Friday, June 8, 2012
Until about six years ago, I had indoor/outdoor cats. As their guardian, I made this choice for them knowing there were risks involved. At the time, I weighed the pros and cons of indoor versus outdoor, and also took into consideration that my country property was as safe as any outdoor place could be. Various reasons led me to rethink my decision and begin the arduous task of trying to convince my outdoor-loving kitties that being indoors wasn’t so bad.
It’s been a challenge, and while there have been no converts per say, Rocky and Annabelle seem okay with indoor living. I still let them go outdoors some, usually when I’m in my garden or playing with them. Since they were outside at will for their first three years, I won’t deny them these moments in the sun they clearly love. But when I tell them no, they don’t appear to mind.
Mickey is a completely different story. During the harsh winter, he seems resigned to being indoors, but come spring he is desperate to be outside. He cries nonstop, paces, jumps on me, scolds me loudly, and tries to escape at every opportunity. Only someone with a heart of stone could ignore his distress and keep him indoors. I want him to be safe, but what’s the point if he’s completely miserable?
Making the Switch
There are things you can do to help an outdoor cat come indoors, which I’ll share with you here. Rocky and Belle are proof that some cats adjust and are happy indoors. However, if you have a cat like Mickey, be aware that they may never take to indoor life no matter what. An article I read said cats like Mickey would eventually give up demanding to go out if you ignored their pleas, but I disagree. I don’t believe Mickey would ever be okay being an indoor only cat. First, he’s 13 and was allowed out for 7 years. Secondly, I think it’s his nature. I’ve become convinced that some cats just have more ‘wild’ in them.
If you want to bring your outdoor cat indoors, a gradual transition is the best approach. The key is to increase their indoor time little by little so they can get used to the idea. If you live in a cold climate, the best time to start is early fall. When winter comes, your cat is less likely to clamor to be outdoors, and you may even be able to keep them inside 24/7 without a fuss. When spring rolls around, some cats may be so acclimated to indoor life they’ve forgotten all about the great outdoors. As I said, much depends upon an individual cat’s nature and how long they were previously allowed outdoors.
Enriching Their Environment
If you want your indoor cat to be happy, environmental enrichment is essential. Beyond the basics of cat food, water and a comfy place to sleep, an indoor kitty needs mental and physical stimulation. An assortment of cat toys will give them something to do, provide some exercise, and stimulate their natural hunting instinct. You need both toys they can play with alone, and interactive toys for playtime with you. Just remember that cats definitely have preferences; e.g., some love chasing balls while others are bored silly by them. Take the time to discover which types of toys appeal to your cat. It’s also good to not have all the toys out at once – not because it makes your home look like you cater to your cat (which of course you do!), but because rotating the toys keeps them more interesting to your cat.
If you’re gone all day, consider leaving a TV or radio on for company. You can also get a few Pet Sitter DVDs; some cats are quite intrigued by them. Indoor cats also need to have things they can scratch and climb on – a multi-level cat tree is ideal. A window perch will allow your cat to watch “Bird TV” and other goings on, and provides a nice sunny spot for a nap, too.
Quality Time with You
As you make the transition to indoors, be sure to give your cat plenty of attention in the form of petting, brushing, and even just sitting and having a conversation with them. (Read How to Bond with Your Cat for some tips). When Mickey is crying to be let outside, sometimes I can distract him with some one-on-one time. It doesn’t always work, of course, but he enjoys the lovin’ nonetheless. When it comes to my cats, I’m never ‘too busy’ to give them the attention they need.
Taking the time to enrich their environment, and spending quality time with your cat will go a long way towards helping them learn to love being indoors. Being patient also helps, because it won’t happen overnight!
Photo by Jessica Merz
Read more articles by Julia Williams