the Wild to the Warm:
By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC
You may live with a cat that likes to take cat naps in the back yard and occasionally hunt a bird or chase shadows. Or, your cat might be a street cat that loves to wander the neighborhood, chasing other cats, exploring trees, yowling at the moon and coming home only when it fits into his agenda. Cats that live the indoor/outdoor lifestyle have shorter and more stress-filled lives then cats that never go outside. The average life span of a cat allowed outdoors is only three-five years, compared to 12-14 years for a cat living in doors that never ventures outside. Cats that are allowed outside face risks of being stolen, contracting parasites, engaging in fights with other animals, dying prematurely from diseases, poisons, cars or from encounters with dogs, cats and wild animals. There are other new hazards in recent years that have been added to this lengthy list. These threats include natural and man-made disasters such as earthquakes, fires, hurricanes and terrorist threats. Additionally, the emergence of new diseases, such as bird flu and resistant forms of panleukopenia, are threatening our pets. It’s time for a feline life style change! We need to bring our cats indoors permanently where they can live safe and long lives.
How does one convince an outdoor-loving cat that he will live a longer healthier life indoors where it’s warm and safe? Most cats I know aren’t in the habit of listening to monologues from humans concerning their welfare. Every cat is unique with his own personality and needs. Some cats welcome the opportunity of living permanently indoors; others will take a little more work, patience and time in order to make the transition from outside to inside.
The first step to transition a cat to living indoors is to spay or neuter the cat. Spaying and neutering helps to keep the cat population down, and reduces the risks of certain diseases such as pyometra and testicular cancer. It also helps eliminate frustration, stress and accompanying behavior challenges such as spraying, howling and fighting.
The best time to transition an outside-loving cat to the comforts of home is during the winter, preferably when it’s cold and wet outside. Other times during the year will also work, but the transition will probably be quicker if the great outdoors isn’t very appealing to the cat. Most domestic cats will choose a warm spot on a couch over trying to keep dry under a bush. Making the home cat-centric before bringing the cat in will also make the transition faster and easier.
Begin the transition to inside living by feeding the cat exclusively indoors. There shouldn’t be any food available for the cat outside. It is important to put the cat on a regular feeding schedule, feeding him at the same time every day 2-3 times a day. In order for the cat to associate you as the food provider, don’t leave food around for the cat to eat whenever he’s hungry. Always feed in the same location in the house. His feeding station should also include a fresh bowl of water. The spot you choose must be safe from dogs, other cats and children. If your cat enjoys being interacted with, make sure to give him lots of attention before and after he eats. In order to avoid the eat-and-run mentality, gradually extend the time that your kitty stays in after eating.
Between meal times use bribery and black mail. Coerce your furry friend to come in between meals by using play and deal breaking treats. First entice him to play inside with a fishing pole type of toy. When engaging him in play, imitate a wounded animal. Pull the toy at the end of the fishing pole around furniture, into boxes and bags. Slow down the action and then speed it up. When you or the cat has decided that it’s time to stop playing, don’t abruptly stop the play. Since the cat will be charged with adrenalin he will need to cool down by your gradually slowing down the play. Finally when you are done playing, let him catch the toy and then feed him a handful of very tasty treats. Usually cats will wash themselves after eating and then curl up for a nap. Extend his stay inside the house by 10 minutes each time you play with him.
Part of the life style change from street cat to house cat involves convincing the cat that relocating inside is much more interesting and fun then being outdoors. Additionally, it is important to remember that cats are creatures of habit and routine. A new and more interesting routine will have to gradually replace the one the cat has grown accustomed to. Be creative, bring the outdoors in. There is a plethora of fascinating activities for a cat to do outside, including a diversity of stuff to climb on, lots of space to explore, places to hide and critters to chase. Most of these cat-intriguing activities can be provided inside the safety of your home. Start by increasing the vertical space. Since cats love to climb, provide your cat with tall cat trees/gyms or install accessible carpeted cat shelves around the perimeter of select rooms in your home. Cats love to scratch their claws on sisal, so wrap part of the cat trees tightly with sisal rope. When buying or constructing a tall tree, make sure that it has a very sturdy base so that over-exuberant cats can’t accidentally knock it over. Commercial cat furniture is available with carpeted enclosures that cats love to go in. Hang objects that your cat would be fascinated with from the shelves on the cat trees.
Treats and toys are an important part of the process for bringing your cat in. Find a treat that your cat really loves. Make him work for his treats by converting a whiffle ball into a treat ball by putting treats in it. Then hang it from the cat tree in a cat-accessible location. Ping pong balls work well too. After punching multiple holes in a ping pong ball, fill it with treats and then give it to your cat. He will spend hours trying to remove the treats from the ball. Cats love a variety of different kinds of toys. Some of my cat’s favorite toys include fishing pole toys, cat dancer, soft little balls, bottle caps and pieces of paper wadded up into balls.
Hours of entertainment can be provided by installing a comfortable carpeted window perch and then hanging a bird feeder outside the window where the perch is located. The windows and window screens need to be secure and closed. Some cats are very strong and can easily punch out window screens. Additionally there are cats that can squeeze through windows that are barely opened. The TV can also offer hours of distraction for cats. Turn the TV on to the Animal Planet or play cat videos or DVDs that contain nothing but animals and fish bopping around.
Catnip can also be a source of entertainment for most cats. The effects of catnip only last for about 20-30 minutes, but it is a great way to distract a cat and get them out of the doldrums. If you have more then a one cat and at least one of them is a male, I recommend you first give them catnip separated from each other. For some males, catnip mimics a female in heat, inspiring them to respond to other cats with aggression.
If your cat has never used a cat box, or has gotten in the habit of using the great outdoors as his personal litter box, you will need to teach him proper litter-box etiquette. Start by having at least two cat boxes. Make sure that the feeding/water station is not near the litter boxes. The litter boxes need to be uncovered. In order to encourage him to use the boxes, use an unscented clay litter with garden soil mixed in and on the surface. After he starts to use the box on a regular basis, slowly increase the litter and decrease the garden soil. One brand of litter to consider for litter-box training is a brand named Cat Attract. Help your cat develop good bathroom habits by monitoring him. A short time after he eats, when it looks like he may have to go to the bathroom, pick him up and place him in the box. If he doesn’t quite understand the litter box concept, don’t punish or yell at him. Be patient with him. After picking up the evidence of his mishap, place it in the box and then gently show him the box again. If you yell or punish him, he may start to associate using the litter box with being punished and then purposely avoid using it. Insure your cat will keep using the litter box by having enough litter boxes, scooping every day and cleaning the box thoroughly, replacing with new litter every two-three weeks.
You may be sharing your life with a cat that doesn’t immediately take to living inside 24/7. Slow down the transition process, and consider buying a product called Comfort Zone. Comfort Zone can help relieve stress and anxiety in cats. It is plugged into a wall outlet and diffuses a synthetic calming pheromone into the air. The pheromone mimics the “friendly” pheromones that cats rub on people and other cats when saying hello by head butting. I have found that it has worked in about 80% of my cases. One Comfort Zone diffuser covers about 500 square feet and lasts approximately one month.
Not letting your cat outside will reduce vet bills, and lengthen the life span of your cat. Some cats are harder to convert to living in doors; other cats will be thrilled with the opportunity to move operations inside. If your cat is protesting about becoming an inside cat, slow the process down. It takes time to change a long-established behavior, and since cats don’t do well with change it’s important to take your time. It is well worth the effort to bring your cat permanently into your home and to not allow him outside.
Krieger, CCBC, MA
September 2006 by Marilyn Krieger.
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