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How can you turn an outdoor cat into an indoor cat?

This Week’s Question:

I have a co-worker who has an indoor-outdoor cat. She would like to make him an indoor cat only, but her attempts have only led to very bad behavior and a lot of lost sleep on her part, as he keeps her up until she lets him out. Do you have any tips or tricks on how she can “train” him to be an indoor cat only?

J. Dutka

Dr. Debra’s Answer:

Thanks for your email. You wrote that you have a co-worker with an indoor-outdoor cat that she would like to make into an indoor-only cat. This takes time and patience. In the meantime, she may lose some sleep.

In general, the recommendation is this: If you take in an outdoor cat, confine him or her to one room. Even a small bathroom works great – with a clean litter box and food and water. This is just for a little while the cat adjusts to the litter box, food, water, smells, and sounds of your home. Interact and play with your cat as often as possible. Eventually, as your cat uses the box and seems comfortable, you can expand the environment to include more rooms or space. Provide lots of play time and interesting places to rest and sun. Window seats are a great treat and cat trees for climbing are also fun for most cats.

However, be REALLY careful around the door. Make sure you supervise carefully that he does not get out. If he gets out one time, he won’t stop trying to break free.

Most cats will adapt within several weeks.

This process can also be difficult for indoor-outdoor cats. You can try clicker training – any time your cat cries or demonstrates a behavior that indicates that they want to go out, use a clicker to make an unappealing sound. When they stop – you can resume play or give positive reinforcement.

An article that might be helpful to you is Selecting the Right Environmental Enrichment for Your Cat.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

Please note: Dr. Debra’s guidance should not be considered veterinary advice like that provided by your veterinarian, since she is unable to personally examine your pet. If you have an immediate concern or emergency, contact a veterinarian or local veterinary hospital about your specific situation.