Tuesday, May 12, 2009 1:37 PM

Can Outdoor Cats Ever Really Become Indoor Cats?

There's really no way to sugarcoat this issue: It's not easy to transition an indoor/outdoor cat into an entirely indoor pet. When I tell people that my cats are strictly indoor, many have said, "Oh, I tried to keep Poopsie inside, but he drove me crazy so I let him out again." I don't ask for details, so I can't say for how long these owners tried to institute this change, but I think to be safe we should assume that it will take quite a long time. Cats are creatures of habit, and they really don't like having their routines messed with, even the tiniest bit. Knowing this, here are a few tips you can utilize in your efforts to keep kitty safe and sound into his old age.

First, do NOT try to suddenly keep your cat indoors. This is just asking for trouble and, believe me, you will get it! You must go about this a little at a time, almost so that your cat won't even notice the change (Ha! That's a joke). But seriously, a gradual change of a cat's routine will trigger much less complaining than a sudden one. Sure, he'll still be a pain in the butt, but not like he would be if he was stopped all at once from doing one of his favorite things. Let's see how this might work.

First, let's assume that you already keep your cats in at night. Congratulations--you are already miles ahead of the pack. An annoyed daytime cat is much easier to take than an annoyed nighttime one, who will use every trick in the book to disrupt your much-needed snooze time!
Next, when do you first let your cat out in the morning? Whenever it is, put it off 20-30 minutes. Does he come in for a snack later, then go back out? Push the second trip off a bit, as well. Keep adding minutes until he's spending more time in than out. Now, there will be some complaining, but it should be tolerable. Also, don't give him a treat or attention while he's begging to go out, just ignore him until time is up, then just let him out as you normally do. If he gets tired of waiting and goes off for a nap, great! Snooze and lose, kitty-cat! Oh, and don't push the timing so that you're letting Mr. Noisy out too late in the day; you don't want him to start staying out after dark.

This technique may take a while to work but it is worth it. Also, older cats will probably take to the new routine better than young ones, as they tend to sleep more and go out less, anyway (at least, that's what I hear!). It's also more important to keep older cats inside as they age. They move more slowly, so they're easier for other animals to catch. Their vision is less acute and their immune systems are less robust, making them more susceptible to disease. A cat is middle-aged by 9 years, so this is a good age to start the transition. Good luck--I'd love to hear how people have made out with their efforts!

Just So You Know: It's lawn care season again, when all manner of chemicals are used in the pursuit of a thick, green lawn. Remember, your outdoor pets and your children are romping on this grass, so the more natural the landscape, the better! The May issue of Consumer Reports has an article on lawn care that doesn't entail putting lots of nasty things on your grass.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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