Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: November 10, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.
Dr. Bahr is a 1991 graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and founder of Dezi & Roo, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells solution-based products that enhance the lives of cats and their owners. She volunteers at numerous animal-related charities and causes and serves on the Fear Free Advisory Board, the Parliamentarian of the Society of Veterinary Medical Ethics, the Cat Committee of the Pet Professional Guild, and the Alley Cat Allies’ Feline Forward Task Force.
Dr. Bahr is co-author of the book Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their World, which is available since April 2022.
For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.
Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr? Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in next month’s column.
Since we had no new questions from last month’s column, Dr. Bahr shares some background on why she wrote Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their World.
Written by Dr. Lynn Bahr
Imagine that you could live in the home of your dreams. Within those walls, you’re provided with everything you could possibly need: your plate is never empty, you can nap to your heart’s content, you receive ample love and affection — and plenty of delicious treats. The only catch? You can never venture beyond those walls to walk on grass, breathe fresh air, bask in direct sunlight, or interact with the world outside the window.
For the rest of your life, your entire world is confined to the space within those walls. For the average domestic cat in America, this lifestyle isn’t just a scenario; it’s reality. And while a life free from the stresses of daily survival may sound idyllic, the truth is that the indoor environments we provide our feline friends often actually create entirely new stressors that threaten their mental and physical well-being. It’s a sad truth that I witnessed firsthand during my 30-year veterinary career as I watched cats move indoors and be forced to adapt to life inside four walls.
I started noticing more and more cats exhibiting signs of boredom and depression and hearing cat owners complain about behavioral problems. These cats often had accompanying physical ailments like obesity, diabetes, and cystitis and had to be put on special diets or prescription medications. The cats that had trouble adjusting to indoor life were often prescribed human behavioral medications, declawed, rehomed abandoned, or relinquished to shelters. I realized that millions of perfectly healthy cats were being euthanized because of their inability to overcome their instincts and adapt to an unnatural life.
Recognizing that indoor cats’ needs weren’t being met — and that cat owners often don’t even understand their pets’ needs — I launched Dezi & Roo, a company named after my own two beloved felines, that designs, manufactures, and sells solution-based pet products. Our creations aim to enhance the lives of cats and strengthen their bond with their owners because, after all, cat owners do want what’s best for their furry friends.
In fact, that’s the reason why many people choose to keep their cats indoors. They want their cats to be safe, and they want them to live long, happy lives. And cats certainly can live full, enriched lives indoors; however, this requires a commitment on behalf of the cat’s caregiver that goes beyond simply filling the food bowl and emptying the litter box.
Unfortunately, the belief that cats are easy, low-maintenance pets permeates American culture. There’s an idea that cats can be left alone for days so long as enough food and water is left out, and that they don’t need much interaction, companionship, or socialization, if any at all. In other words, “Don’t have time to care for a dog? Get a cat!”
However, this widely held misbelief about cats has enabled us to treat them more as ornaments in our homes than as animals, when in reality they’re actually more closely linked to wild animals than canines. While dogs have been domesticated over thousands of years, so called domestic cats aren’t that far removed genetically from their wildcat relatives. According to a study by Washington University’s Genome Institute, the cats we share our homes with retain many of the hunting, sensory, and digestive traits of their wild kin. In fact, as few as thirteen genes may separate domestic cats from their ancestors. Biologist have noted that cats don’t meet all the criteria for domestication and may best be described as ‘exploited captives,’” according to a 2016 Scientific World Journal article.
So, we’ve taken an animal with an instinctual need to engage its highly evolved senses and confined it to a predictable, artificial environment with little to no enrichment. In turn, our cats tend respond in one of two ways: They act out, or they don’t act at all — instead sleeping much of the day away.
Luckily, cat owners can be responsible and compassionate caregivers while still allowing their cherished pets to be the wild animals they are at heart. However, in order to do this, we must first learn how to see and experience the world as our cats do because while we may think we’ve created the ideal feline home, the reality may be very different from a cat’s perspective. That’s why I (along with co-author Laura Moss of Adventure Cats), wrote the book Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their World. Our hope is that this book dispels harmful myths, opens up dialog about the long-term consequences of keeping cats exclusively indoors, and helps cat lovers become better pet parents.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.