Caging Cats: When and Why It's Sometimes Necessary
Years ago when I first started owning cats I thought there was no excuse to ever cage a cat. I thought they were free roaming beasts and needed to be treated as such. This opinion was shared with many other cat lovers and continued for a number of years. I guess the idea of caging a cat is an emotional topic because when you mention it everyone automatically thinks of the cat version of a puppy mill with cats piled in tiny cages and meowing to get out. There are kitten mills out there that operate this way; I am not in support of them. Caging should be used as a tool for keeping happier healthier cats, not a form of lifelong incarceration. With this in mind I am going to write this article about when it is appropriate and helpful to cage felines.
I always suggest to cage a mother cat and her kittens for the first 4-6 weeks of the kittens’ life regardless if the kittens were planned or the result of a pregnant feral. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is to ensure good litter box habits. I had a litter of kittens which I let run around free in my house since birth and they decided to use the entire house as one huge litter box. The older they got the bigger the problem became as they were harder to retrain. This is so easy to prevent by just caging the family. The cage should be only big enough to contain a litter box, food and water bowl, and a nesting box. Make sure to house them in a one-level cage. Most female cats will go to the highest shelf of a cage to put her kittens and this is just not safe for them if they happen to tumble off in their infancy! Besides this a smaller cage will give them no choice but to use the litter box. If you want to let mama cat out for exercise once in a while that’s fine as well, just make sure that she’s in the cage for at least a few 24 hour stretches to make sure she uses the litter box as well (as the kittens will learn from watching her!) This method can also be used on older cats with poor litter box habits, though it make take a few weeks to reinforce the behavior.
Many cat lovers will adopt neighborhood ferals and try to tame them down. This is a noble and often challenging cause that can be made easier by the use of cages. If you take in a pregnant feral please cage her with her kittens just like detailed above but put the mother in a separate cage directly after weaning. If the mother is fearful of humans the kittens will pick up on her tension, even if constant handling in their infancy made them docile and trusting they can start to go backwards on their progress when they are slightly older and able to pick up on their mother’s fearful behavior. By taking mama out of the scene the taming of the kittens should become much easier. The cage can be used as a tool for this because the confined quarters will guarantee they have to come into contact with their human care takers. This will speed the taming process greatly and with any luck will result in cats that are trusting of their caretaker and often times these ferals can become mellow house pets, particularly if attention is given to them when they are young. That’s not to say that it won’t be a long and tough process because it will be!
Quarantining new cats is very important if you have a multi-cat household, and even more important if the new arrival is a feral, rescue, or from a situation involving a whole colony of cats. Of course with any new arrival you should have them tested for Feline Leukemia and Feline AIDS (the FeLV/FIV test) which are both very catchy. Most pet stores will set up clinics to do these simple blood tests for as little as $35. In the meanwhile you should be looking out for any other problems like gooey or glassy eyes, snotty noses, diarrhea, etc. Only after the tests come back clean and the cat appears absolutely perfectly healthy for a *minimum* of two weeks should you even consider letting the new cat anywhere near your resident cats! The quarantine cage can be any size you’re comfortable with (unless it’s also a taming cage in which case it’s probably better to be on the smaller side) and should be kept in a part of the house the resident cats have no access to. This could be a garage, or a spare closed bedroom, it doesn’t really matter. When the cat receives a clean bill of health you can move onto the second part of this caging ritual. Quarantining can also be used when one cat becomes sick within the household to prevent the spread of disease, which will save the multi feline owner a lot of work and money (only having to treat one cat instead of two or more.)
