October 17, 2012
Home, Sweet Home: Bringing an Outside Cat In
As the days get shorter and cooler, it’s the perfect time to snuggle up with your honey. We’re talking about your cat, of course.
It’s also the perfect time of year to change your attitude, and your cat’s attitude, about the great indoors.
Are you one of those people who think that a cat must go outside in order to be happy, that it's cruel to keep a cat inside? Actually, it can be more cruel to allow your cat to roam.
Outdoor cats may get fleas and other parasites, contract diseases (some fatal) from other cats, and be hit by cars, stolen by strangers, and just plain get lost.
Millions of cats spend their entire lives indoors without complaint. They've never been outside and have no desire to venture out. In fact, many become frightened if they accidentally wander out the door.
"But my cat has always gone outside," you protest. "I can't keep him in now."
Not necessarily true. Plenty of stray cats have been adopted and turned into happy indoor kitties who don't want to go out. The trick is to make the great indoors as fun and intriguing as the outdoors.
Slow and steady
The key is to make the change from outdoors to indoors gradually, until the new way of life becomes old hat. Many cats will adjust with little effort, while others will be miserable—and let you know it. They might scratch at doors, claw at windows, yowl, and try to dash through open doors.
- If your cat has never used a scratching post or a litter box, introduce both items well in advance of transitioning your cat to a life inside.
- If you're feeding your cat outdoors, begin feeding him indoors. Then, instead of letting the cat back outside as soon as he's finished eating, keep him inside for gradually longer periods of time.
- If you're starting your cat's retraining during the winter, a warm, dry bed in which to snuggle may be just the ticket to convince him to stay inside.
- If he tries to make a break for it when you open the door, rattle a jar of pennies or give him a squirt with a water gun. Never hit, kick, or yell at him; he'll become afraid of you. You can also train him to run away when the door is open by throwing a piece of kibble to the opposite side of the room.
If allergies or pregnancy make you think about putting your cat outside or even giving him up, consult your physician and learn how to manage those conditions while you keep your cat safe.
Toy with the idea
Though people domesticated cats several thousand years ago, they still retain many behaviors of their wild ancestors. Give your kitty plenty of opportunity indoors to express his natural behaviors.
- A cat's play is all based on the hunting instinct, so give him plenty of toys to stalk, chase, pounce on, and kill. They don't have to be fancy; a ball of aluminum foil and a paper bag delight many a cat.
- Cats like to observe their world from above (which is why they climb trees and roofs), so give or make yours a cat tree or kitty jungle gym to climb.
- Give him a sunny window so he can watch the birds or bask in a sunbeam.
- Grow cat grass (available at pet supply stores) for him to chew on
- If your cat is agreeable, train him to walk on a cat harness and leash and take him for a stroll. Don't let him get too far from you where he could encounter something dangerous.
- Give him lots of your time and attention.
If you're having trouble slowly transitioning your cat to a happy life indoors, it may be better to go "cold turkey." Letting your cat outdoors occasionally may only reinforce his pestering behaviors, so keep him indoors all the time.
Do your best not to give in to his requests to go out, and distract his attention with play. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a short course of anti-anxiety medication or homeopathic therapy to help your cat through the transition period.
The end of your rope
If you're thinking of putting your indoor cat out because he's scratching your couch or not using the litter box, here's what you can do instead.
- Consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems that could contribute to problem behaviors.
- If your cat gets a clean bill of health, work with your veterinarian, a trainer, or animal behavior specialist who uses rewards to change your cat's behavior.
- Think about building a screened-in enclosure attached to the house where your cat can pretend he’s an outdoor kitty.