Training an Outdoor Cat to Stay Indoors:
How to Gradually Convince Kitty to Stay Inside
Training an outdoor cat to stay indoors is a worthwhile pursuit, since indoor cats lead longer, healthier lives. Some cats who have lived outdoors for a long time may find the lure of the outdoors hard to resist ... but with time and thought, they can be persuaded to enjoy the comforts of home.
- Build an escape-proof enclosure.
This means the enclosure must be contained on all four sides and on top as well.
Your cat should not be able to jump, squeeze through, escape, or injure itself in any way.
If you don't want to build a permanent, hard-sided enclosure, there are smaller, easier to move cat enclosures available for purchase. They range from large cages to soft-sided 'cat runs' shaped like tunnels, and lots of stuff in between.
- Consider installing a cat door for free access to the outdoor enclosure. A cat door can be connected to a special little runway for your kitty that goes straight to his or her outdoor enclosure. That will save you from listening to the plaintive yowls of your cat, asking to go outside! Note, free access isn't always appropriate - for example, if you live in an area with lots of wildlife who could gain access to the enclosure.
- Take your cat out on a harness and leash. Some cats enjoy prowling outside on a harness (don't use just a collar - cats can easily escape from collars). Cats still need supervision, though; they're clever little escape artists and may attempt to free themselves from the harness. They may also catch the leash on something and get stuck. Remember that your cat can't protect herself from other animals when she's leashed.
- Be patient and flexible with litter box training.
Some cats who have lived exclusively outdoors (for example, stray cats who have
been put up for adoption) may never have used a litter box before. Put two litter
boxes out; one in the location where you want the cat to eventually use, and the
other temporarily near a door where the cat tries to get back outside. Show the
cat the box in the 'permanent' location so he knows where it is. He may use the
box by the door at first; if so, gradually move the box towards the permanent
location until you can eliminate one of the boxes entirely.
Also, because an outdoor cat may be used to doing his business in the dirt, look for a finely-textured kitty litter that resembles dirt in texture. You could even mix in a small amount of dirt in the kitty litter until your cat catches on.
- Provide lots of enrichment opportunities. Cat trees, toys (including interactive toys), scratching posts, and window boxes are examples of how to keep an indoor cat happy. Providing your cat with ways to express his natural tendencies (scratching, stretching, pouncing, stalking, etc) will make it less likely that he'll want to go back outside. Outdoor cats also spend a lot of time hunting for their food; once they no longer need to do so, they need ways to fill their days (other than napping, of course!). Placing a tall cat tree or even mounting a cat perch by a window can provide them with hours of enjoyment and entertainment.
Keeping your cat indoors is important for their health and safety. All too often we hear tragic stories about the beloved family cat that disappeared or was struck by a car. Some outdoor cats adjust easily to being inside - the ample food and soft beds help to convince them! - otherwise, it may be necessary to train the outdoor cat to stay indoors.
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