Nine months ago a tiny kitten wandered into my yard and climbed into my lap.
She was small, malnourished, scared, tired, and in search of a home. So we took her in, fed her, gave her a litter box, and loved her. I immediately knew that I wanted her to be an indoor/outdoor cat but I wanted to wait until she was older and spayed (I definitely didn’t need more kittens!). So we decided to take it slow.
Here is how we have trained her over the last nine months…
Step 1: Interact with your cat outdoors while they are a kitten. We have been taking Butters outdoors under supervision since we found her. We had a couple of stuck up a tree incidents in the beginning but now she stays very close to the ground and the house.
Step 2: Feed your cat indoors. Just because they are going outside does not mean they need food out there. Feeding outside slowly eliminates their need to come back and it also attracts other neighborhood cats.
Step 3: Assess your neighborhood for safety. We are only a couple of blocks away from two of the busiest streets in town but our street is actually very quiet and there are several neighborhood cats in our area. Knowing these things, we wanted to feel comfortable when she’s outside alone so we strive to keep her within our boundaries, which is the backyard. We play outside with her, walk the fence line with her, and talk to her when she’s nearing an area that we aren’t comfortable with. Having the dog, who meticulously marks his territory in our yard, also helps.
Step 4: Reward your cat for good behavior. When she comes inside she gets a nice treat or even a yummy meal if she’s been very good. All pets remember a delicious snack. In the beginning, you could even leave a few treats by the door to provide positive reinforcement.
Step 5: Develop a routine. Let your cat in and out at the same time everyday. It is best to work around their feeding schedule and your daily schedule. It also helps to let your cat in and out of only one door in your home.
Step 6: Increase their independence slowly. At first, we had to carry her back into the house. Then we began leaving her alone for short periods of time and she started coming to the back door by herself.
Step 7: Vaccinate. Be sure that your cat is always up to date with shots and pest medications. Also, spay or neuter to avoid cat overpopulation.
Other tips to keep in mind when letting your cat outside:
- Attaching a leash to a cat’s collar is a good way to increase freedom without sacrificing your cat’s safety. If she climbs a tree, we can pull her down. If she runs too far, we can grab the leash.
- Play with your cat indoors and outdoors.
- Call your cat by name as much as possible so that they will learn to come when called.
- This should go without saying, if your cat is declawed it should not go outside because you have taken away its defensive weapons and its ability to climb trees to avoid predators.
- Cats are natural predators who love to please their owners so don’t be surprised to find a fresh kill (bugs, birds, mice, lizards, etc) at your back door when your cat comes inside. In high school, my cat would leave a “special treat” by my car every single day. Once I saw it and praised her, she would then dispose of it for me.
This seemingly small issue is actually a big debate among cat owners and, in my opinion, there are several factors to consider when making the decision. I grew up on a 50 acre non-working farm. It was a cat’s paradise and ours loved it. We had four cats. Two were indoor/outdoor, one was only indoors, and the fourth was only outdoors. My step-dad found the indoor cat in the pouring rain outside his house in the city. She had no intentions of returning back outside due to fear and, perhaps, trauma plus she was pretty dumb, so he declawed her and she lived a happy life cuddled up on our couch. My brother found the outdoor cat in one of our barns and began feeding him. He was allowed inside conditionally but the clumsy 25 lb cat wore out his welcome after knocking down a few of Mom’s prized possessions so he was relegated to the outdoors for good. Although, my brother and I managed to sneak him inside for every holiday. The last two cats were indoor/outdoor cats that we picked out at the Humane Society as kittens. They had the best of both worlds: play and hunt all night then come inside to sleep all day. Plus, since we adopted them at a young age (6 months), we were able to adequately train them to be indoor/outdoor cats. So, as you can see, there are several factors for each and every cat.
For Butters, this decision was a no-brainer. She constantly asks to go outside and she deserves the change of scenery. It also helps tire her active kitty body. It’s best to assess what works for you and your pet. Some cats simply don’t like being outdoors and some love it. Your cat’s safety and your ease of mind are the two most important factors so try out my tips to see what works for your lifestyle.