Indoor cats: a guide to keeping your cat inside

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You might feel your cat is safest kept indoors, but how can you keep a house cat happy?


Research by Nottingham Trent University in 2021 revealed that 41% of cat owners keep their pets indoors permanently – the majority citing concerns about safety as a deciding factor.

More than half of the indoor cat owners (59%) said their greatest concern was traffic, with 13% of owners worried about their pets being stolen or intentionally harmed.

The number of indoor cats has risen sharply over recent years and researchers expect this trend to continue in line with expanding urbanisation. Cats with medical conditions or disabilities that impair their senses may be safer staying indoors, but vets and animal welfare organisations generally believe the majority of cats should have access to the great outdoors.

Hunting and climbing are natural behaviours for cats and it is important that all cats have the opportunity to do this. In fact, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) makes it an owner’s legal responsibility to ensure a cat – or any other pet – is able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.

While some cats are quite content being housebound, others can become miserable if stuck indoors, so it’s important to know the signs of a happy cat.

How can you tell if your cat is happy indoors?

Signs that an indoor cat is happy and thriving include:

  • Displaying their natural instincts by spending part of the day ‘hunting’ toys, scratching a scratching post and interacting with their environment
  • Staring out of the window or watching TV. This shows that a cat is stimulated by what is going on around them
  • Meowing, purring and seeking affection
  • A healthy appetite and willingness to use a litter tray

Indoor vs outdoor

A cat that’s kept indoors is safe from busy roads, cannot get into scraps with neighbourhood cats, is protected from being stolen (especially if they’re a valuable pedigree breed) and won’t be able to bring home ‘gifts’ of dead birds or mice. 

However, an indoor cat can become bored if not mentally stimulated, overweight through lack of exercise, or stressed if their natural urges to explore cannot be fulfilled.

If you choose to let your cat go outdoors, it’s a good idea to try to keep them in at night as road accidents and cat fights are more likely to happen in the dark. A cat flap linked to your pet’s microchip will allow them to come and go during the day without giving any other passing moggies access to their food.

The choices that cat owners make can have a great impact on their pets’ wellbeing, health and happiness, so you need to weigh up the pros and cons, which will be different between cats.

Nervous cats generally prefer to stay closer to home – especially if there are feline bullies living in the neighbourhood – but outgoing, avid hunters can soon become depressed if they find themselves incarcerated. 

It’s all down to what’s best for an individual cat and you are best placed to assess your own pet’s quality of life.

How to have a happy house cat    


If you decide to keep your cat indoors, the following top tips will help them live life to the full and cater for their natural instincts.

  • Provide a litter tray in a quiet place and clean it regularly. Cats like privacy to go to the toilet and will not want it to be situated too close to their food bowls. They also don’t like their food and water in the same place, so keep bowls apart
  • Make your cat work for their food by putting it in a treat ball or puzzle feeder. This will give them a good mental workout at the same time and help keep boredom at bay
  • Ensure your cat has access to enough indoor space across several rooms and has plenty of places to hide away
  • Provide at least two types of resting place – a floor level den enclosed on three sides, and a place higher up with a good view
  • Install scratching posts in several locations around the house so your cat can burn off energy while sharpening their claws. This will also save your furniture and curtains!
  • Ensure your cat stays active by providing plenty of opportunities to play. Cardboard boxes, used toilet roll tubes and balls of screwed up paper are often as exciting – if not more so – than shop-bought cat toys
  • Fishing rod type toys are a great way of encouraging natural stalking and pouncing behaviours. A cat’s hunting sequence is not just about catching their dinner – the act of stalking prey actually releases happy hormones in their brains
  • A bored cat can become a destructive cat, which can be a problem for house proud owners. Provide enrichment activities so your cat doesn’t make their own entertainment by pulling apart your furnishings or knocking ornaments off shelves
  • Take time to interact with your cat. This is more important with indoor cats who won’t be interacting with other animals and people outside of the home
  • Don’t leave your cat home alone for long periods during the day. They’ll become lonely and bored stuck in on their own without any human contact
  • If you have a garden, you could install fencing that’s positioned inwards to make it impossible for your cat to climb, or build a closed in wooden and wire structure to give them some secure garden time
  • If a cat that’s used to being indoors does find themselves suddenly out in the world, they’re likely to become stressed and disorientated. You’ll need to ensure your cat can’t escape from your home by keeping windows and doors closed 

What if you have more than one cat?

Cats like to have their own territory and can become easily stressed if they don’t have their own space. Cats enjoy exploring and relaxing on their own so conflict can occur in multi-cat households if there is limited space. 

To help reduce aggression and spraying in the home, you should ensure each cat has their own spacious territory, which includes feeding and toileting areas. 

I’ve spent 20 years writing about pets and exploring the wonderful relationships they have with their owners. I started as a staff writer on Dogs Today magazine, working my way up to become deputy editor in 2008. In 2010, I left the office to pursue a freelance career, relocated to north Norfolk and started a family. 

Over the years I’ve contributed thoughtful human-interest features, celebrity interviews and investigative news stories to publications including The Sunday Times, Dogs Today, Dogs Monthly and Your Cat. I’ve also ghost-written veterinary books and press releases for the pet industry.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy long walks in the Norfolk countryside with my rescue lurcher Popsie. These are always followed by tea and cake.