Can a Cat Live in an Apartment?
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Despite years of domestication, cats are still animals. They have innate instincts which hark back to their wild ancestry. This doesn't mean they can't be wonderful companions, but it does mean you need to be considerate of how they adapt to certain environments. When you observe cats outside, you will see they often enjoy running up trees, jumping in the shrubbery and chasing whatever they consider to be their prey that day.
For many people, their domestic situation means it is unsafe to let their feline venture outside. This could be due to city living or residing next to a busy road. You may even live in a flat or apartment which is too high for safe access. If you are wondering can a cat live in an apartment, then the answer is yes. However, knowing whether they will be happy is a different question.
Are cats happy in apartments?
When your cat is at home snoozing on the sofa, eating contentedly or cozying up for a snuggle, it's hard to imagine they are anything but blissfully happy. All of their animal welfare needs are being covered, as far as you are aware. You also love them dearly and would be very upset if you thought there was anything causing upset in their lives.
On the other hand, you may see your cat seeming agitated. Even if they do show you affection, there may be other times where they hide in a dark place or run from your attention without any discernible reason why. The reasons for this are many, but one which can be tricky is that they are a cat with a personality not well suited to indoor living. Cats have a range of personalities which are generally put into five categories, according to cat behavior researcher Lauren Finka.
Some cats have a personality which makes them well-suited to staying indoors all day. Others will have a personality type which can lead to frustration and stress caused by not going outside. Perhaps they have a strong hunting instinct or a need for socialization which isn't met by their human family alone. Usually this will be due to instinctive preference rather than a fundamental need, but it can be difficult for many cats to suppress such desires.
Another reason cats may not be good apartment pets is due to their exercise requirements. Some are simply more energetic or even hyperactive cats than others and will find being cooped up in a small space more difficult. This also depends on the size of your home. For example, some studio apartments are often quite small and do not have much open space. If you are fortunate to live in a large apartment with a terrace, this may be sufficient.
Another important factor in whether your cat is able to live in an apartment is due to their sexual activity. Neutered cats lose their drive to mate, commonly resulting in a reduction of escapist behavior. If you live with a sexually-intact cat, they may act jittery or even aggressive when in heat. An outdoor cat will have more opportunity to vent their frustration.
If your cat is hyperactive and jittery at home, it is unlikely they are the definition of a happy ‘housecat’. Contented house cats tend to be happy and peaceful in the home environment. If this is the case, what can we do? Should we let them out (even if this is a dangerous prospect)? Or are there other ways to help them adapt?
Advantages and disadvantages of having a cat in an apartment
When bringing any cat into our home (whether from a cattery, breeder or shelter), we need to ensure the five freedoms of animal welfare are met. These freedoms are put in place to ensure a cat's basic needs, best ensuring their mental or physical well-being. For this reason, many pet owners will not let their cats outside as there are dangers which threaten these freedoms. This may change according to the circumstance.
Let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of a cat living indoors in an apartment:
Not letting a cat out of the apartment
- You can assure a cat has its basic needs at all times including food, water, places to rest, etc.
- In very active cats, the limited space can cause frustration and stress.
- The hours of fun, enrichment and company depend on the availability of the owner.
- We can still simulate instinctual cat hunting behavior and other play behaviors with toys and games.
Letting a cat out of the apartment
- The cat has more room to perform physical activities.
- They have much more stimuli in the outside world.
- They can exercise their innate hunting instinct with small animals.
- It could lead to unwanted pregnancy.
- Can fight with other animals (especially other cats fighting for dominance).
- They run the risk of being run over by a car, poisoned by eating something toxic or getting lost, among other dangers.
A cat which is unhappy in the home and frustrated at not going outside will show their frustration in a number of ways. These include not eating, eating to excess (developing feline obesity), defecating outside the litter box, exhibiting behavioral problems and, of course, consistently trying to get outside. In the most serious of cases, you should consult your vet or an ethologist to ensure there isn't another underlying problem leading to this behavior.
If you think there are other reasons why your cat may be angry, you should consider their feline language and methods of communication. This article on signs to know if your cat is happy might help you better understand your relationship with each other. This way you can determine if apartment living is the problem for your cat or some other issue.
How to help a cat live in a apartment
So, if you still need to know whether a cat can live in an apartment, the answer is yes. Sometimes we need to be more proactive to ensure our cat is happy and comfortable when adjusting to living in a flat. One of the keys is environmental enrichment for cats, meaning that they have adequate stimulation to provide a happy indoor life. It will also help prevent behavioral problems, frustration and anxiety.
Cats are curious animals. This means we can significantly improve their quality of life by providing items of interest which can be a simple as a cardboard box. If you want to know more we have some key tips to help your cat feel more comfortable living in an apartment:
- Buy (or even make) toys for your cat to enjoy in your absence. Toys with sound or those which provide a treat are particularly engaging for cats.
- Scratching and sharpening their claws is an important part of a cat's daily activities. You can find different types of scratchers to best suit them, some of them more elaborate and engaging than others.
- If you have space on the walls, you can install walkways, bridges and other structures to allow your cat to explore. This can mimic the trees, walls and other structures they may encounter outside as well as avoid jumping on your counters instead.
- Catnip has a powerful effect on cats. It can help stimulate them, but also relaxes and makes them feel good. You can rub some on toys or keep it in an area they frequent to make them feel more relaxed about staying inside the apartment.
- Although you can't be at home all the time, ensure you spend enough time with your cat when you are in the apartment. Interact, play, pet and ensure they are loved.
- Don't have all the toys and games available at all times. Cats like variety. Keep the toys in a steady rotation and leave the ones they don't use in a box until they are needed.
- Although cats are relatively solitary animals, they do require socialization. Never leave your cat unattended in the apartment for more than 24 hours. Not only will you need to be around to provide fresh water and food, they will feel abandoned and can become very stressed.
How we can ensure a cat is happy in an apartment
Cats are animals of habit. They will be more likely to have a positive emotional state if you don't disturb these routines too much. A change which seems insignificant to you can have a greater impact on your cat. If you keep odd hours, have lots of parties or generally cause a lot of disturbance, it may destabilize them.
When you are at home, ensure your cat feels loved and receives the right amount of attention they deserve. Although not all cats are very affectionate, this doesn't mean they don't need love and attention. Providing it will help them live more comfortably in an apartment and reduce any desire to go outside.
We cannot always guarantee an indoor cat will be happy. However, we can strive to ensure they have everything they need to make living inside an apartment as joyous and fulfilling as possible.
One of the most important factors is neutering your cat. Castration and spaying cats has many advantages, but is particularly important for cats living in an apartment. Cats which remains sexually intact will have a strong desire to mate when they are in heat or they sense a female in heat. Their behavior will be disruptive and they will feel acute anxiety. The benefits of neutering cats include safeguarding their health and preventing unwanted behaviors, especially in small homes and apartments.
It may be risky, but we can also investigate ways we can allow them to be outside without putting them at risk of the aforementioned dangers. If we have a balcony or outside area attached to our apartment, we can fence it off with cat netting for balconies. This will keep them from danger outside, but also stop danger from entering.
Another possibility is using a leash to take your cat for a walk. However, if your cat is happy enough living inside, it is probably better to not give them a taste of outside life. This is because it can show them what they are missing and even cause frustration which wasn't there before.
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1. Foreman-Worsley, R., Finka, L. R., Ward, S. J., & Farnworth, M. J. (2021). Indoors or Outdoors? An International Exploration of Owner Demographics and Decision Making Associated with Lifestyle of Pet Cats. Animals: an open access journal from MDPI, 11(2), 253.