Domesticated cats have adapted to live comfortably alongside most humans and other animals in a wide variety of different environments.
A cat could be the perfect pet for an older lady past her seventies who spends most of her time in front of the television. At the same time, a cat could also be the ideal pet for a couple who spends most of their day at work (and nighttimes at home).
Cats are adaptable by their nature.
But when cats are in nature, they have a lot of space to roam and explore. Even domesticated cats are known for having a territory that might extend several miles away from their home – and most of the time, their owners have no idea how far their cats might go while their owners aren’t looking.
It leads many cat owners to ask questions about cats and space.
How small is too small of a space to keep a cat in? Is it cruel to keep a cat in one room? Do cats have to have access to the outdoors?
These questions are more than a matter of opinion. They are a matter of your pet’s mental and physical well being. If a pet is being kept inside (or restricted to one room long term), there are certain things that a pet owner has to keep in mind in order to be fair and responsible to their pet.
The size of the space and the duration of the stay in the space matters. Sometimes, it’s only temporary and might be something an owner has to do for a cat with health issues. Other times, a cat owner might live somewhere where safe access to the outdoors is not possible for their pet cat and the situation becomes a question of how much space does an indoor cat need?
Here’s what owners should know about keeping a cat in one room (and when it might be appropriate to do it).
Is It Cruel To Keep A Cat In One Room?
It is cruel to keep a cat in one room indefinitely. The smaller the room or the longer the duration of incarceration the crueler it is. It is cruel because the cat will not have access to space for exercise, and will likely lack mental stimulation. This means a cat confined to a room for a duration may develop obesity and mental problems over time – just because you kept it confined to a room!
But what about the vet who confines a cat to a cage for ongoing treatment or a pound that keeps cats in closet-sized enclosures or what about a cattery where you might leave your cat when you go on vacation or advice to confine a new cat to a room when you are introducing new cats to a home where you already have cats?
All these are examples of short-duration stays in a confined space. The duration is critical here and is what makes these circumstances ok.
A cat confined at the vet is likely feeling vulnerable and an enclosed space may make them feel sheltered and protected and actually reduce stress. When the vet tells you to confine your cat because they have stitches that need to heal or they have a damaged limb that can’t take weight these are circumstances that are temporary and therefore not likely to result in long-term issues such as obesity or mental issues.
Many pounds actually keep numerous cats loose in single rooms these days so they can exercise together, play together, and are mentally stimulated. Likewise, catteries or places that you leave your cat temporarily will often give the cat free access to a large enclosed building or will offer a “room” for the cat with an outdoor closure and indoor space with stimulation – some offer cat TV – tablets playing tv programs to give your cat stimulation!
When you are introducing a new cat to a home with other cats it is advisable to keep them in a room until all members of the household are properly introduced. This is a temporary arrangement and is therefore not cruel.
Is It Cruel To Keep A Cat In A Room Overnight?
It is not cruel to keep a cat in a room overnight because the situation is temporary and does not prevent the cat from getting exercise in the long term or being mentally stimulated in the long term. The cat may cry, and you may feel that is a sign of cruelty – but the cat is only voicing displeasure at the change of routine. They usually settle into the new routine given time.
We are not talking about locking your cat in a bathroom or closet here. We are talking about the cat being shut in a reasonably sized room it can walk around in. Ideally, the room should have access to a window that the cat can look out from.
To ensure the cat is not treated cruelly you should provide access to a litter tray and water. This way the cat won’t try to hold on before relieving itself and get in a mental state where it may cry out rather than foul the home.
What about food? You could keep the cat in a room without food if you have them on a food routine that you strictly adhere to. If you are going to mess up the routine by being late from work or getting up late on a weekend you should make sure the cat has food if they are confined to a room!
Is It Cruel To Keep A Cat In An Apartment?
It is not cruel to keep a cat in an apartment if they have access to multiple rooms in the apartment. It is not cruel to keep a cat in an apartment if they have regular access to the outdoors (this might just be for a few hours per day, not necessarily at a time of their choosing through a cat flap or the like).
It is cruel to keep a cat in one room in an apartment with no access beyond the room or outdoors for the same reason it is cruel to keep a cat in a room indefinitely.
If a cat has access to several rooms in an apartment – a bedroom, hallway, and living room the cat will view the multiple rooms as distinct areas of a wider territory and will probably move between the areas and spend time in each area through the day for mental stimulation and routine! They also have room for exercise and will likely spend a mad half hour running around like a looney every other day – this is just blowing the cobwebs off, exercise to your cat!
How To Keep A Cat In A Room (For A Short Duration)
If you have to keep your cat in a room for a few hours whilst you are at work or overnight so you can sleep undisturbed or whilst you are introducing them to the home you should provide amenities so they are neither stressed nor deprived.
You should provide drinking water, scratching facilities, and litter tray facilities. These should be well spaced out. The room should be big enough so that the cat can walk around and not feel confined. Ideally, the room should have a window with access so the cat can view the outside world if they like. Food should be made available at routine, reasonable intervals.
The most important thing is that they are allowed beyond the room at reasonable intervals. If you keep your cat in a room overnight let them out into the rest of the house at the same time every day as a matter of routine. If you do not, they become agitated.
If they are confined whilst you are at work, let them out on your return as a matter of routine. If you are introducing them to a new home with other cats see these instructions for letting them into the wider home.
A cat will adapt – it is up to you the owner, to ensure they do not become mentally stressed, are stimulated, and are able to get enough exercise so they do not suffer the health consequences of being confined.
Special Considerations For Indoor Cats
So if you are going to restrict your cat’s movements and prevent them from getting wider access to the world – essentially turning them into indoor-only cats – are there any special considerations you should take?
Diet and exercise are key, as well as mental stimulation. As we touched on, it will be for you to provide the stimulation that your cat would have received from the wider world if they had been free.
You will need to play with your cat on a daily basis to give it the exercise and mental stimulation that will prevent it from developing behavioral problems or mental stress issues.
This play will need to be vigorous to keep them fit. They will need to play so hard they pant! Additionally, it needs to go on as long as the cat wants it to. A successful play session will have your cat out of breath or satisfied to the point they won’t take part anymore.
Diet should be restricted to specific meal times – no free feeding. Indoor cats that free to feed can overeat from boredom and become obese. Best to feed at set times of the day.
Provide mental stimulation – cat scratching posts to let them scratch claws naturally, cat trees to provide different height levels to their indoor territory, access to windows so they can watch cat tv or survey the world and avoid boredom.
A cat can lead a happy life indoors if supplied with the basics. Space, exercise, stimulation, shelter and food!