It can be a dilemma when getting a cat to decide whether it will be an indoor exclusive cat, outdoor only or a combination of both. I have had all of the above, and there is no right or wrong. However, you must consider what is best for each cat's personality and its environmental challenges.
There are many circumstances in which keeping a cat indoors may be safer for the cat, and, therefore, arguably, better for the cat. Indoor cats are at a lower risk for injuries associated with the outdoor environment and are at far less risk of contracting parasites and infectious diseases, such as feline leukemia. Studies have consistently shown that urban cats that go outdoors have far shorter life spans (averaging 2 years or less), while most indoor cats will live more than 15 years.
If you do decide to keep your cat or cats indoors, what do you need to do to keep them happy? The most important thing to consider when you decide to keep a cat indoors is how you are going to provide for its behavioral needs. Obviously, you will have thought about the need for food, water, elimination and warmth, but have you considered your cat's need to hunt, play and explore, its need to be able to retreat and hide and its need to feel in control? Instituting a consistent daily routine that provides for all of the behavioral needs of your cat is not difficult, but it does require some time, some thought and some commitment. For social play, toys that can be moved rapidly and unpredictably are irresistible to some cats. I would recommend you try to initiate play sessions three times daily at different times and with different toys.
How should we feed an indoor cat? For wild cats, hunting and feeding can take up several hours a day and expend a great deal of energy. It's not hard to see how simply providing free choice food in a bowl is likely to leave most cats with a lot of time on their paws! Cats that have access to the outdoors may compensate by spending time hunting, but, for an indoor cat, a different approach will be needed. One solution is to put a portion of the cat's daily food ration in a puzzle feeder or feeder toy, which the cat needs to work at to gain access to the food. Another is to scatter the food around the house in several bowls and let the cat hunt it out.
Hiding is an important coping strategy for cats, but when a cat spends considerable amounts of time hiding, it is important to examine why. If the cat has recently moved into a new home, hiding may be a perfectly normal response to the overwhelming amount of new information. If the cat has been living in the house for some time, hiding is likely to be a sign that all is not well, either emotionally or perhaps physically. Recent studies indicate indoor cats are stressed, especially in multi-cat households. Indoor cats have more episodes of feline lower urinary tract disease and bladder infections. It is important to provide multiple litter boxes and multiple food and water access if you have multiple cats.
Feliway, a synthetic feline pheromone, can be useful in some of these cases for reducing anxiety. This comes in a spray and a plug in diffuser. This is good to locate around litter boxes and feeding areas.
To learn more about indoor cats and stress, and how to alleviate it, visit the Indoor Cat Initiative at indoorpet.edu.