Anyone who has ever had a cat can tell you how much fun it can be to share your home with such witty and self-sufficient creatures.
For those who live in small or shared spaces, however, bringing a cat home could mean that your pet will spend all of its time in a small space or single room. This begs the question: is it cruel to keep a cat in one room?
In short, the answer is “no.” Keeping a cat in one room is not a cruel practice as long as space is utilized wisely to ensure enough stimulation and socialization for its inhabitant(s). There are a lot of options available to you to help you create the perfect room for your cat. It all depends, ultimately, on what’s in the room.
Can Living in a Confined Space Really Be Satisfying for a Cat?
The answer is a resounding yes! When you understand what cats require in order to be comprehensively healthy, it becomes easier to provide the means to meet your cat’s instinctual needs even while living in tight and/or shared spaces.
The most pertinent question to ask is whether the cat will have sufficient stimuli within the confines of any living space.
Ohio State University emphasizes the importance of cats being able to “maintain their natural behaviors such as scratching, chewing, and elimination” in order to avoid behavioral problems.
Additionally, The Humane Society states that the idea that cats cannot live happily indoors is a myth. A cat’s instincts can be stimulated and satisfied in ways that don’t require time outside, or with controlled outdoor activities.
You don’t have to worry about making your cat unhappy as long as you do some work to ensure they won’t get bored while inside.
An important recommendation is to keep a cat who will be kept in confined indoor spaces inside from the time that they are a kitten.
Acclimatizing a Cat
It will be much more difficult to acclimate a cat who is accustomed to having more space to roam, or who is used to spending free time outdoors, acclimated to a smaller space once they are an adult.
According to experts like Dr. Phil Zeltzman, raising cats indoors is actually the safest option for them because when given free rein the outdoor cats are exposed to risks posed by vehicles, other animals or predators, and people.
The experts at WebMD also agree that living outdoors can be dangerous for our feline friends because it increases their risk of exposure to “infectious diseases such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).”
While allowing your cat to roam freely might seem like an appealing option, keeping them indoors is by far the safer option.
Make Sure You Create a Stimulating Environment
According to cat behavior expert and author Pam Johnson-Bennett, “What matters most to a cat is the quality of the space.”
Unlike people or dogs, cats are not confined to the restraints of life on the floor; they have the freedom to move up and down. “Cats live in a vertical world, and we live in a horizontal world,” Johnson-Bennett says.
Providing an indoor perch or cat tree in the room where a cat will be spending its day is one way to make sure your cat gets enough stimulation. A window perch can be a great place for a cat to nap and watch the goings-on of their surroundings.
Alternatively, a good cat tree can provide your cat with cozy places to nap, hide away, climb, scratch, and perch at various heights.
With so many different forms of stimulation (or escape from stimulation), cat trees are probably one of the most effective ways to entertain a cat with one single item.
Socialization Is Important for a Healthy and Happy Cat
While providing stimuli for a cat in a confined space is important, it will never take the place of actual socialization.
When you’re home, you should make time every day to play with your cat. Bringing out the toys and encouraging your cat to bounce and run will go a long way in keeping them happy and in good health.
Quality time with your cat can also be used to take your cat on supervised visits outdoors and can help you to avoid anxiety about whether your cat’s room is satisfying their needs sufficiently.
Training a cat to walk with a harness and leash from the time they are young can make for some very enjoyable moments together in the great outdoors.
Stephanie Clifford with the New York Times writes that positive reinforcement works best when training a cat on a leash and chronicles the results that can be achieved by going outdoors with your cat:
“Six months after I started, I have a relaxed cat, a new admiration for his pluck and agility, and, probably, a growing reputation as the weird cat lady.”
If safely walking around together isn’t an option, consider bringing the outdoors to your cat.
You can plant cat grass in your cat’s room to give them a spot to roll and play in their own personal corner of nature.
You could even start an indoor kitty garden with plants that are known to be popular with cats like lemongrass and catnip.
Sharing the space with Cats
Another thing to consider is how many cats will be sharing the space. Having more than one cat live together can be good for socialization and entertainment, assuming the cats get along well, but it also requires accommodations to prevent conflict.
For example, if you plan on having multiple cats use a single cat tree, be sure to get one with multiple arms.
“In a multi-cat environment,” Johnson-Bennett says, “even if that environment is very small, the use of a multi-perched cat tree can encourage cats to share a space without disrupting any status issues between them.”
According to the Alberta SPCA, cats who live in a shared space should each have access to their own individual hiding area, perch, and arm on a cat tree at any given time in order to avoid any risk of crossing paths or being disturbed by other cats.
Ensuring that multiple cats won’t disturb each other’s space is essential to keeping everyone happy.
It’s very important to remember, however, that even if your cats (somehow) get along perfectly well, interaction with each other is not a substitute for attention from their owners.
Setting aside time to bring out the cat toys and play with your cats will keep them in good spirits, so don’t neglect to interact with them daily.
Cats Are the Ultimate Neat Freaks, so Be Ready to Clean
Cats absolutely value a clean living space, so whether your cat lives alone or shares its room with other cats, staying on top of the litter box is going to be an important factor in keeping your cat feeling good.
Not cleaning the litter box every day could result in your cat “going” where they shouldn’t.
It is also recommended by experts like those at PetMD for cats not to share a single litter box.
In fact, they recommend that you have one more litter box than you have cats, so that’s a consideration for smaller spaces; sharing litter boxes with others can cause stress for cats.
In addition to those mentioned here, there are other resources online like this YouTube video from UK-based feline welfare charity Cats Protection that can help you be sure you are doing all you can to ensure a healthy environment for your cat.
The best resource for your pet, however, is their own veterinarian, so don’t be shy about asking for their advice.
Living in a small space or a shared home does not have to mean that you have to miss out on the joys of inviting a cat (or two) into your family.
With enough patience and diligence from both you and your furry friend, living in smaller spaces like studio apartments or a single room in a larger house can be intimate, fun, and cozy for everyone.