Cat Behavior 101,  Cats,  Feline Fine Art,  Holistic cat care,  Odin

The Cure For Cats With Cabin Fever

If you love cats, sharing makes us purrrr :-)

vintage cats-cabin fever

The severe winter this year caused an outbreak of cabin fever in cats. No, it’s not an actual fever but the idiomatic term, first recorded in 1918, for a claustrophobic reaction when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. This is an updated piece from last year called kitty cabin fever when I wrote about the uptick in aggressive behavior I’d seen with clients’ cats.

Have your cats experienced cabin fever this year? Please leave your comments at the end of this post.

When cats are cooped up during the cold weather months without even the window open, boredom can set in leading to depression, compulsive grooming and destructive behavior. In households with one cat, boredom is likely. With no others cats to play with, solo cats will sleep more and are prone to gaining weight. Think coach potato. Cats are instinctive hunters, designed for a variety of athletic ability from jumping, crawling and climbing. If they don’t have an outlet to express themselves, you can expect anything from shredded toilet paper, knocked over knickknacks or worse.

In multiple cat homes, boredom can result in rough play which can turn into bullying or play aggression. If any cat is behaving out of the ordinary or appears stressed, a trip to the vet may be in order to rule out an underlying medical cause. Young cats and kittens are more prone to mischief but just because a sedate older cat isn’t behaving badly doesn’t mean all is well. They could be bored out of their mind and miserable. Most cats cope by sleeping more but cats shouldn’t be sleeping 24/7. They need exercise.

Here are tips how to avoid kitty cabin fever. Remember: Happy cat = Happy life.

If you have indoor/outdoor cats, I encourage short, supervised walks with a leash and harness. If you allow your cat outdoors unsupervised, restrict the time on very cold days to prevent frostbite. There is no substitute for the grounding energy of being outdoors. However this is not practical for most urban cats and those living in high traffic areas.

On warmer days, open up the windows and allow some fresh air in (even five minutes will help).

Odin (pictured below) is extremely athletic and goes bananas without daily outdoor exercise. We enjoy improvised agility training on various logs on our property. His favorite command to perform is “jump”. Nothing makes him happier. For indoor cats, bring some of the outdoors in. A piece of bark or fresh twigs can be better than catnip for a scent-starved cat.

Odin sitting pretty.

odin cat-B&W birch stump

odin cat birch tree

Make sure you have plenty places for cats perch near windows where they can a view and enjoy “window whiffies”. A view of a bird birder would be bonus. A mobile or whirligig will intrigue. We had a recent thaw, melting the snow revealing moist, naturally scented goodness. Cats with their highly developed sense of smell experience much of their world by scent. If your birds are still down south like ours turn to TV or videos of nature shows and wildlife.

Indoor cats need several options for scratching to keep their claws in shape. If you can, provide small and a tall scratching posts to allow a choice of horizontal or vertical scratching surfaces. Make use of vertical space like shelves.

cat playing climbing shelves




Indoors cats need stimulation and exercise. Yes, they can play with toys alone but nothing beats inter-active play with their pet parent or caregiver ideally twice a day for at least 10-15 minutes. If during a play session, one cat begins to bully the other, re-direct them by throwing a toy or startling them with sound like shaking a tin can with coins. When the bully is behaving, they can receive a reward or treat and only then.

If you’re lazy you can sit on the couch watching TV and play with a laser-light or other games like crumple newspaper into balls and toss them. Play with an iPad but resist texting and speaking on the phone. No adult, child or pet is fooled when we’re distracted by digital devices. Being fully present is out greatest gift to those we love.









  • Many cats enjoy games on an iPad. Mix it up with different kinds of toys. Long fishing pole toys one day, ping-pong balls in an empty bathtub the next. Be creative!
  • Buy new, healthy treats including fresh wheat grass and try different kinds of catnip.
  • Grooming can be a stimulating and fun way to bond. Find a comb or brush your cat enjoys. At our house every evening just before I brush my teeth, I brush all the cats. Cats love the ritual of same place, same time. Two minutes of brushing will do.
  • Hide toys and treats to find in boxes and paper bags. Interactive feeder like those from Aikiou work well.
  • Keep some toys out and hide the others for a scavenger hunt.
  • Rotate toys and keep ones dangerous ribbons or feathers locked up after playtime.
  • There are novel toy ideas in the kitchen made of wood, metal or plastic.
  • Dangle twine from a spatula, stack different sized of plastic bowls or bins
  • Fill a large salad bowl with water and place a rubber ducky inside.
  • Think out of the box. Think like cat: your cat

Keep calm and remember, it’s only six more days until spring!


  • Cynthia Lotspeich

    One of our three cats has cabin fever very bad. We live in Montana. They’re all neutered males. We have tried most of those ideas already, we even have cut logs on the inside of our house for them to scratch, and we have lots of windows that are very low for them to look through. Problem is at 10 to 35 below they cannot go outside. My daughter’s male cat gets frustrated…. paws at the windows, I have even taken all the screens off of the windows, then goes to the door and meows to go outside we let him out, he comes back in, immediatly, of course. Then he meows, incessantly, he goes to the window, and it all starts again, after a few times of this, he gets angry and he wants to spray. The only thing that seems to help is letting/making him go in the garage which is cold but isn’t as cold as outside.
    We are so looking forward to Spring.!

