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How do we train our previously indoor cats to go outdoors?


Question: How do we train our previously indoor cats to go outdoors?
Answer: You won't find much information on this topic for a very good reason: Most cat experts agree that cats should be kept indoors. I must confess that since the FIV+ diagnosis of my 18+ year old cat last year, I've been part of the "huge push to keep cats indoors." My neighborhood is about as cat-friendly as they come, but his FIV is a direct result of being allowed outdoors and fighting with other cats. (Yes-- he was neutered at six months, but some cats just never outgrow that territorial instinct.)

Other Reasons to Keep Cats Indoors

  • Cat Haters
    The papers are full of stories about people shooting cats, leaving poison bait for them, and other cruel crimes too gruesome to mention here. The point is that even the nicest neighborhoods sometimes harbor people who would harm your cats.
  • Injuries and Disease
    My Shannon's contracting FIV was a classic example. In addition, cats can contract FeLV and other serious disease from even casual contact with infected cats. Wound abscesses can be hugely expensive to treat.
  • Catnappers
    Yes, there are people who cruise nice neighborhoods looking for cats to sell for profit. "Bunchers" sell cats to laboratories for research. I'm sure you wouldn't want your cats to end up there.
  • Lost Evidence of Medical Problems
    One of the first signs of UTIs (urinary tract infection), blockage caused by stone, or kidney problems, is changes in urinary habits. Cats straining to urinate, or complete litter box avoidance, are both red flags to one or another of these problems. Likewise, you will be unaware of your cats' potential problems with diarrhea or constipation, if they use "the great outdoor litter box."

Lecture finished -- what can you do to encourage them to eliminate outdoor? Any litter box un-training has to be gradual, and since your cats are used to using a box, why not gradually move theirs outdoors, by moving it closer to the door every day. Eventually, you can replace it with a built-in "sandbox" in a corner of your yard that is private and secluded from view. I would also suggest keeping a litter box inside; otherwise your cats will drive you crazy wanting to go outdoors at 4 a.m. to pee. (Another downside of indoor-outdoor cats.)

Finally, the very best solution if you have space in your yard, would be to build a "kitty aviary" adjacent to the house with access through a window or cat-door. I've seen photos of some great ones-- some are planted with grass, others have pebble or concrete or wood deck flooring; all have built-in shelving where the cats can sleep in their preferred elevated location, and many have trees and bushes planted inside, either in the ground, or in tubs. Your cats could have the best of both worlds: fresh air, sunshine, and a degree of freedom, along with the safety of being indoors cats.

Good luck, and please let me know how it goes.

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