Transitioning an outdoor cat to indoor life

indoor cat

While many of us grew up in homes where cats were let outside, Animal Humane Society recommends making your cat an indoor-only pet.

Indoor cats typically live much longer (up to 20 years) than their indoor-outdoor counterparts (3-4 years). Outdoor cats are vulnerable to many dangers: traffic, loose dogs, and poisonous substances like antifreeze and rat poison. Outdoor cats can also be a nuisance to neighbors and a threat to public health and wildlife populations.

For all of these reasons, we recommend using the following tips to teach your outdoor cat to love “the great indoors.”

1. Provide a sanctuary room

If your cat has never been indoors, start them out in a clean, quiet room complete with two litterboxes, bedding, food, and water. Make sure they also have a hiding place: a box or even a paper shopping bag can suffice.

Once they are eating, drinking, using the box consistently, and showing interest in coming out, you can allow them more freedom in the house.

2. Secure windows and doors

Your cat is currently accustomed to going outside, and changing this routine takes time. If your cat has front claws, keeping your doors and windows shut during this transition period may be safest.

3. Provide vertical climbing spaces

The addition of furniture such as cat trees, additional perches, or catwalks increases your cat’s territory inside, providing more room to roam. Cats experience great stress when asked to share limited space with other felines, so adding vertical space is especially important if you own multiple cats.

4. Keep your cat busy during the day

A food-dispensing toy provides mental as well as physical exercise, simulating the hunting behavior of free-roaming cats. For especially busy cats, consider feeding meals this way. Another idea is to turn on a nature video while you’re away.

5. Provide regular interactive play

Using a cat teaser, engage in play with your cat at least once a day. Try to approximate prey behavior: scuttling along the wall, moving around under furniture, and so on. Simply waving it at the cat likely won’t entertain them for more than a few seconds.

Take note of your cat’s behavior during this transition. Be prepared for behavior changes such as hyperactivity, vocalizing, hiding, or disruptive behavior. Use the tips above to help minimize these behaviors. If your cat appears to be eating or grooming less, make an appointment with your vet.

Need more behavior help?

If you have additional questions or your cat is struggling with these tips, contact our behavior pet helpline. For more helpful tips and resources for training and managing your cat's behavior, you can also visit our behavior resource library

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