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PetPourri: Kitty Come Home – Felines of the Great Indoors

By Hana Haatainen Caye


We’ve all heard the old adage that curiosity killed the cat. Cliché, yes, but there is a lot of truth to it. Cats are naturally inquisitive creatures; it’s part of their charm. It can, however, get them into trouble, particularly if they are avid outdoor explorers. For that reason, there is much debate over whether or not they should be kept indoors. Indoor cats are less likely to tango with the dangers of the outside world, but does keeping them inside stifle their natural instincts and lessen their quality of life? There are a great many cat lovers out there who would vehemently argue the latter, but in today’s world there are plenty reasons to err on the side of caution and transform your outdoor adventurer into a lover of the great indoors.


Danger Zones


When you consider all the dangers lurking outside of your door, it is much easier to make the decision to keep Fluffy inside. The risks to your pet’s safety and health include:


  • Disease: There is no vaccination for FIV (Feline AIDS) and the one for FeLV (Feline Leukemia) offers only 80-85% protection from this life-threatening disease.


  • Parasites: Flea, tick and/or mosquito bites can cause serious problems for your pet.


  • Injuries: Cats are prone to multiple injuries when they spend their time outdoors. They can be hit by a car, be wounded in an altercation with another animal, get caught in a trap, etc.


  • Poisoning: Unfortunately, not everyone loves cats the way you do. Neighbors may put out poison in order to keep Rocky from urinating in their garden. Or, Rocky may choose a poisoned rat for an early morning snack.


  • Catnapping: Unbelievable but true, people pick up cats to sell for lab research or to use as bait in dogfights.


As compelling as they are, these concerns aren’t the only reasons to make the switch. Suppose you just moved into a new community and discover your outdoor cat is not permitted to roam the neighborhood unleashed. Or the stray cat you’ve been feeding is going to be taken to a shelter where she will most likely be euthanized…unless someone takes her in. Whether it is for safety issues, or to adhere to your community rules, the choice to retrain your cat to stay indoors is often a wise one.


Escape Artist


Since keeping a cat indoors does often contradict its ingrained inclination to explore, your first challenge is…well…keeping your cat indoors. This is not easy when your kitty is determined to escape back into her comfort zone. Start by making your cat’s passage to the outside world an unpleasant experience. Each time you enter or exit through a door and the cat tries to slink passed you, be prepared to make some noise. Stomp your feet, clap your hands or bang on a pot the second she passes the no-go zone, which ideally should be a foot or two away from the door. Add a loud hissing sound similar to what a mother cat uses with her kittens while she is training them. Be consistent. If this does not deter Lucky, add a dose of water or a puff of canned air to her face. Water pistols or spray bottles work well for this purpose. Generally, cats dislike unexpected face-washes, and when they discover the cause and effect of this misery, they will most likely decide it is just not worth it.


If you would rather exercise positive reinforcement, try luring your kitty away from the door with her favorite treats. Outside or treats? The answer to her inner dialogue will reflect how strong her will is to go back into the exciting world of skittering rodents and foraging pigeons.


Box Business


Training an outdoor kitty that is used to pottying in the posies to use an indoor litter box can be difficult, despite the fact that doing so is instinctual. The ASPCA suggests confining your cat to a large cage, complete with food, water, toys, a comfy sleeping area and a box filled with fine-grain, clumping litter. Once she gets the hang of going in the litter, move her to a small room, such as a bathroom, and keep her there until you are sure she is not urinating or defecating anywhere except in the litter box. This process could take as little as a few days or perhaps as long as a week.


When she finally has free rein of the house, carefully monitor her pottying habits. If you find her going outside of her box, put her back in a restricted area until she is accident-free once again.

Of course, it is important to give your cat plenty of supervised time outside of her cage or small room. Playing with her and giving her plenty of cuddle time will help your outdoor kitty adjust more readily to life on the other side of the door.


Tantalizing Temptations


Retraining your cat is only part of the equation. The other part is eliminating reasons for her to go outside. One such way is to spay or neuter the cat. Cats eager to mate will likely make your life miserable if they cannot get out that door. Food is another life necessity that trumps the ability to venture outdoors, so if your kitty is used to supping on the patio, introduce her to your wonderful indoor café. Your last task, although equally as important as the others, is to make the new indoor digs as pleasant and attractive as possible by adding a few of your cat’s favorite trimmings. An inviting home with plenty of entertainment and yummy snacks will eventually become a haven for your former roamer.  


Toys, Toys and More Toys


Your reformed hunter needs a lot of stimulation. Fluffy will love leaping through the living room in pursuit of feathers dangling from a stick. Batting a ping-pong ball across the kitchen floor will satisfy her chase instinct. Even a balled up piece of paper tossed across your home office can provide loads of fun. Cardboard boxes and paper (not plastic) bags can provide hours of playtime as well. Try transforming a large carton into an entertainment box, complete with plenty of openings big enough for your kitty to stick her paw through. Dangle toys from strings taped to the ceiling of the box so she can reach through the holes to ‘fish’ for a prize. The key here is to maintain her interest by rotating the toys every two weeks or so.


Go Green


Since outdoor kitties often eat grass to aid their digestive systems, providing them with a safe indoor alternative is a good choice. Plant containers of cat grass, alfalfa grass, catnip or wheat grass and let them munch away.


A Perch for Princess  


Cats tend to enjoy looking down on their surroundings. Give your indoor princess her throne. Cat trees and window perches will allow her to view what is happening inside and out. Crack the window so she can get a whiff of the outdoor air. Just make sure your screens are secure and do not tempt your kitty to devise an escape plan.


Cat Scratch Fever


Outdoor cats exercise their claws on a variety of surfaces, so you want to make sure they can continue this habit on something other than your leather sofa. Provide lots of scratching options, including sisal- or carpet-wrapped cat trees and corrugated cardboard scratch pads infused with oh-so-enticing catnip. If your over-zealous claw-sharpener is shredding your furniture, consider trimming her claws every week or two, or applying Soft Paws (www.softpaws.com) claw covers.


Whatever you do, make the change gradual. Limit the time spent outside to less and less each day. Then let Fluffy out every other day for a week, then twice a week, once a week, and eventually shut the door for good. If you listen carefully, late at night when everyone is asleep, you are bound to hear the gentle clicking of heels and a soft meow that says, “There’s no place like home.”





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