Friday, June 8, 2012

How to Help an Outdoor Cat Come Indoors

By Julia Williams

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


  1. My cats have the choice of indoors or out. Sometimes I spend a lot of time getting up to let one in or out and that gets annoying but I'd rather have a happy cat that one who is cranky.

  2. I so agree with you about some cats really want to be outside. I have a feral cat here that has adjusted so well to being inside. But most of the cats here really want to be outside. And like your cat, they scream and pace and go nuts. Some will come in and spend the night or the day but then they are on their way out. But great post and I totally agree. Some cats are so much happier outside.

  3. I hope that you saw MAYZIE's Post today... she dealt with this...

    PeeS.... As you know, Blogville is havin its OWN Olympics and somethingy MAGICAL happened today... Max the Quilt Cat... has offered to HOST TURBO TRACKS... THAT makes me tooooooo happy fur WORDS. ALL CATS are WELCOME and WANTED in each and Every Event that they might like to ENTER... and I hope EVERY CAT enters EVERY EVENT. WE do NOT discriminate in Blogville. WE are BETTER than that. I'm just sayin!!!!

  4. I completely agree. Leia is content to look out the window, while Boxer is always fighting to dash out the door. I've started taking him out on a leash, but I know it isn't enough. He was born outside and it is just part of him. Hubby was too scared of him getting hurt, so we kept him in. So I've been working on a compromise with the leash. :)

  5. It's a very tough subject. I have had some very tragic incidents where two cats of mine were hit by cars. It was even more tragic, because I never allowed my cats outdoors, and in both cases, someone else in my family let them out... Anyhow, I was quite militant in the years to follow that my cats were not allowed outdoors.

    My current crew, well, we finally have a backyard space that I feel is safe for them. They are supervised and the time is limited, but I cannot imagine taking this outdoor privilege away from them. They live for the moment, and like Mickey, become extremely upset when we don't give them this outdoor adventure.

    But, my previous cats that were indoor cats were fine. They thrived with the toys and stimulation that I provided for them and never knew the difference. I guess a lot of it depends on the past history of the cat.

  6. Yes it’s true some cats just have to go outside! I don’t think I could keep Austin in. He would be very unhappy! But he loves being nice and warm inside when it is cold and wet. However he doesn’t seem to want to use the litter tray, so will cross his legs until the rain stops!

  7. Probably one of the biggest challenges!

    We've always been indoors and quite content to sit in the window with our imaginings :)

    Tom xx

  8. We made an avatar of Annabelle for you, but the mom forgot to post it! We are all inside kitties. The mom had one kitty hit by a car, and that was enough to convince her. Even her former ferals and former strays don't look to go out. She thinks they feel they had enough of that living on their own.

  9. All my cats are indoors and outside cats. I don't have the room in the house for the toys they would need for play in the house. Yes over all the years of my life I have lost some cats to the road and one to an animal but that is life !! I don't like the dirty cat box too!!!

  10. Thanks for such a thoughtful post, Julia. We've been very lucky with our former outdoor kitty Sammy (who was found in a feral cat colony). I think he figured out pretty quickly that he enjoys the indoor life. Since he came to live with us, he's been content to watch bird and squirrel TV through the window. He used to be very curious about the front door, but with age he's mellowed on that. He's also become adept at finding and laying in sun puddles on the carpet.

  11. Three of my 4 cats were outdoors (two dumped outside) but they sure did adjust. They learned if they take over my furniture so forth, it will be okay :)


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