You won't find much information on how to train your indoor cat to be an outdoor cat for good reason: Most cat experts agree that cats should be kept indoors. But can you train your cat to be an indoor-outdoor cat while avoiding the risks?
Reasons to Keep Cats Indoors
There are numerous reasons to keep your cat indoors, including but not limited to:
- Risk of Animal Cruelty: The news is full of stories about people shooting cats, leaving poison bait for them, and other cruel crimes too gruesome to mention. The point is that even the nicest neighborhoods sometimes harbor people who would harm your cats.
- Injuries and Disease: Indoor cats can contract feline diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV) through 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.
- Lost Evidence of Medical Problems: One of the first signs of UTIs (urinary tract infection), a blockage caused by a stone or kidney problems are 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."
Training Cats to Eliminate Outdoors
With the reasons for keeping your cats indoors in mind, are there any steps you can take to encourage them to eliminate outdoors rather than inside in a litter box?
Any litter box un-training has to be gradual. Consider gradually moving their litter box 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. While you may want to encourage your cat to "go" outside, consider keeping a litter box inside as well.
Unless you install a kitty door for easy access, you'll want to avoid having your cats drive you crazy wanting to go outdoors at 4 a.m. to pee.
Getting the Best of Both Worlds
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. You can plant with grass, fill with pebbles or use concrete or wood deck flooring. Consider installing built-in shelving where your cat can sleep in their preferred elevated location. You may even want to "decorate" with trees and bushes, either on the ground or in tubs. Your cat could have the best of both worlds: fresh air, the sunshine and a degree of freedom, along with the safety of being an indoor cat.