Living Arrangement Problems


Keeping cats inside after they are used to more freedom

Question: I was delighted to find your web site, but unfortunately the FAQ for my problem was not listed. Here goes.

I have three adult cats; 1 female-age 10; two males-ages 5 and 2. All neutered.

From the time they were all kittens and they all were 6-8 weeks old when we obtained them, they have had the luxury of going in and out of doors. As of the first of June, with threats from our new neighbors in the community we just moved to to have them picked up by the "cat" catcher, they've had to endure staying indoors 24 hours a day.

Needless to say, they ain't happy!!!! For the first time the kitty box is in full use - rarely used before - and the smell is awful. It seems that the neighbor objects to my cats using their yard and rose bushes for their kitty box.

Is there anything we can do? A product that we can purchase to put on our neighbors lawn and bushes?

Help, the cries and meows are killing us.


Answer: Cathy-

I do not know of an effective product that can be sprayed along the border to the neighbor's yard to discourage your cats from going on their property. I wish I did because it would be a really popular product!

There are a couple of things that you might consider, though.

First, it is important to have more than one litterpan in a multiple cat household. If you only have one litterpan you are going to have a problem sooner or later with one of the cats choosing other spots in the house to urinate or defecate. The recommendation is to have 1 more litter pan than you have cats, but that may be impractical in many situations. Try to have at least two litter pans, though. Even if you just have to put them side by side.

There are many cat owners who have built cat play areas in the yard that are enclosed and have a kitty door to the inside, so that their cats can have an indoor/outdoor experience safely. If you check out the cat magazines at your local library you can probably find plans for, or at least pictures of, these types of play areas. This is probably also impractical in many instances but these do work well. Several of my clients have taken this approach and have been happy with the results. Even a kitty door onto a screened in porch can help a great deal.

It may also work to use one of the underground fences that produces a mild shock when a cat gets near it. I can't recall seeing an outdoor kit for one of these for cats but they may be available. One problem with them is that cats have more options for evading them than dogs, since they climb so much better than dogs. Plus there is the whole issue of whether these are a good idea based on the fact that they work by causing electrical shocks --- but if they provide the opportunity to be outside that may be worth the discomfort of learning the limits.

I don't know of another solution. Many cats do adjust to being indoors, over time -- but many don't and try constantly to get outside.

I wish I had an easy answer.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/4/2000

Adjusting to living inside

Question: Dear Dr. Richards:

A month ago, I wrote to you a few times regarding about my kitty 'Baby'. I do not expect you to remember him. He, my kitty, was bitten by another cat a little over a month ago and found FELV positive from the blood test. The 6" wound was completely healed about 3 weeks later. I tried to keep him inside as much as possible, but I had to let him out occasionally since he was used to stay outside most of the time. I did not want to change his life style abruptly and tried to make him stay inside more and more everyday.

Three days ago, I let him go outside early in the morning. I check the surrounding before letting him go but failed to see a huge cat waiting in the dark. I tried to get my kitty as soon as I saw that cat chasing him down, but they run too fast that I could not follow them. An hour later, my kitty came back home with a big new wound almost at the same place at the old one. We took him to the hospital right away. The doctor said the wound did not look like a cat bite and he probably got hurt by himself while running away from that cat. No matter how he got hurt, he was hurt so badly. The doctor said the injury was not that serious and he would be fine in a few days.

The wound seems to be healing quickly just after 2 days, but I cannot let him out anymore. Every morning and evening are just agonizing moments for both him and me. He wants to go outside but I have to keep him inside for both my and his sake. I feel so sad to see his sad face. He just goes back to sleep when I do not open the door for him. Now here are my questions:

- How can I make my kitty who loves outside stay inside and be happy (or at least normal)? - Can he feel depressed and become unhealthy if he cannot go outside at all (since he sleeps all the time now)? - Can an outdoor cat become used to a new indoor life style? If so, how much time does it usually take for a cat to get used to it? - Am I making the situation worse by making him feel so unhappy? - What should I do?

Please help me. Sincerely, Thandar

Answer: Thandar-

It is hard for some cats to adjust to an all indoor lifestyle. Some cats never do really adapt. Other cats adjust readily. My impression, just based on my own personal experiences is that if a cat is restless or depressed after several months then it is probably not going to adjust to an inside lifestyle.

There are ways to compromise with a kitty, though. If you check into back issues of "Cat Fancy" or similar magazines at your library, you will find some issues on building outdoor/indoor enclosures for cats, so that they can enjoy being able to do in and out of the house but are confined to a run or similar space while outside. This seems to work well for many of the cats who wish to spend some time outdoors. Even though we live in a rural area, at least two or three of my clients have built these types of enclosures for their kitties.

Sleeping a lot is normal for cats. Even when cats are outdoors, they spend a good deal of their time sleeping. You may just be noticing this more because he is inside where you can keep track of it.

I don't know how to make decisions about quality of life for other people's cats. You have to think about your cat and his responses to life. You are the person most in tune with him, so you have to think this over and try to make the best choice you can. Personally, I have made this decision both ways. I had one cat who just simply would not stay inside and finally, I just gave up and let him live an indoor/outdoor existence even though I really wanted him to stay inside. On the other hand, I have an indoor cat who was a barnyard stray when my kids hid her in my practice truck and she came home with us. For a month or two she wanted to go out but then she seemed to decide life was better indoors and has been happy inside ever since.

It may not be possible for you to consider one of the indoor/outdoor enclosures but if you can, they do seem to work pretty well.

Mike Richards, DVM 5/22/2000

Last edited 01/30/05


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...