Saturday, July 5, 2008

Make Your Outdoor Cat An Indoor Cat

(Note: For those with dogs, read Dangers For Off-Leash Dogs.)

We love animals and I've always been a cat person. Every one of our cats have been a rescue and the most recent was a feral cat. She's done well in the conversion from being an outdoor cat. We have a screened porch where she has toys, perches, rugs and plenty of wildlife entertainment.

The perils of an outdoor cat are many. There is even evidence (from Germany) that an outdoor cat can get the avian bird flu virus and transmit it to other cats, although not to humans.

We've recently been burying quite a few birds that have been killed by our new neighbors cats. It sure puts a damper on gardening to find birds left behind by well-fed cats.

We've had a large amount of nestlings this year and they are so much more vulnerable to cats. House finch, chipping sparrow, bluebird, blue jay and more makes me feel very guilty for having feeders and a bushy wildlife habitat. We're in process of providing some educational materials to the neighbor since the first conversation hasn't done anything to reduce the bird kill.

Most people know it's healthier to keep a cat indoors, but don't know how to make the switch. Here's some guidance to make the transition so your cats can be safe from disease and from people who don't love cats. There have been many poisoned by irritated neighbors.

Although it takes patience, an outdoor cat can become a perfectly content indoor pet. Some people make the transition from outdoors to indoors gradually, bringing their cats inside for increasingly longer stays. Other people bring the cat in and shut the door for good. Either way, the key is to provide lots of attention and stimulation while the cat is indoors.

Your geographic location may affect your schedule of change; choose a good time of year to bring the cat indoors. In many parts of the country, the easiest time of year to make this conversion is during the cold winter months when your cat is more likely to want to be inside anyway. By the end of winter, your cat may be completely content to remain inside. Substitute outside excursions with periods of special play time.

Supervised trips out on the patio can also make the transition from outside to inside a little easier. Cats need human companionship to be happy, and when they spend all their time out of doors, they get very little attention. An outdoor cat may welcome the indoors if he or she gets more love, attention, and play.

To keep your cat occupied indoors, provide secure cat condos which offer interesting places to lounge, play and scratch. You should also provide scratching posts, corrugated cardboard or sisal rope for your cat to scratch. Praise your cat for using them.

To encourage your ex-outdoor cat to exercise, offer interesting toys, especially those that are interactive. These usually consist of a long pole and attached line with fabric or feathers at the end of the line. Some cats enjoy searching for toys. If your cat likes to explore the house looking for “prey,” hide toys in various places so your cat can find them throughout the day. Be sure that the toys are not so small that they can be swallowed or get stuck in your cat’s throat.

Cats also enjoy ping pong balls, paper bags and cardboard boxes. Provide your indoor cat with fresh greens. You can buy kits that include containers and seeds to grow, (see Cattail Gardens at or plant pesticide-free alfalfa, grass, bird seed, or catnip in your own container. This way, your cat can graze safely and not destroy your house plants. Many cats love cooked string beans or peas cooled to a safe temperature, which is another way to give them greens.

If your cat remains stubbornly committed to life outdoors, help your cat adjust by providing an outdoor covered enclosure or run that the cat can access through a window or pet door. Such a facility gives the cat some of the advantages of being outside while minimizing the dangers. You can make the outdoor enclosure interesting and appealing by adding objects for the cat to explore, such as tree limbs, multilevel cat condos, tires, toys hanging from branches, and boxes in which the cat can curl up or hide. Check out the following products:

Cat Enclosure Kit: 1-888-554-PETS or
Kitty Walk:
SafeCat Outdoor Enclosure:

If you cannot, or prefer not to offer your cat a run or enclosure, consider leash-training your cat so you can supervise time outside. Attach the leash to a harness. Your cat may resist leash-training at first, but will eventually accept the leash. Never leave your cat outside unsupervised while on a leash or lead.

Some cats may develop behavioral problems when they are no longer allowed outside. Most of these problems can be attributed to a change in routine that is too abrupt or a lack of attention and stimulation inside. Review your steps and keep working with the cat. Be patient and continue to praise your cat when playing with toys, using the scratching post and litter pan. If your cat becomes destructive or stops using the litter pan, consult a veterinarian or animal behaviorist to find ways to solve the problem. Remember that these symptoms can also be attributed to boredom and loneliness.

