We are often asked how to keep your cat at home and keep them happy there. Here are some tips from animal behaviourist Dr Jo Righetti…
Transitioning your cat from being an outdoor cat to an indoor one
There are many reasons to keep your cat indoors:
- Safety – your cat will not be run over or stolen
- Disease and illness prevention – cats are less likely to contract diseases and pick up fleas and ticks when inside your home
- Less cat fights
- Won’t get lost
- Cannot hunt wildlife
- Your cat will be more available for interaction and pats from you
- The bond between you and your cat will be strengthened
If you have made the decision that you’d like to keep your cat indoors, here are some tips that may make transitioning your cat from being an outdoor cat to an indoor one easier.
1. Home Safety
Transitioning your cat from outdoors to inside your home means that you will have to check, even more carefully then you usually do, for any hazards around your home. Since your cat will be looking for things to occupy themselves, you will need to ensure that items like medications are locked away.
Many owners find it difficult to keep their cats inside due to open windows and doors. Use flyscreens to allow air indoors while keeping your cat safe.
2. Cat enrichment
Enriching your cat’s environment is the key to keeping your cat happy at home. Outdoors your cat had lots to do and we need to mimic this indoors.
2A. Enrichment: Hunting for food
Your cat has been hunting when outdoors. Even if they never actually caught any prey, they were pouncing on leaves or lizards. This activity kept them mentally and physically stimulated. We can replicate this at home by hiding food or by providing it in food-releasing toys. It is not wrong for your cat to want to perform hunting behaviour, so we should try to satisfy their hunting drive by providing appropriate games.
2B. Enrichment: Cat plants
Cats nibble on grasses and other edible plants when outdoors. Many owners are unaware of this behaviour and so don’t provide plants indoors. Provide cat grasses and other cat plants, available from your local garden nursery, for your cat to nibble on. Avoid plants that are toxic to cats such as lilies.
2C. Enrichment: Toys
Lots of cat owners say that their cat never plays with toys. Often it is up to the owners to get their cats stimulated. Try a laser toy, a tunnel or tying a toy on a string to your waistband as you walk about the home. Cats enjoy interactive toys and, like dogs, if you rotate toys around, they are more likely to be engaged when they haven’t seen a toy for a week or so.
2D. Enrichment: A view from a height
Cats need to look at the world from a distance. This makes them feel safe and secure and also keeps them stimulated indoors. Clear your window sills and shelves and let your cat patrol them. They will find the best viewing spot which may transition into a snoozing spot.
Views should be internal in addition to external views out of windows. Cats like to watch everything going on in the family and, again, a little height makes them feel safe, secure and probably superior!
2E. Enrichment: Cardboard boxes
Cats love a box so never throw away any cardboard packaging. They’ll probably sit in a box for a week or two then ignore it. If you have children, help them build a cat cubby house.
2F. Enrichment: Scratching posts
The cardboard box may also double as a scratching post for your cat but you should also provide a selection of other potential scratching devices. Sissal rope, carpet and cardboard scratchers, placed at various strategic locations (where your cat likes to scratch) within your home, will ensure your cat scratches these and not your furniture.
3. A secure outdoor spot
Cat owners often feel sad that their cat cannot experience a little outside air. There are cat enclosures available. Cat Max enclosures, for instance, can be placed in your yard or even attached to your windows through tunnels and walkways or if you are good at DIY, you might like to build your own cat enclosure. You must still be aware of your cat’s safety while using these as cats can overheat in summer if kept in full sun.
Gardens can also be made cat-proof through clever use of fencing. Oscillot fencing or floppy fencing can prevent your cat getting out of your garden but any overhanging tree branches will give them a swift escape route!
4. Handling Escape artists
There is no doubt that some cats are more determined and adept at getting outside than others. Don’t feel too guilty if your cat is one of these.
If your cat is unfamiliar with your garden and neighbourhood, then it is worth taking them out with you, making sure they are secure while you do so. Try a harness on your cat and walk around your yard with them but it may be easiest to use this indoor first until your cat gets used to it. Familiarity with their surroundings is essential for your cat if they escape and need to find their way back home.
5. Indoors 24/7
Cat owners often ask if there is a way of getting their cats used to the indoor transition easily. There isn’t! If you are moving house, this is often a good time to change all your habits. If not, you may like to start by keeping your cats inside one day while letting them out the next. Or keeping them indoors at night. Even just this small step goes a long way towards preventing all the negative encounters your cat may have at night.
Eventually, you will need to simply prevent your cat’s exit and keep them inside. If you feel your resolves slipping, then read back over all the benefits of having an indoor cat. Enjoy your cat’s company at home with you.
P.S. Note from author Dr Jo
I still find it hard to keep my cats inside. With so many human movements in and out of the house, my cats always find the escape route. I try to encourage them to stay at home by feeding them little and often. They enjoy that!
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