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Can an Outdoor Cat Become Your Indoor Pal?

Do you have a friendly outdoor kitty who likes to stop by for a porch snack? Have you ever thought about bringing them inside to officially join the family? If so, we’ve compiled some tips to help get you started on transitioning your outdoor porch cat to an indoor companion.

There is a caveat, though. Bringing an outdoor cat to live indoors may work if they seem friendly and socialized (perhaps from a previous owner). But if they are scared of you, they are probably a feral cat (not a stray) and have lived their entire life outside. For these cats, it’s probably best to stick to porch feeding. You could provide an outdoor shelter for them, though, to make life a little more comfortable.

Veterinarian Check First, Cuddles Second

Before you bring your new friend inside, you want to make sure they aren’t actually someone else’s pet and that they don’t have a contagious disease. Your veterinarian can help with both of these issues. They can check for a microchip and make sure the cat doesn’t actually belong to your neighbor down the street and is just touring the neighborhood for extra treats. Your veterinarian can also make sure your new friend doesn’t have any diseases that could spread to other household cats (e.g., feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus) or you (e.g., rabies). This first exam will probably include a general health check, vaccinations and a microchip. They will also check for and treat any internal and external parasites — because you don’t want to introduce anything other than the cat into your home. You may also want to spay or neuter the cat so they’re less likely to mark inside your house and will be more likely to stay with you. Depending on the results of their checkup, your new kitty may need to hang out at the veterinary clinic until they can safely interact with the people and pets in your household.

A Safe Place to Call Home

Your new cat has survived the challenge of living in the great outdoors and all the dangers that come along with that, but now they need to be protected from any dangers lurking inside your home. If this will be the first cat living in your house, you need to make sure it’s a catproof home before your new friend comes inside. This includes removing or covering any potentially hazardous chew toys (e.g., electrical cords, toxic plants, small objects) and making sure windows and screens are securely fastened. Remember to look up as well. A lot of cats feel the most secure and comfortable resting in high places, so look at the top of your cabinets and shelves to make sure there’s nothing too valuable up there — in case it does get “accidentally” pushed off.

Adjusting to Indoor Life Takes Time

You want your cat’s new home to be a comfortable space for them, but it’s probably going to take them a few days or even weeks to get used to their new environment. To help them adjust, start by keeping them in a single room that has everything they need. This includes food and water bowls, a comfy bed and a kennel or box to hide in. You can keep their natural hunting and climbing instincts satisfied by placing a cat tree near a window, providing a scratching post and hiding treats around the room.

Perhaps the most important thing that your cat will need to adjust to (at least, according to you) is using a litter box. Place the litter box as far from food and water bowls as possible and start with unscented, clumpable litter. You should scoop the box daily and avoid using covered or self-cleaning litter boxes (for now).

During this adjustment period, it’s important to spend time with your new housemate and get them used to you and being touched. If they haven’t been around people for a while, this may take some time. Once they appear to be acclimated to their new room, allow them to explore the rest of the house without other pets or people around to potentially scare them.

Introduce New Pets Slowly

To help with the introduction of your current pets to your new cat, try rubbing a towel on each of them and giving it to the other pet, so they can get used to the smell of their new friend. You can also let them sniff each other under the door. Once you think they’re ready for face-to-face introductions, make sure your new cat has at least two escape routes to their safe place and you always supervise any interactions.

 

Bringing a stray cat indoors to be part of your family is possible if you make their new environment a safe and comfortable place where they can still act on their natural instincts. Remember that it may take some time, so patience is important, too.

 

RELATED POST: Why “Community Cats” Should Be Spayed or Neutered

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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