Step One: Setting the Stage

Preparing your home for a successful move means establishing three important locations for your cat:

1. Places to Climb and Hide
2. Places to Scratch
3. Places to Eliminate

Places to Climb and Hide

Cats usually fall into two categories: Tree-dwellers or bush-dwellers.

Tree-dweller cats like to climb. These are the cats who will knock knickknacks off of shelves and bookcases in an attempt to get a high vantage point of the room. A tall cat tree can help satisfy these tree-dwelling cats.

Adding some floating shelves (or shelves with supports if your cat weighs more than 15 lbs) to a wall that are arranged so a cat can climb from one to the next and end up near a window can be a good way to provide a stimulating place to climb and have it easily fit into your décor. Sure, people will wonder what goes on those empty shelves on your wall, but your cat will quickly give them a show that explains it all -- or you can paint a clever mural behind the shelves to tie them in.

Bush-dweller cats like cozy places to hide down low. Many cat trees have little hiding places in them that cats enjoy.

Consider making a cozy area under an end table or in a box in a corner of the room to help keep these cats happy.

There are a multitude of cat trees for climbing and hiding available on the market to fit your décor or you can get creative and cut holes in old furniture and shelving units to create unique climbing and hiding areas. You can keep it simple or get creative when developing spaces to entice your cat to enjoy the indoors.


Places to Scratch

Scratching posts give cats an area to exercise their claws, stretch their muscles, and mark their territory. Cats will instinctively stretch and claw. They need to scratch on rough surfaces to shed the outer sheath and sharpen their nails. They also leave oils behind from their paws, letting others know this is their territory. When you provide an enticing rough surface like a post wrapped in sisal rope, you can help reduce a cat’s desire to use your oriental carpet and antique chair as a cat scratch. Make sure the post has a sturdy base so the cat doesn’t tip it over and become fearful of the scratching post.

The cat trees for climbing also provide places to scratch. It is a good idea to have different scratching areas placed around the house: tall ones, short ones, ones that lie on the ground, ones that hang from a doorknob -- they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are made out of cardboard and can be inexpensive and enticing when sprinkled with catnip. Place scratching pads and posts in areas where you worry the cat may find an inappropriate substitute for scratching, i.e., Grandma’s antique wing chair.

Q: I put scratching posts all around the house and my cat is still destroying my furniture. Help!


Places to Eliminate: Toilet Needs

It is important to have more than one cat box even if you only have one cat. If you have multiple cats you should at have one more cat box than cats, i.e., three cats = a minimum of four litter boxes. Cats can have a preference for the location of the box, the type of box, and the type of litter used in the box. It can take a little experimenting to find out what your cat likes best, so it is best to start with a variety.

Type of Litter Box:  It can be a little overwhelming when shopping for a cat box with the many varieties, but there is a reason for that. Cats who are worried about a member of the household sneaking up on them while they are doing their business may prefer an open cat box that allows escape from all angles. Other cats like a cozy enclosure. Some cats may prefer a litter box that allows them to see who is coming but still provides a safe enclosure. Ideally, if you can get one of each and place them in different locations, you will be able to find out which type of box your cat prefers. For now, avoid the automatic cleaning cat boxes. They make noise that can often scare a cat and ruin litter box training. Set your cat up for success. In that vein, also keep in mind that litter and location have a lot to do with successful litter box use.

Type of Litter:  A variety of litter for the cat box can also be found. It can be confusing to know which one will be best for your cat. The least amount of dust that is created when your cat scratches at the litter is best for their health. Clay litters can be very dusty with added chemicals and scents and are often heavy, especially when they get wet. Keep in mind that you are bringing a cat in from the outdoors, where the cat has been using natural substrates to go to the bathroom -- so try to find litter that is as natural as possible that will mimic what your cat is used to outside. They are also better for the environment when you are disposing of them. Natural litters come in corn, wheat, pine, and even walnut varieties. Try different types until you find one that your cat likes and that fits your budget. Most importantly, clean the litter box daily! No one likes using a dirty toilet,  including your cat. Keep a scoop and plastic bags by each box to make cleaning throughout the day quick and easy. 

Location:  The location of the box is equally important. Where you feel is the best and most convenient place for a box may not be what your cat believes. It is best to have a few cat boxes in different areas to avoid accidents. Shy cats may want a box in an out-of-the-way place. Dominant cats may want to see what is going on when they eliminate and may feel they will miss out on something if they have to retreat to a basement. If the box is too far away from where the cat likes to hang out, the cat may choose a different location. This is where cat furniture can come in handy to hide a box that might need to be right in your living area.

Q: I always thought cats just automatically knew how to use a litter box. Mine seems to have no idea and pees right outside the box.

Q: I’m at my wit's end and ready to put my cat back outside. He is spraying on a chair in the living room and the corner of the hall upstairs to the bedrooms. The house is beginning to smell horrible. I can’t take much more of this. He has cat boxes everywhere.

Step Two: Places to Play
Step Three: Transitioning to Indoor Living
Problem Solving for Indoor Cats
Learn more about why you should keep cats indoors.

This advice is from Animal Behavior Consultant Cheryl Falkenburry. Read more about Cheryl and her work.