Here are some tips to help you retrain your cat to a life without roaming unsupervised. Depending on your cat, it can be tough, but once you’ve done it, you’ll be able to rest easier, knowing that your cat is safe from outdoor perils.
Many cat experts suggest that a gradual approach to transitioning a cat to indoor life is best. If your cat normally spends most of her time outside, bring her in for increasingly longer visits. It might be helpful to time this transition period to coincide with the weather getting colder, since most cats prefer warm, dry places. By the end of the winter, your cat could be converted to a new lease on life!
If you intend to provide your cat with controlled access to the outdoors, such as in a cat enclosure or leashed walks, you may want to introduce that first. See our resources on Safe Outdoor Options, cat enclosures and harness training. Having some access to the outdoors eases the transition for some cats.
If, however, your cat is determined to escape, you may have to just say no to going outdoors. For some cats, it’s better to go cold-turkey.
If you’re cat isn’t already spayed or neutered, consider doing it before you make this transition. Not only will it decrease the likelihood of cancer in female cats, it will also prevent her from going into heat, with the associated yowling and desire to go outside. With male cats, neutering decreases aggression, spraying and the desire to roam.
The next step is to enrich the indoor environment. The more opportunities for stimulation you give your cat, the less they’ll want to go outside to seek excitement there. Some tips for enriching your cat’s space:
• A window perch: place a cat shelf right next to a properly screened and secured window, allowing your cat to survey the great outdoors from the safety of home.
• Cat furniture: Cat trees, cat gyms and cat condos provide your cat with stable places to climb and perch, adding more space to her territory. Cats especially like height, and providing them with a climbing surface increases the size of their territory.
• Scratching posts: Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats. They scratch to remove the dead outer layer of their claws, to mark their territory, to stretch and to work off surplus energy. Because scratching is natural, it’s important to provide places for your cat to scratch, as opposed to trying to eliminate the behaviour. Observe where your cat scratches — a soft or hard surface? vertical or horizontal? your new couch or your new carpet? — and choose or build a scratching post that most resembles their preference. If your cat is scratching inappropriate objects, cover them with something the cat will find unappealing, such as double-sided tape, aluminum foil, or sheets of sandpaper. Place the new scratching post near the inappropriate one, and let both remain there until your cat is consistently using the new post. After a few weeks, the coverings on the inappropriate objects can be gradually removed. (For a discussion of declawing as a solution for scratching, please see the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association position statement on declawing here.)
• Cat toys: Try a variety and see which ones your cat prefers. Store the toy collection out of sight and give your cat a few at a time. Rotate them every few days to provide variety and keep your cats interest. There are lots of interactive and puzzle toys that can be especially effective, but a simple cardboard box or a paper bag can provide hours of kitty entertainment! You can also hide toys for the cat to find on his own.
• Interactive play is a great way to keep your cat entertained while strengthening the bond between you. By encouraging her to leap and pounce and run around the house, you can help your feline stay fit.
• Catnip can help too! Try it and see if your cat responds – not all cats do. If he does, use it in toys or just sprinkle it around occasionally. Sometimes honeysuckle works for cats that don’t respond to catnip. Cat grass (also known as oat grass or wheat grass) is helpful as well.
• Consider getting your cat a playmate. This generally works better for younger cats – not all cats appreciate having another cat around -– but it can also enhance the quality of life of some older, more sociable cats.
A last word: It’s likely your cat will go through a period of meowing at doors and windows. There’s no easy way out of it, but as long as her demands are never met, she will eventually adjust. Remember that you are trying to keep her safe, and that the most important thing is that your cat learns meowing doesn’t get her anywhere. Don’t give in!
You can download a pdf of Tips for Transitioning here.