If you have just adopted a cat that stayed outdoors all the time, you should keep the cat inside from the beginning; otherwise, you run the risk of losing your cat. Using a long-range water pistol or a shake can when the cat asks to be let out is a very successful and harmless way to curb a cat from wanting to go outside. And don’t forget to give your cat extra attention during the transition!

Additional tips for a happy indoor cat:

• Trim your cat’s claws every one to two weeks to keep your cat from damaging furniture, rugs and drapes, or glue on artificial nail caps called Soft Paws every six to eight weeks.

• Provide one litter pan per cat and scoop the litter pan at least once daily. With non-clumping litter, change once or twice weekly; with clumping litter, change every two to four weeks.

• Many cats enjoy the companionship of another cat or compatible dog of the opposite sex. If you can make the financial and emotional commitment, consider adopting another companion animal for yourself and for your cat.

Adapted from, “All Cats Should Be Indoor Cats” by Rhonda Lucas Donald, Shelter Sense, August 1990, and “From Outdoors to Indoors” by Karen Commings, Cat Fancy, September 1993

This information was provided by:

American Bird Conservancy
Cats Indoors! The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats
1731 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202/234-7181


Anonymous said...

We had an outdoor cat that became an indoor cat. It was a gradual process that started in the winter. We trimmed his claws, but I wish we had gotten a scratching post earlier as he ruined one of our sofas. He kept wanting to go out when spring came and continued to go across the road. As he grew older, he went out less and less. Our prayer was that when it was his time, he would be home, and our prayer was answered. We LOVED bringing him indoors. He slept with us and interestingly enough, he couldn't sleep close enough about the last week before he died. There's nothing like a cat purring next to you.

'Squeeky' said...

Not only did I convert and outdoor kitty to an indoor kitty, but he joined our 6 yr.-old indoor kitty! They had a short, pleasant adjustment time together--worked out well. We provided ample windows for them to sit in, toy mice, scratching posts, kitty window perches, boxes to jump/hide in...Buddy was the absolute best lovey kitty I have ever, ever had; I think he was soooo grateful to have no more bee-stung paws, ears...a warm, clean fun home to live in the transition was no big deal. Buddy went to Heaven last September at the age of 16--four months after my Jingles of 21 (!) years passed away. I am sure they are loving Heaven and all of God's Creation and one day we all will be united (by the way, we added 2 other kitties to those 2 and now have just those 2...) Worth every effort to convert outdoors to indoors. Love is meant to be "given away"--cats are the BEST!

sharingsunshine said...

Squeeky, what a tribute to your care of God's Creation! It's a true blessing when a cat comes our way. Like destiny!

For those who wonder about animals going to heaven, here's a post that verifies it with Scripture: Do Animals Go To Heaven?

By the way, I love your name. Our cat's name is Squeek.

Anonymous said...

my cat whines to no end when she is not let out. My older cat was an indoor cat until we moved to a first floor apartment where it became impossible to keep him inside. My cats have toys, scratching posts, things to climb on and lots of attention. For some cats your assertion that getting them to stay indoors is a simple procees just does not hold true. I also question your comment that cats need human companionship to be happy. Yes many cats enjoy human campanionship, but I don't know that your assertion is in fact true. I hope that you will also do an equivalent post about dogs. Many people bring their dogs to natural areas and then allow them to run off lease. To me this is a much bigger issue than cats raoming a suburban neighborhood. These dogs harrass wildlife who think a new predator in their habitat. In some cases, especially in a tough winter the extra energy expended escaping these dogs can be the difference between life and death.

sharingsunshine said...

I don't see that the post said it was a "simple process."Actually the article by the American Bird Conservancy which I shared said it took patience, and I certainly know it does, having converted other non-feral outdoor cats to an indoor lifestyle.

The information you're quoting about cats needing human companionship is also in the article shown by the American Bird Conservancy.

Our feral cat does not seem to need human companionship having been feral. Cats that were raised by humans since birth are in another category, but even then they are individual as to how much they want to cuddle.

Thank you for the comment on providing a post on off-leash dogs. I have already accessed some resources and will provide something within the next few weeks. Dogs have no place running wild any more than cats do. They can get bitten by snakes, caught in a trap, and also have more problems with disease issues.

Anonymous said...