Introducing a New Cat into the Household
How would you like it if one day a complete stranger moved into your house without warning and insisted on staying? You probably wouldn’t be happy. Cats aren’t normally pleased either. If you wish to respect your resident feline/s and ease an introduction please consider the use of a cage, this is a particularly useful tool when introducing a new adult cat into a household with one residential cat who is used to being alone. The size of this cage doesn’t matter as long as both cats and meet face to face at all points of the cage (if it’s multi-layered.) The cage will give the new cat a sense of security and allow the resident cat to get used to the new cat’s smell. Don’t rush this process! If you rush this process you may end up with the cats getting stressed out and spraying or fighting with each other. Trust me, correcting spraying and mending cat friendships are much more difficult to deal with then a temporarily caged cat. Make sure the resident cat is completely OK with the caged cat before opening the cage door. There should be absolutely no growling, no staring, no thrusting the ears back, and no poofing up of fur. After you open the cage door keep the cat within one room, making sure the resident cat has to deal with him/her and then gradually increase the territory (which rooms the newbie can go into) until both cats have the same amount of territory. This should ensure an easy transition and if the resident cat shows any ambivalence during this process it means you’re going too fast and may need to backtrack a bit. Trust me going slowly will not psychologically scar the new cat. They’re rather hardy in this aspect!
Using a Cage to Help Diagnose Ailments
In multi-cat households sometimes it is hard to figure out which cat is having a problem. Diagnosable problems can be vomiting, diarrhea, crystals in the urine, blood in urine or stools, etc. If you only have one cage rotate each cat until you find the culprit and consult your vet. Sometimes a cage can also be effective in diagnosing things like urological issues, diabetes, internal parasites or even constipation. If your cat is in a situation where their urine needs to be tested (as for PH levels for diabetics or stool samples for routine parasite testing) or inspected (for crystals, blood, or strange colors) then cage the kitty you think is in trouble and give them a litter box with no litter in it. Yes, you heard me right, an empty litter box. With any luck you cat will still use this and you’ll be able to peer in and see if there’s a problem. If this does not work then you can collect urine the old school way by keeping the cat in a cage with a grated bottom and a tray, giving them no litter box and waiting until they can’t wait any longer to relieve themselves where they’ll pee on the grated floor of the cage and into the try. Personally I liked to try the first method as it’s less stressful for the cat. Only if that doesn’t work should you try the second.
Very Short Term Penning & Crating
If you have a cat that likes to disappear into the black hole that every feline-friendly household has, then temporary crating and penning may be useful to you at some point in the future! If you have a vet appointment or are moving then gather the cat the night or week before and then you won’t have to scramble around the morning of trying to find the missing beastie! Temporary caging can also be used wonderfully if you are having a gathering of some sort and can’t trust your visitors not to let your cat outside or in an area of the house it’s not supposed to be. This is more for the cat’s safety and for your own peace of mind then anything. Also please crate your cats when you bring them anywhere. It doesn’t matter how mellow the cat appears to be if it’s suddenly spooked it’ll only take a second for it to leap out of your arms or out of the car. I have heard so many cats permanently lost in this manner so pleeeease, if you are travelling with your cat make sure to crate them! (And I don’t want to hear “well you can leash them” because certain cats can wriggle out of harnesses and leashes in the bat of an eye, and most can if they’re panicked.)
Doling Out Medcation
Lets face it, most cats hate to be medicated! Unfortunately sometimes it’s necessary for their health. If you have a cat with an infection or something else that needs to be medicated in the short term a cage can be your best friend. I had to treat my felines for coccidia, a nasty disease if there ever was one, and it took me 21 days worth of medication with the 21 days having to be reset if they missed even a single dose! If I did not use cages during this time I would have never solved the problem! They would have all hidden around the house in avoidance of me! Caging also is great in the sense they’re cornered which means they generally don’t struggle too much. If you have to give them pills try investing in a piller. Most pet stores and feed stores sell them and some vets might as well. Otherwise some medications might be able to be hidden in food or eased down the throat with a generous coating of butter. Make sure to ask you vet about the medication and if it is OK to mix with food or crush into food because some are not! Also if you are a cattery or rescue that has a vet that does home visits for inoculations and whatnot please have pity on the vet and cage the cats that need to be treated. It’ll take much less time and will be less stressful on both the cats and humans involved!
