Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bringing an Outdoor Cat Inside

In an earlier, recent blog, we discussed many of the hazards and dangers for cats in the outdoors. So how can you make sure a cat that's used to living outside can be happy becoming an indoor cat? With patience and persistence, that's how.

Nowadays, it's a sad fact that many of the cats roaming outdoors have actually been turned out or otherwise abandoned by families that can't take c
are of them any longer. That means that many of them are already at least familiar with being indoors on a regular basis. Some of these cats will be happy to have a family again and will make the transition more easily. But what about those cats that have only ever known the outdoors?

Stray cats brought indoors, or feral cats trapped, neutered and re-homed sometimes have a difficult adjustment period if kept indoors. Even though to our point of view that living indoors is preferable and cushy, to the cat that has never been confined indoors, the experience can be one of terror and suspicion. In addition, many have never seen a litter box, much less know that's where they should do their "business". Some other common behaviors can be door dashing, constantly meowing at doors and windows, scratching at carpets and even the walls, etc.

You can alleviate the stress these cats face by understanding their behavior and redirecting it in a positive direction. Again, patience and understanding is the key when helping these cats make this big adjustment.

Most importantly, before you bring any cat into your house, be sure to have the cat examined by your veterinarian, spayed or neutered if needed, and vaccines updated. It's also important to check for parasites and have the cat dewormed before coming inside. This is especially important if you already have resident cats. In fact, make sure your resident cats are up to date on their vaccines as well.

One of the ways to ease transition is to use a pheromone diffuser like Feliway. The Feliway brand is a synthetic c
opy of the natural feline facial pheromone. These specific pheromones let a cat know an object is safe and familiar. Using these types of diffusers can help to reduce the stress and marking behavior in cats.

A good way to start this transition is to time it with the outdoor weather. If you live in colder climes, the cat may be more apt to settle inside during the winter. In Arizona and other hotter areas, summer may be the better season to start this transition.

Here are some additional tips to help your outdoor cat transition to being an indoor cat:
  • When the cat first comes indoors, keep him in a small room with non-absorbable surfaces (such as a bathroom). Provide several litter boxes in the area. You can even try different types of litter in the different boxes to see if the cat has a preference. If the cat refuses to use the box, you can try using an organic potting soil or clean sand on top to simulate what is outside. There are also several products available that can be added to the litter to draw a cat to the box.
  • Provide places to hide. You don't have to spend a lot of money on fancy cat furniture. A cardboard box, or an old, large carrier without a door, with a towel draped over it will be more than enough for the cat. Unless you have provided soft surfaces for the cat outside, many outside cats have never encountered cushions, so experiment with different textures to see what he prefers, including straw, sawdust or pet bed shavings.
  • Plant cat appropriate plants and grasses in a small container, such as catnip or catmint. Many pet stores have pre-planted containers to grow the grasses, and some specialty retailers have organic versions. This gives the cats fresh vegetation to eat, which they would do outdoors, and will discourage the cat from going after houseplants.
  • Play with your cat. An outdoor cat possesses a higher prey drive than an inside cat. This prey drive has kept him alive. There are many types of interactive cat toys on the market, and you may need to experiment to see which type your cat prefers. Plus, the more you play with your cat, the stronger the bond you will create with him, adding to his sense of security.
If you already have cats in your house, make sure you take the time to properly introduce the new cat into your family. Whether your new cat has lived with other cats or not, your house has a new set of dynamics for him to integrate into.

If your resident cats are not finicky about where they eat, while the new cat is still confined, feed the resident cats near the closed door. This will help them associate something they enjoy with the smells of this new cat.

Once you are certain the new cat is safe with fabrics and other absorbable surfaces, swap bedding between the new cat and the resident cat as another way to get used to each others' scents. You can also switch out toys and scratching posts. These are good ways for the cats to get used to each other without having direct, face-to-face interaction.

If the introduction is not going smoothly, and/or their interactions are too aggressive, separate the cats again and start over. Again, with patience and time, your cats can become a family.

Overall, bringing a cat indoors can be a very rewarding experience for both you and the cat.