed or blanket on top of your wardrobes, or put up new shelves for your cat to climb. Radiator beds are ideal, particularly for cats who are getting on a bit and for whom the days of reaching a spot close to the ceiling are in the past.

Going to the toilet

Litter trays should be kept clean for all cats and in a quiet part of the home, but this is particularly important for indoor cats as they don’t have an alternative place to go. Cats can become stressed if they don’t have a clean and quiet place to go to the loo.

Eating

Puzzle feeders are a brilliant way of keeping your cat mentally stimulated. They are more complex than giving a cat their food in a simple bowl. They may be bowls with grooves or raised areas so the cat needs to use their paws or tongue to get to the food, or a ball or box with holes in. You can feed all your cat’s meals in a puzzle feeder. Feeding dry food is best for puzzle feeders that are enclosed, as these can be more difficult to clean, but wet food can be given in feeders with open tops. 

Treat balls are a good idea as you can fill them with some of the normal daily food allowance and then let the cat work for its food by chasing the ball until the treats fall out – this fulfils the natural hunting instinct as well as making the cat exercise and work off some calories.


Could you let your cat outside?

There are many reasons why owners make the decision to keep their cats indoors, perhaps a previous pet was heartbreakingly killed on the road, or maybe the home is a high rise flat in a city centre and it just isn’t possible to let them out. You know your cat best and you will make your decisions based on their quality of life, but even if you can’t let your cat roam the neighbourhood, there are alternatives to consider.
Garden access: there are many fences available that claim to ensure your cat will stay in your garden (of course, this isn’t an option if you don’t have a garden). If your cat is not a master of escape, consider installing fencing that is positioned inwards into the garden to prevent cats from climbing out. Fencing that gives electric shocks causes cats harm and should not be used.
Catios: an alternative option to fencing is to install an enclosure in part of your garden or on your patio – a cat patio, or ‘catio’. These wooden and wire structures have the option of different levels for your cat to enjoy climbing and relaxing and a space of their own in your garden, while giving you peace of mind that you will always know where they are.

If your cat is unhappy living inside and you have made the decision to introduce them to your neighbourhood environment, our guide to letting your cat out for the first time will help.


Common problems of indoor cats

Obesity: cats who don’t have the ability to exercise can quickly become overweight and unhealthy. Monitor your indoor cat’s food intake and make sure they have ample opportunities to climb and play.

Stress: cats spend a lot of their time resting and sleeping, and they need quiet spaces to do this. When a home is busy and there are few areas available to get that rest, cats become stressed.

Anxiety: indoor cats exist in a small environment and do not cope as well with change as those who go outside. New people, changes in furniture and the addition of new pets or babies can upset an indoor cat more.

Needy: indoor cats do not have the opportunity to explore the world on their own terms and rely on their owners for support. This can lead to over-dependence, and lead to stress when their owners go away on holiday.

Damaging the home: a bored cat is often a destructive cat. If an indoor cat doesn’t have enough stimulation they will likely seek entertainment on objects in the home (they have no awareness of how much your now-scratched new sofa cost, or the sentimental value of a smashed ornament).
If your cat has suddenly started showing a problem behaviour, the first port of call should be your vet. They will check your pet for any physical health issue that might be causing problem, and refer you to an animal behaviourist if needed.

— Page last updated 12/09/2019

Did you find this helpful?

We provide free pet advice as every pet deserves to be well looked after. We treated around 35,000 sick injured and homeless pets last year. We're so glad we've been able to help these pets who are unable to help themselves, but there are thousands of sick and lonely pets still in need, so we need to ask for a small favour.

All of our work is funded entirely through donations. People like you are essential to our work. If everyone who benefits from our articles is able to give a little back, we can reach thousands more pets. For as little as £1 you can make a difference - do you have one minute? Thank you.