Transitioning Outdoor Cats To An Indoor Life

Transitioning an outdoor cat to life in the great indoors can be challenging. The cat may try to dart out an open door or protest all night when the rest of the family wants to sleep. Remember, this is a stressful time for both the cat and their new family.  In my experience, the process of transition takes up to three weeks.  So please be patient as this is a large adjustment for the cat.  Here are my tips for transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor life:

1) Provide several different places for the cat to hang out. Create a high perch to give the cat a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. There should also be a sleeping area that is cozy and secure. A box in a quiet corner of a room or a grocery bag behind a living room chair work well.  In between these two levels, provide several different places where the cat may look out the window. Try to keep them out of direct sunlight to prevent skin cancer.

2) Give the cat a lot of exercise to burn off energy. Provide a variety of toys that allow them to bat, swing, claw and attack the toys. Many cats love toys on strings. I recommend at least 15 minutes of active play twice a day. My goal is to play until they simply can’t anymore. Usually, a cat’s first burst of energy will last about 10 minutes, they take a 2 minute break and then they can play for another 5 minutes. I do not recommend lasers for cats.  These can lead to frenzied play syndrome because the cat can never catch and kill the dot (see my earlier blog for more details on this topic).

3) Redirect the cat away from the door with a special treat. Place a treat such as a piece of cooked chicken in another room before exiting. Also, pretend to leave by picking up keys, walk to the door, place your hand on the knob several times until the cat is bored with your actions.

4) Hide treats around the cat’s environment to allow them to hunt for food.

For really determined escape artists, and some cats are, a motion detector spray canister may be placed at the door. Please only use these canisters as a last resort to prevent escape. Try to redirect instead of scare the cat as it is much better for their psychological health.

I know some people believe cats belong outside.  I understand the sentiment but have to be honest, life in the outdoors is fraught with danger.  For cats who are not spayed or neutered, the issue of pet overpopulation also raises concern.  Most animals who live in the wild have a tough life and die a rough death.  Many people find that  giving a cat a forever home, even if indoors, is the best gift the animal can receive.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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