From Outdoor Cat to Indoor Cat

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to help a cat adjust to indoor-only living.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: March 4, 2011, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: I have a 1-year-old male cat, Titus, who has become overwhelming in the past couple of months. Last December, we moved from our large home on a walnut orchard to an upstairs apartment. My cat was used to climbing in trees and having several rooms to roam at night. Because our new place is downtown and much smaller, I don't let him out, and he is not happy with this. He tries to escape and he has become very vocal. Today, as I sat on my couch, he urinated on it. 

I was thinking of getting another cat, but I don't know if that's the right answer. I know he is upset but, unfortunately, I can't reason with him and tell him our lease is up next December and we'll move somewhere with a yard. What can I do?

A: You can help your cat adjust to a new home by providing him with the activities and elements that satisfied and delighted him in the walnut orchard. That doesn't mean you have to cut down a walnut tree and bring it into your apartment, nor do you have to provide him with live prey. But since he loves to climb and explore, provide him with lots of interesting places to climb and hide. Tall cat trees and high shelves will help satisfy his climbing needs. Cat trees should be at least 6 feet high and have lots of shelves at different heights. If your apartment is too small for cat trees, you can put shelves up high around the perimeter of the room. Safely secure the shelves to the walls, wide apart enough for your cat to relax and stretch out on.

Positioning the cat furniture near high book shelves, tall armoires and other architectural elements will also give your cat more places to hang out. Your cat might also appreciate a cat tree placed in front of a secure window so he can watch the activities in the neighborhood. Having multiple access points to and from the tops of the high areas will help keep him entertained as well. In addition to the vertical territory, set up places for him to hide. These can be as simple as boxes or paper bags with their handles cut off, or they can be igloos and complex tunnels with multiple channels.

Enhance your cat's environment with interactive toys to help your cat adjust to indoor living. Ball and tract toys are great for keeping cats busy. Puzzle boxes and toys where treats and other small toys can be hidden will also help Titus adjust to the new living arrangements.

Interacting with Titus on a schedule will also help him adjust to not going outside. Play with Titus a couple of times a day. Play is an extension of the hunt and will help keep him active and occupied. Additionally, he'll enjoy daily treasure hunts. Hide Titus's favorite treats around the flat. Place them on the cat trees and shelves and in the puzzle toys. Treasure hunts are most effective just before you leave for the day.   

Bringing in a new cat will increase Titus's stress and can escalate the problem and cause other challenges. Later on, after he's successfully adjusted to his new indoor life, you may want to consider gradually introducing Titus to a new cat friend.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>


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Reader Comments

O-    P-, MA

4/5/2011 12:23:26 AM


Jan    Palo Alto, CA

3/20/2011 12:14:25 PM

My cat is indoors (after being found at edge of a freeway and a cat woman tamed her a bit first!) So I was lucky. But the windows are a great thing for the cat! But must be safe. Cat claws can tear the screen, making it ugly and also possible to escape. I purchase secondary screens for all my cat windows. I buy them at a hardware store. They come in 3 heights, and you can manipulate the width since it can has parts of it interlapping in the screen slot. It's been great for my cat in many windows.

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

3/18/2011 5:34:37 PM

I think my kitties would go crazy if they were stuck indoors too! Good luck!

Amber    Vancouver, BC

3/17/2011 4:13:48 PM

It's also very important to realize that putting a cat in a small dog's harness, which supports them without harming their neck, and taking him back outside on a leash will make him very happy. I take my apartment cat out for an hour a day and he loves it!

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