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Perhaps you’re adopting a stray or maybe you’re moving from a house to an apartment — in these circumstances sometimes it’s necessary to transition an outdoor cat to an indoor cat. The trick is to match expectations: yours and the cats, so that you can both share the same space without the fur flying.
Think of things from the cat’s point of view and you won’t go far wrong. For example, a stray cat that scratches a fence post to mark her territory isn’t going to understand that she shouldn’t scratch your dining chairs in the same way. Thinking like a cat provides her with an alternative place to scratch.
For a happy and harmonious household attend to all the cats’ basic needs and provide outlets for all her natural behaviours such as climbing, scratching, and hunting, playing, and hiding away. But first things first; to make sure an outdoor or stray cat doesn’t bring lots of unwelcome hitch-hikers into your home, a vet check is in order.
Health and Safety
Have the cat checked out by a vet. Parasite control is essential, so make sure she is treated with an effective sustained release anti-flea product and that she is wormed. If the cat is a stray, especially if you already have cats, get her tested for FeLV and FIV to ensure she’s not a risk to others.
Vaccinations are also essential. Even indoor cats need protection because this virus is extremely tough and can be walked in on your shoes. Don’t assume she has immunity against feline panleucopaenia (feline distemper or feline parvovirus) just because she was living rough.
Cat proof the house so that she can’t escape. Look with fresh eyes at fly screens and window openings, to make sure they are in good order and won’t allow her to slip out unnoticed. Now is also the time to create a cat friendly environment. If you have a balcony take a look at enclosing it so there’s no risk of falls. Ideally, if you are handy at DIY, create a ‘catio’ so she can gain access to fresh air safely.
Settling In Period
If this is the first time the cat has lived indoors, she may find the smells, sights, and sounds overwhelming. To help her adjust, restrict her to one room, which will become her sanctuary and a place she can return to whenever she feels uncertain about anything.
The room should have full ensuite facilities with everything she needs including plenty of hiding places (cardboard boxes will do), a comfy bed, food, water, litter box, and toys. Keep her in there for a few days, until she finds her paws and is emerging from hiding regularly. If you have other cats, this is the time to use ‘scent handshakes’ to introduce them.
Once she seems more confident, start leaving the door ajar so that she can venture out to explore when the house is quiet. It’s a good idea to let her discover things at her own pace, a little at a time, and always with an escape route back to the sanctuary.
A Cat-Happy House
Making a house into a home for your cat means providing outlets for their natural behaviours. Imagine you are a cat and think of the activities you get up to in the great outdoors. For a start there’s climbing trees, scratching to scent mark, toileting, hunting supper, chewing plants, sleeping in hideaways, and then play. Now it’s up to you to provide the ways and means for the cat to do these things but without causing a nuisance. The alternative is to invite bad behaviours such as toileting where she shouldn’t and climbing the curtains, so let’s look at each these activities in more detail.
Instinctively cats like to get up high and look down on the world. Provide for this need by making a tall cat-tower or tree. Better still; position it beside a window so the cat can watch birds in the garden or people passing by.
Try and make her world as 3D as possible by improvising shelving or steps which allow the cat to move around the room without using the floor, by jumping from object to object.
As the cat settles in she’ll want to prove this lovely new home is hers by marking it as her territory. Encourage her to do this, but on your terms, by providing cat scratch posts – and plenty of them.
Watch to see if she’s a horizontal (carpets) or vertical (furniture) scratcher and provide appropriately orientated, fixed scratch posts. Make sure the post doesn’t move when used, as a wobbly surface will put her off. Locate the posts by entrances and exits, and also beside her bed. (Have you ever noticed how on waking a cat stretches and scratches?)
First off, give your cat the largest tray you can find (maybe even a garage oil drip trap). Sit the tray in a quiet place, where the cat will be undisturbed when doing her business.
A truly outdoor cat may not understand what kitty litter is for, so put soil in the tray. As the cat becomes used to the idea of what to toilet in, you can slowly add litter and remove soil.
Cats need to hide, especially if they feel uncertain or threatened. In each room provide several hidey-holes, such as cardboard boxes or paper bags with the handles cut off. The safer the cat feels, the more quickly she will settle in, so don’t worry about hiding being a permanent thing.
Hunting isn’t just about catching food, it’s about mental stimulation. You can mimic hunting behaviour with regular play sessions chasing a wing-on-a-string or a laser pointer. In addition, consider using puzzle feeders so that she has to work for her food or hiding small amounts of food around the house so that she has to go looking for it – all of which provide valuable mental stimulation.
Cats are carnivores but they do like to chew and eat vegetation from time to time. Avoid kitty dining on your house plants (which you will already have carefully screened to make sure they aren’t toxic to cats) by providing trays of cat grass as a ready salad.
Remember, the golden rule when transitioning an outdoor cat to the indoors, is to look at things through a cat’s eyes, and then you won’t go far wrong.
Have you successfully transitioned an outdoor cat indoors? What are your tips for success?