Caging Cats: When and Why It's Sometimes Necessary
I have had cats bless my life almost from the time of my own birth. In those days, I lived in a rural, agricultural community and cats were often seen as great pest control for barns and were sometimes kept as pets. Even the pets rarely got to see the luxury of living full time in the house, however. Boy, things have changed! In those early years I would have said the idea of caging a cat was cruel and unnecessary and pretty much everyone would have agreed with me. The only caged cats I'd ever seen were at shelters or kitten mills.
As I had to deal with more and more cat problems, I learned that temporary caging can be a very effective and useful tool for a variety of reasons and shouldn't be an idea immediately discarded by caring pet owners. I hope to illuminate some of these uses below.
To most cats the litter box is instinctual and even a cat who's never seen one may be inclined to use it. Others aren't so easy, and this is often because they've learned bad litter box habits from another cat, usually their mother. I learned this the hard way when I had a litter of three kittens who were not caged at any point. They followed mama cat around and learned that litter boxes were decorational items and the best bathroom was behind all the furniture. This problem could have been so easily prevented if I had just known to cage the mother during their infancy.
The idea is to have a cage just big enough for food, water, a nesting box (not on a shelf! Don't want those babies toppling off!), and a litter box. This forces even the dirtiest of cats to use the litter box and reinforces the behavior in the kittens. Usually by six to eight weeks of age the kittens are prepared by this experience to live an ordinary life within the house. In the meantime, you can let mama (and the kittens as they get older) out from time to time to exercise so no one suffers from being cooped up for too long.
Feral cats tug at the heartstring of anyone who loves felines. Some of them have been abandoned by their people while others have been born on the streets never knowing what it's like to have a home. It is the latter which are the hardest to reintroduce to domestic life but people do this every day. The first and obvious use for caging in feral cats is to keep mothers and kittens confined - not just for litter box training but also to make them easier to physically catch and socialize. Generally kittens born into this environment will turn out to be human friendly but be careful - if you don't separate the mother from the kittens at the age of weaning they may pick up on her fear of you and revert back to wild behaviors. Cages can also be used in ferals to tame older cats but expect this to be a process and take quite a bit of time. The cage will be to keep the cat in one area forcing it to be in contact with you. Hopefully over time it'll learn you're not there to hurt it and trust can be established - keep in mind adult ferals rarely tame down completely. They may trust one individual and remain aloof or never tame down but it's worth a try! And finally caging ferals is super useful if you're catching them for a spay and neuter program. It is much easier to house them in cages and wait for a vet appointment than hope to catch them on the day of surgery. They also can recover in the cages where they can't move around too much - hopefully preventing any after surgery accidents.
Quarantining is a super beneficial practice to anyone who has a more than one pet, especially if they're the same species. Sadly I don't see it being practiced enough for my liking but this is your first line of defense against contagious disease. Of course if you are bringing a new cat into an already established household you should always make sure they have been tested and come up negative for FIV/FeLV (feline leukemia and feline AIDS respectively.) Both these diseases are very contagious and fatal so you don't want this in your house if you can prevent it! From there cages are a great way to keep a new cat away from any resident cats for a period of time when you should be keeping an eye out for boogery noses or eyes, parasites, skin irritations, lethargy, diarrhea, or any other signs of sickness. During this time the cat should preferably be somewhere where there's no shared air between the other felines - this means a garage, a shed, a barn, a friend or neighbor's house but I realize this can't always be accomplished so keeping it in a separate room away from the other cats is better than nothing. Quarantine should last at the very minimum two weeks, only if no symptoms have shown up, but preferably should last 4-6 weeks. This includes both cats from rescues and from breeders!
Introducing a New Cat Into the Household
One of the main themes of this article is going to be prevention. Trust me, when it comes to cats, prevention is always better than trying to solve a problem after the fact. One of the most common problems in cats is spraying and this is frequently caused with the introduction of a new cat. Can you really blame them? I mean I wouldn't be terribly happy if I came home from the grocery store and found Bob on my couch - a complete stranger whose now been forced to live with me. I can't say my first reaction wouldn't be, "Get out Bob! This is MY house! Who do you think you are?!" Cats aren't any different. That's why using a cage to introduce them is always an attractive option. The new cat should be kept in the cage somewhere in the house where the resident cat can come up and sniff it through the bars. This is a far gentler less territorially threatening introduction. Depending how they respond to each other you can move forward and let the new cat have play time outside of the cage one room at a time, slowly expanding its territory until it shares it completely with the resident cat. At the first sign of distress from either cat you should back up a step and try again. Patience is key.
Using a Cage to Help Diagnose Ailments
Cages can be intensely useful, especially in the muti-cat household, to pinpoint which cat is having a problem. Let's say one of your cats has diarrhea but you don't know which one. By using a cage you can determine who is having the problem by taking them one at a time and waiting for them to show you what you need. Other times cages can be useful if you know something is wrong but you're not quite sure what... These cages can be used to figure everything from common constipation to crystals or blood in the urine, runny or bloody stools, or even internal parasites. Did I mention it makes it very easy for you and your vet? Now you know which cat left which pile of pee or poo and take it in accordingly to be tested properly. This is also great to use with cats who have chronic issues like bladder stones or UTIs to figure out if that is what is currently causing them to show symptoms or if it's something else.
If you need to collect urine (to see stones, crystals, blood, strange coloration, or PH levels for diabetes testing) then you can use a litter box with no litter in it and hope you cat will use it or you can use the old school method of keeping them in a cage with a grated bottom and waiting for them to pee so that it can be collected by the tray underneath. The first option is less stressful for the cat involved but some cats are less than cooperative. Make sure they have food and water either way!
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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.