  • Maureen maddock

    I have a rescue cat it’s a Siamese male and we’ve been together now 2 months but I’ve noticed that he wants to bite my fingers all the time sometimes and play sometimes in fun but he is bowling a lot more and he definitely cries a lot and I can’t tell the difference of his cries if he’s in pain or not and I’m wondering if I’m doing all the right things for him

  • Pawesome Cats

    These are great ideas not just for cats who have ‘cabin fever’ during the winter months but for indoor cats generally. I’m going to try the large salad bowl with water and a rubber ducky…. (I’ll keep the sponge mop handy too for the clean up!).

  • Penelope

    Nope..No cabin fever here! Luckily we did not have too many days that were too cold for Jo-Jo and Kozmo to go out and get rid of some excess energy.

  • Sue Brandes

    Love your ideas. Some I do but; some I have never thought of like the bowl of water with rubber ducky. I have two kitties that I think would love that.

  • Flynn

    Flynn is lucky that he can safely go in the garden whenever he likes. Even if it is pouring with rain he likes to be out but usually sits under the leylandii hedge watching what is going on in the field. Sometimes he comes in soaked so I towel dry him and shut his cat door, and then he sulks. If he stays indoors it is usually his choice.

    • Sheila Wafer

      I have a small dog house for mine. On rainyour days, he will sit in it for hours. One day, I’d like to build him one that has windows, all around. He only goes out on a leash and I bring him for walks all the time. He gets quite depressed during the winter months so play time is often.

  • Skeeter and Izzy

    Izzy has stayed inside more this winter due to the cold and wind. She gets a bit grumpy. We have had some warm days and I always open windows if only for a short time. We can’t wait til the real nice spring weather arrives and stays.
    Luvs skeeter and Izzy and the Feral Gang + Twig and Peanut and Romeo >^..^<

  • judi

    Thunder likes to explore. I have some rooms that I close up and don’t heat in the winter to conserve energy. He thinks it is great fun to go in and explore the rooms.

    I also feed the birds/squirrels right outside his tower window. I do have to lock up the dog when I’m not home when he is hunting because he will beat her up if she barks and chases his “friends” away.

  • Connie Marie

    My cats are strictly indoor. They want to explore the common area of our building, but end up wanting back home. They think its part of our home, cause Mum goes there! Never have they had cabin fever, I am with them 24/7 except for my outings and I always tell them what I will be doing and that I will be home. I talk to them like kids, not baby talk! They help with everything. Can open doors themselves, much to my dismay at times! They look out the windows and smell the fresh air. Guests always comment on how great they are, what wonderful personalities. They’ve all had a rough start in life, now know they are loved deeply and I think that makes a world of difference. They do enjoy some U-Tube videos of cats. We watch sometimes twice. We also have Adele, a black and white blue eyed lop earred bunnie who interacts with the kitties, both enjoy the friendship and Adele Rules!!
    I am blessed.

  • dda tabbies o trout towne

    paint for catz iz a mega hit with sister/cuzin dai$y….it haza mouz that mewves cross de ipad screen N everee time ya swat de mouz, “paint” appearz…her haz several master peaz troo lee !!

  • Coccolino

    Our cats don’t go outside but we definitely notice they are more needy (or maybe it’s that we are inside more!) in the winter. We have this new little game the kids love to play with them so thankfully that helps.

  • Fuzzy Tales

    I would say the boys are getting stir crazy. Of course they can go out into our little back space when I’m home, if they wish, but this winter has been so brutal that they’ve been indoors most of the time. Nicki gets restless and paces more, and both definitely sleep more. I usually engage them in play when I get up in the mornings, and then later in the day, but *I’m* restless, stir crazy and bored too. LOL.

  • Sammy

    We’ve been trying to spend MORE time with Sam over winter as he of course is an “only” and we know from past winters he’s prone to becoming depressed and bored when he can’t at least pop out on the porch for a few minutes. We’re firm believers in “toy rotation” – everything old is new again when it’s been in the closet for a few months. But also lots of extra pets and brushing – he just likes some attention and we’re here to give it to him! Hopefully Spring will be here soon and he can go outside and sit in the yard which he loves to do……

    Hugs, Sammy

  • The Swiss Cats

    We are allowed to go outdoor as we want, but Mum noticed that several hard rainy days or several very cold days drives us nuts because we cannot go out long enough. She and Dad play more with us because otherwise it is us who make them mad ! Purrs

  • Kathryn

    Finally, cats become addicted to technology. Cheddar likes WIndows 8, because the main screen has things that move on it. Same with an iPad.

    Ched found house sparrows outside today. He loved that. We do play with them and they play with each other.

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