I have adopted 2 out door cats in my area. They are always together. One a stray(male already neutered) He had a bad leg required surgery,he is now inside happy and rarely goes out. The other is a feral cat(female that I spayed a year ago) The neighbors say they have been hanging around for approx 5years helping each other survive. She will come in to eat most of the time. Some times she dose have a taste for "wild game", bird, rats,est. she dose not know how to play. I try to brush her, that dose not last long. Then she wants OUT SIDE. Or she wants out because the male cat just wants to mount her. Then she is yelling he is yelling, I'm yelling. He is very aggressive with her. I have squirt him with the water gun. I cant leave them alone in side. I feel sorry for her. Remember they are both altered. They get along great out side. They will cuttle together, But of course he has a bad leg and she can run circles around him out side.
I need some advice. I would like her to be an indoor cat with him. They should not be separated they have been together a long time.

sharingsunshine said...

How precious of you to be so concerned about these cats and to love them as you have. I can give you some links to read information on converting a feral cat to an indoor cat, however, your real problem is the male's aggression toward her that causes her yelling. Not so much that she isn't happy inside. You may need to keep them in separate areas of the house when they begin to "fight." Kinda like children :-)

Here's a couple of links on the issue at hand:

Neutered male cat dominating spayed female cat
Cat Neutering and "Humping"

Converting a feral cat to an indoor cat:
Bringing Adult Feral Cat into Household
The Indoor Pet Initiative
• Transitioning an Outdoor Cat to Indoors

LMSharon said...

I'm bringing my kitty from my parents house to live with my boyfriend and I in our apartment. She used to be an inside kitty several years ago but had to start being kept outside because she wouldn't stop peeing on my clothes or stuff. Now that my mother is moving and i have to take my kitty I'm just worried that she'll pick her bad habits back up. Could you please help me?

sharingsunshine said...

I have not had that problem, but it's definitely a problem you can't live with. I would Google for some information and see if you can find some behavioral reasons why she would be doing that. I know different cats like different kinds of litter. They're also very fussy, so they don't like dirty litter boxes.

Here's a search for the problem. Maybe you'll see something in one of those articles.

Bert & Hazel said...

We have 3 indoor cats, a from kittenhood however so no transtional problems. Our previous four were indoor/outdoor. We decided to go fully indoor when the last just disappeared and the hurt of not knowing what happened to him was too much. What we found in the garden afterwards was an amazing increase in wildlife. Much more birds, a clony of chameleons, lizards of different varieties and even a skink or two. And then the neighbours' cats appeared... At that time however, one of our very old Border Collies died and her companion (also pretty old) began pining away. So off to the SPCA we went and returned with a pair of jack russell x toy pom x corgie x heaven knows what "yappers". Problem solved. Old Sunshine has company, the yappers chase the neighbours' cats away, the wildlife is returning and even the neighbours are pleased because the yappers provide an unpaid security service along their one fence...

All nicely balanced...

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna,

I just read your article on how to make an outdoor cat an indoor cat. My cat was born on the streets and we adopted her after we found her in a drain. She's 10 years old now, and was recently diagnosed with FIV, and her kidneys are failing. Obviously, we now have to make her an indoor cat. She loved going outside, so this is going to be a very difficult transition.

The issue is that when she wants something badly enough - she will get it. A couple of weeks ago she wasn't allowed outside and she tried to jump out of my window. We are going to put in some grates, but they will need to be very high so she doesn't jump over them. Unfortunately, we don't have any enclosed outdoor areas for her to roam around in.

She's also not at all interested in toys or scratching posts, and she never has been. When she's indoors, all she does is sleep - so she won't be getting any exercise and I'm not sure what else I can do to stimulate her.

Do you have any ideas for me or any suggestions on how to make her a little bit happier during the last couple of years of her life?

Thank you for your time!

sharingsunshine said...

We have an FIV kitty also that was feral in Ala. When we were moving to Virginia we decided to take her and the one "baby" that we hadn't found a home for since it got away. Came back a year later.

The #1 requirement for us on a home was to have a screened porch. I love being outside and work there as much of the year as I can ... and I knew that if they were to transition to indoor cats which wasn't an option since I've never had outdoor cats other than feeding them and trapping them to get them fixed. It took me 18 mo. to even get to touch the mama cat.

Anyway ... the screened porch worked. I was concerned they'd scratch it all up and make a way out, but I guess they felt they were "outside" and it was okay. Cats normally sleep 18 hours a day anyway.

Every cat has different things they like. Squeek (aka Kitty Girl) doesn't like toys either. She does use the scratching post, but I had to find the right kind. Some like rugs, some sisal, etc. She likes the post ones with sisal wrapped around it. Won't use other kinds.