Introduction Into a New Enviroment
If you are planning a move please consider caging your kitty or kitties to ease their transition into the new environment. A lot of cats will go missing, sometimes for a few weeks, when let out into a new house without a proper introduction! This can be a scary event for them and if your cat is particularly skittish or nervous then it may take a little while to get used to the sounds, sights, and smells before they feel safe enough to explore the world outside the cage. After the cage is opened make sure it stays open because it will be the cats own safe spot to be and it may retreat back to it from time to time until it gets settled in.
Caging as a Training Device
Cages can be used as a weapon of peace. Sometimes even after proper introductions cats may start to squabble, perhaps when a kitten grows to maturity and challenges the status quo of the household, or perhaps there is no concrete reason us humans can see. Either way sometimes the resolution can be found by caging the offending cat for awhile until they cool down. Depending on the situation caging or crating may be necessary. I had unaltered males running around a stud room for a number of years. I always brought in new “studs” as kittens but sometimes when they grew to sexual maturity they would start squabbling. Whenever I caught them in the act I’d put each of the offenders in a crate/small carrier for an hour. If they started to squabble again after I let them out I’d stick them back in the crate. Generally after the first or second stretch they were ready to behave themselves again. I think the record was four stints but that was it. After two months of this ritual everyone was living in harmony again, four unaltered adult males, who I was told before hand I’d never be able to accomplish!
Some people feel that cats should have access to the outdoors. However the outdoors are a very dangerous place for a cat to be. There have been studies that suggest indoor/outdoor and exclusively outdoor cats live drastically shorter lives on average then housecats. This is because of the cars, stray dogs, various wildlife, and the possibility of getting into poisons and toxins you wouldn’t ordinarily have in your house. Take for instance you cat catches a mouse that just previously had ingested rodent poison. If your cat eats the mouse, or a few drops of sweet tasting antifreeze in a neighbors open garage, then the likelihood of it surviving isn’t very good. Most cats raised exclusively indoors won’t bother to try getting outside, where it may be some other cat’s territory. Some cats will still try and other cats who were previously indoor/outdoor cats may be impossible to keep exclusively indoors. This is when outdoor runs become a nice way to deal with the safety issues while still allowing your cat fresh air and sunshine. Some outdoor runs are just outdoor cages or tunnels, just big enough to sunbathe or enjoy the outside without too much room to exercise and play. Other outdoor runs can be much larger, and are often home made. They can resemble chicken coops, roofed dog runs, or even outdoor aviaries. Be creative in looking around as there doesn’t appear to be any large outdoor runs being marketed for cats. If this is an option you wish to look into please make note that whatever you choose needs both a roof and a wire, concrete, or other solid bottom. Cats can easily dig their way out if they want to and there’s nothing to stop them.
Sometimes caging can be used to aid breeders. Some females are hard to breed in an open area, either because they roll before the male can properly mount them, or because they like to tease the male and stay just out of reach. In these cases a breeding cage is often used. This is a very small cage, just big enough for two cats with no food, water, or litter box. Females need to be bred by the males five times before she starts to ovulate. This means the cats must couple numerous times over the span of at least an hour, usually several. After they are done they should be allowed out to continue their normal lives. Also the female cat should be caged a week or two before her due date. This is so you know she won’t have her kittens in some inappropriate area of your house where you can’t reach them or where they might be in danger.
I hope this article has cleared up any misconceptions people have about the caging of cats. Really it's for the benefit of the cats, their health and social stability. I know there are catteries and rescues out there that rely only on small cages and nothing else for the entirety of the cat's life and I think both the humans and the cats are missing out on a lot in these situations. That being said I know there are also catteries, rescues, and owners who have made enormous elaborate enclosures both indoors and out and I think this can't be a bad thing. All and all most cats should be kept in the home, with it's owner, where both are free to bond and enjoy each other. If anyone has read this article and decided perhaps to invest in a cage for future use then please continue onto my Photographic Guide to Proper Cat Cages.