Inside scoop: Q&A with an indoor cat owner

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  7. Inside scoop: Q&A with an indoor cat owner

Meet Tess and her beloved cats, Sylvia (domestic short hair) and Sooty (domestic long hair), both adopted from a cat rescue in Wellington in 2018. Tess made the choice to keep them indoors from day one. “Safe at home, don’t let me roam” is the SPCA’s official advice: your indoor cat is more likely to enjoy a longer, healthier life, with more quality time with you and be safe from traffic and harming other animals. 

A cat on a leash outside.
Sylvia outside with her leash on, enjoying fresh air safely. Image credit: Tess Tuxford

Why and how did you make the decision to keep them indoors?

I live in a townhouse on a busy road in Newtown (a suburb in Wellington). We have a patio out the back but no real garden to speak of, so safety was the number one reason. 

I didn’t want to be stressed about the cost of vet bills if either of them got hit by a car or got in a fight. Facing the decision to either fork out thousands or put them down wasn’t something I want to put myself through.

How do you manage their indoor lifestyle? Open windows/doors, entertainment, toileting, etc.

At first, we had to change our lifestyle a little bit, like be mindful of open doors and windows and get used to emptying the cat litter. 

My dad helped me build a chicken wire insert that pops into our French doors so we can open the doors and the cats can look out. We only open windows partially, or those located out of reach, but the cats don’t seem very interested in escaping.

We have toys, like little mice on strings and plenty of cat trees and boxes for them to play in. When they were kittens, they wanted to play lots and would run around the two-story townhouse, but they’ve matured and spend a lot of time sleeping in the sun, or batting each other and rolling around with cat nip. They mainly just want cuddles and pats from us. 

Sylvia the cat poking her head through a cardboard box labelled "ice cream"
Who ordered the vanilla cone? Scoops up with Slyvia in her play box. Image credit: Tess Tuxford

Do you ever take your cats outside on supervised outings or use enclosed outdoor spaces like catios?

Sylvia outside on her leash, enjoying fresh air and sunshine. Image credit: Tess Tuxford

We take them out on little harnesses and leashes. We started training them to be used to the harness early on. We lead them around our little patio or on the edge of the steep bush bank at the back of the house.

Sometimes I’ll even just sit outside on the patio reading a book while holding the leash. They’ll smell the smells, meow at birds, get fresh air and a bit of exercise.

Do you ever worry you are restricting their natural hunting instinct?

Not at all, we keep them pretty entertained in other ways. I’m really not interested in cleaning up dead things they would otherwise bring into the house. We looked it up, and the SPCA says it’s not a problem as long as there are substitute activities. 

What do you like most about keeping your cat inside?

I always know where they are and that they’re safe and will live for much longer. Sylvia follows me from room to room; she’s my constant buddy at home.

I have friends who have had really stressful nights when their cat hasn’t come home, and I sleep much more soundly with Sylvie or Sooty beside me.

Sylvia and Sooty posing regally in the sun. Image credit: Tess Tuxford

On the flip side, what are the challenges or drawbacks? Kitty litter trays can’t smell good.

Yeah, they don’t! We started out having an open cat litter tray but very quickly moved to an enclosed cat litter box, and there’s less of a smell problem now. 

We’re always vacuuming up cat hair, it gets all over my clothes and bed. But I figure that’s a problem even if you had roaming cats, too!

What advice would you give to other cat owners?

Sylvia inspecting a cat toy
Sylvia inspects a new toy. Image credit: Tess Tuxford

Keep them indoors from a young age.

Get an enclosed litter tray.

Find ways to give them enrichment and exercise with toys and puzzles.

Get two cats, if you can, so they always have a buddy and don’t get bored. 

The Predator Free New Zealand Trust, animal welfare agencies and others have been advocating for a National Cat Act to set expectations on cat ownership and the management of stray and feral cats. We have created a template email to send to your local MP to help spur the change that is needed to protect our native wildlife and reinforce responsible pet ownership.