Some cat guardians believe their cat will not be happy unless allowed outside, or that cats must be given the opportunity to roam. The fact is that cats can get everything they need to keep them healthy and happy in an indoor environment.
There are many benefits to keeping cats indoors, the most significant being that indoor cats live up to three times longer than outdoor cats.
Keeping cats indoors protects them from many threats and potential dangers, including:
- Diseases and parasites—Outdoor cats are at greater risk of being exposed to rabies because they tend to seek out similar food resources and places to hide as wild animals with high infection rates. Outdoor cats are also more likely to come into contact with other cats, which puts them at risk for contracting diseases like feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Fleas, ticks, ear mites, and worms are also more common in cats who spend time outdoors.
- Other predators—Cats are predators, but they are also prey for larger predators like coyotes and dogs. It is a myth that cats can outsmart these larger predators—a cat is no match against a coyote or a dog, much less a hunting pack of them.
- Physical injury, trauma, and death—The outdoors is full of potential for a cat to be injured or suffer trauma or death as a result of cars, falls, fights with other animals, wildlife traps, and so on. Everyday chemicals like lawn fertilizers, pesticides, weed killers, antifreeze, and ice-melting products are highly toxic to cats. No matter how “streetwise” a cat is perceived to be, one miscalculation can have drastic results, and a cat could suffer for days in an incapacitated state before being rescued or succumbing to its injuries.
- Cruelty—Every day there are reports of animals suffering and dying at the hands of cruel people. An outdoor cat is at the mercy of every person it comes into contact with. Cats and other animals are often stolen from their yards and taken off the streets to be used for bait in dog-fighting rings. Cruel people who don’t like cats have also been known to intentionally poison cats in their neighborhoods.
- Weather and temperature extremes—Domestic cats descended from the African wildcat, which is a desert animal. Although cats have adapted well to our North American climate, they are still at risk of exposure to the elements, especially in cold weather. Cats’ ears and paws are particularly susceptible to frostbite.
- Overpopulation—Free-roaming intact animals are one of the reasons millions of homeless animals are euthanized in shelters every year. Allowing an unneutered or unspayed cat outdoors contributes to this alarming statistic.
Transitioning an Outdoor Cat to an Indoor Life
The key to keeping cats healthy and happy indoors is providing an environment that fulfills all of their needs:
- Food, water, and a litter box
- Areas to perch or a cat tree, preferably near a window
- Quiet, comfortable places to sleep, rest, and hide
- A scratching post or pad
- Regular, interactive playtime
If your cat looks longingly out the window or sits by the door and asks to go outside, resist the temptation to give in and let him out. Redirect him by engaging him in an interactive play session with a wand toy. You could also train your cat to walk on a harness or provide him with an outdoor enclosure or “catio.”
Litter Box Training
If you are unsure whether your outdoor cat will use a litter box, confine him to a separate room at first. Use a large, uncovered litter box with unscented litter and no litter box liner. Soft, natural, non-clay litter will most resemble what he was using outdoors. Cover furniture with plastic sheeting to protect it from any accidents as he adjusts.
If your cat is accustomed to being allowed out at a certain time of day or through a particular door, he may lurk in that area and try to rush out at the first opportunity. Here are some tips for redirecting this behavior:
- If your cat follows you to the door when you try to leave, give him food or a treat on his cat tree or other spot away from the door, or throw a toy away from the door as you leave.
- To keep him busy while you’re gone, leave out toys and other “activity” items such as food dispensers and puzzles, cat tunnels, paper bags, and cardboard boxes. You can also set up a “treasure hunt” for your cat by hiding food in various places around the house for him to find.
- Instead of greeting your cat at the door or calling to him as soon as you enter, take a few steps inside and greet him there. Ignore him until you reach that special spot. Soon he will learn to wait for you there instead of at the door.