Keeping Your Cat Indoors

- by Jim Egenrieder


Impact on Indigenous Wildlife
12 Steps to Bringing Your Cat Indoors Permanently
Dangers to Free-
Roaming Cats
Impact on Others
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I did a good bit of pet sitting when I first moved to the Washington area from rural Pennsylvania many years ago. Back then I could not understand how some folks here could keep their cats locked up inside the house 24 hours a day. I spent much of my childhood watching the barn cats around the farm yard, and I’ve always been curious of their aloof, mostly self-sufficient nature and their excellent mousing and ratting skills. I figured then that urban cats should enjoy those same freedoms.

Nowadays I’m convinced that all cats should be kept indoors. Outdoor cats get in fights, defecate and dig in gardens and sandboxes, cause automobile accidents, pick up diseases and parasites, kill birds and small mammals, and they face all sorts of potential hazards every day.

That said, I’ll agree that it is terribly hard to suddenly lock your pet inside for good. While a kitten kept indoors will never know what it’s missing, an adult cat that is used to spending time outdoors will not be happy at first. However, the staff at the animal welfare and adoption organizations can give you excellent advice on how to bring an outdoor cat inside. Stop by the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA) at 2650 S. Arlington Mill Drive in Shirlington and ask for information. In the end you’ll be rewarded with a healthier, safer, and more attentive companion.

Dangers to a Free-Roaming Cat

Local animal welfare groups have done an excellent job publicizing the impact of pet overpopulation. But free-roaming cats also get in fights, are hit by cars, are killed by raccoons and hawks, become trapped by their collars, pick up parasites, and are sometimes nabbed and even tortured by deranged humans. Those reasons were enough for me to agree to keep my newly adopted kitty (he came with my wife) indoors. For the same reasons, most animal welfare groups now reserve the write to revoke a cat adoption if the new owner allows the cat to leave the house.

Impact on Indigenous Wildlife

The impact of cats on the wild critters around us is most alarming. Studies in England and Australia revealed that free-roaming cats kill an astonishing number of songbirds, bats, rabbits, quail, pheasants, and other small mammals. Pet cats in those studies each killed between 40 to 200 animals over a one year period, depending on how one analyzes the data.

Our cats are widely believed to be the primary cause for the extirpation (a localized "extinction") of many species. Most biologists believe that while bells are helpful, there usually not enough warning due to a cat’s stalking hunting style. Most also agree that de-clawed cats are still efficient killers.

Impact on Others

Free-roaming cats can also be a nuisance to your neighbors. While many municipalities have passed laws requiring pet-owners to clean up after their pets, most cat owners make no effort to do so. Cats defecate in sandboxes, dig in flower gardens, and cause automobile accidents. They are also vectors for disease in other animals and also humans. Dog owners will testify that neighborhood cats with fish-based diets frequently deposit "treats" in their yard that their dogs find tasty.


A 12-Step Program for Bringing Your Cat Indoors, Permanently.


Over the last few years, experts have suggested several approaches for successfully converting your outdoor cat to an indoor companion. The following program combines their suggestions into a 12-step approach that will work for almost any cat.

  1. Do it gradually. A change that is too abrupt can lead to misbehavior. Reduce the length of time outdoors each day, and gradually replace outdoor excursions with indoor play times.
  2. Spay or neuter your cat, please. While indoors your cat will not have the same opportunities to procreate, but neutering will reduce the desire to be outside. You’ll notice other changes too, all for the better.
  3. Limit outdoor excursions to mid-day. Most critters are most active around dawn and dusk. Reduce the
  4. Talk to your vet. Your cat will probably need much fewer calories, and your vet can help you change your pet’s diet. Your vet can also help you with any unexpected behavior problems.
  5. Interact with your cat. Playing games together will develop your relationship and provide the stimuli necessary for your companion to be content.
  6. Provide entertainment while you’re away. This can be the most challenging, but may be the most important component of a successful transition indoors. Leave closet doors open, hide treats in paper grocery bags, buy or make fury or feathery toys and scratch pads.
  7. Build or designate a window perch. Pick a window with a good view and one that opens to allow fresh air and outdoor sounds in good weather. If you have room, consider a climbing post with a perch on top.
  8. Introduce an animal companion. Some vets recommend a cat of the opposite sex. Don’t expect a strong bond with your dog, but don’t rule it out. Again, neutered animals will adapt better.
  9. Introduce your cat to a leash. This is a great way to let your cat enjoy being outdoors without the danger. A better alternative is an enclosed outdoor area such as a screen porch.
  10. Provide indoor plants that are appealing to cats. There are some pre-mixed planters commercially available in pet stores, but you can design your own garden of catnip and other grasses.
  11. Ignore the crying. Like dogs, cats recognize patterns in your relationship with them. If you give into their whining, they may figure their whining to be part of a ritual that ends in reward.
  12. Tell your cat-owner neighbors. Tell them about your success and the newly-found pleasure in your relationship with your feline. Do it gently or perhaps subtly, don’t make them defensive, and offer your support.
Bringing a cat indoors permanently isn’t easy, but the rewards are many. If you’ve taken the time to read this far, you obviously take responsibility for your pet very seriously. These 12 steps will help you enjoy your feline companions much longer and more often.

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