As to playing, she's fascinated with a string or cord or something that you dangle a bit above her and she can reach and grab for. Tried many other toys but no interest. So I exercise her with that every day and brush her good which stimulates circulation and keeps coat looking better, especially since weak kidneys tend to make for a scruffy coat towards the rear of the cat.

Squeek is FIV also and at 16 (next mo.) her kidneys are a bit weakened since her last dental surgery which removed the rest of her teeth. I think the anesthesia getting out of the system didn't do her much good, but I've been using Dandelion in her morning moist food to feed the liver and kidneys and her coat looks better with that. If they'll eat fresh dandelion leaves that's great ... but I keep it simple and sprinkle in ground dandelion from a capsule. She's only 8 lbs. so one capsule lasts 5 days. This is what I use:

I hope that helps in some way. I know a screened porch isn't an easy solution if you don't use one. Maybe one of these options would be easier:

Also, may I post your email (can leave your name off) on the blog post so others can benefit from the response I made? I'm sure there are others with your same problem and it may help.

I pray you will get wisdom on this. I am blessed to see such diligence in the care of your cat. With all that love she will have many more years of life!

Anonymous said...

I have recently taken in a cat from a relative who is in hospital. Cat was an indoor/outdoor cat. I am in 3rd floor apartment with balcony, so don't feel comfortable with cat outside for her safety - we are on a golf course, so lots of birds taunting her. She was fine for about 3 weeks - took to the surroundings, used the litter box. In the last 5 days, she has decided to urinate in the litterbox, but not feces. She leaves feces on the bed.
I used Keep Away on the bed and she used the litter box 1 day. Then yesterday she left feces on the floor (in same room). What can I do to get to back to using the litter box as she did before?

sharingsunshine said...

I'm certainly not a behavioral specialist for cats :-) but I find a lot of good info online. Here's a search on Google with links to articles on cats defecating outside the littler box. Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

I fear that I will stress out my 3 year old cat. This year my boyfriend and I have moved several times. Originally at m parents when I first got him. And then we have moved in two different apartments since. And now we are expecting our first child so we are upgrading our home. In the meantime he's staying at my parents where he gets alot of time to go outdoors and go freely as he wants. The new apartment is in a high rise downtown and he won't be able to go outside at all. Everytime we've moved him with us he takes a while to adjust. But some how manages to find a way to get outside, which kept him happy. When we wouldn't let him outside he would yelp and meow to no end! We are afraid if this picks up we could have complaints from other apartment units. Also I am afraid to stress him out by moving him again buy don't want to leave my bundle of love behind.
Any tips on cats living in apartments and so on...

sharingsunshine said...

I'm definitely not a professional on cat behavior, but when we lived in an apt. and rescued two cats (at different times) from the streets, we used the porch that the apartment had. We turned it into a screened porch by screening the open areas and it seemed that they were satisfied with fresh air and outdoor views, even though the porch was about 6x8 - not very big.

We put a scratching post out there which is an emotional need for cats (different cats like different materials like carpet, sisal, etc. - our cats liked the sisal). Hope you can make it work. I realized many years later that one of the cats we rescued referenced must've been somebody's outdoor cat because when I went to have it spayed over a year later it had already been done. But that's one of the reasons I don't like outdoor pets. Some nice person like me might pick them up ... but there's always pet snatchers that are looking for wandering dogs and cats to sell to animal research labs. It's a big business sadly.

Here's an article on that: How Animals End Up in Laboratories

Anonymous said...

Hey Donna, I just moved away from home into an apartment and my parents wouldn't let me bring my cat because she likes to be outdoors during the day and then she comes in at night to sleep and with me being in an apartment I don't want to let her out to roam at all. So my mom thinks I am going to ruin her by making her stay in all the time when she is used to going outside when it is light so I was going to get a leash but my mom doesn't think Nala (my cat) would like that either. Does it sound like she is making up excuses so I won't bring my cat to my apartment and away from them (because that is what I think)? But, the apartment I am in has a covered balcony so I was wondering what kind of screening you used to screen in your porch because that is what I was thinking of doing so Nala could get some sort of fresh air while I am home.

sharingsunshine said...

The cat may take a bit of time to adjust, but you do what's good for the cat, as you would do what's good for a child, whether they like it or not, it's all about safety. You could ask at Lowe's or Home Depot what would be best. I assume you have the standard balusters/posts on the railing, so anything you could put on the inside ... you could staple gun it to the wood there every few feet maybe. I think she would love watching all that goes on while she's out there.

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