Once you have purchased and set up your cat trees, scratching posts, litter, litter boxes and toys, you are ready to bring your cat indoors.
If your cat has been an outdoor-only cat, the best way to start is to let the cat in and out for a few weeks to allow the cat some time to get used to being inside a house. The best time to do this is at meal time. Bring the cat in for a meal and leave the cat in for longer and longer periods after the meal. If you are bringing the cat in during the wintertime, a warm snuggly bed can be a great enticement to stay inside. Whether you are dealing with a cat who has been coming and going over the years or a cat new to indoor living, slowly increase the amount of time the cat stays in until the cat is inside all the time. You will have to decide when it is best to stop opening the door to let the cat out.
It is usually best to start with your cat in a small area of the house instead of giving the cat complete freedom (unless your cat has already had complete freedom while coming and going, in which case skip to here). Cats do not handle change well and often need to adapt gradually. Giving them all that they need (food, water, cat box, cat tree, scratching posts, and toys) in one room of the house can allow them to adjust to the new smells and sounds of indoor living. Introductions to children and other pets can be done in a controlled environment with the cat in a separate area.
Give your cat a little freedom at a time. Close all the doors to rooms in the house, and open the door to the room your cat has been living in. Supervise your cat’s time in the house, so you can interrupt any unwanted behavior such as scratching or marking in undesired locations. Interrupt with a toy or treat, although a squirt bottle can be used. Try and keep things as positive as possible in the beginning while your cat adapts. For semi-feral or feral cats, you will really have to decide when it is best to allow your cat some freedom. It is very likely these cats will find a place under a couch or on top of a bookshelf and not come out. If this happens, do not chase the cat around the house. Sit quietly and watch. If the cat absolutely refuses to come out, wait until feeding time and put food into the room where the cat had been staying. Wait and watch from a distance. If the cat retreats to the room, quietly follow and close the door. You may want to wait a little longer before allowing the cat more access. It may also be that this cat will always be one who wants to hide. As long as you have provided places for the cat to do so and plenty of cat boxes in the new areas of the house, you can allow gradual access, keeping doors closed to as much of the rest of the house as possible.
Be prepared for some vocalization. You will get some! Cats do not like change and are usually quite happy to let us know they are displeased. As a matter of fact, the vocalization usually will get worse before it gets better when you transition to not letting your cat outside at all. Do not give in! Make sure everyone in the family understands the rules. Consistency is important. Escalation in vocalization is to be expected, especially for cats who are used to meowing to get you and other family members to open the door to let them out. Now all of a sudden no one is responding appropriately, and the cat is frustrated that everyone seems to have gone deaf. Be strong. Get earplugs, and remember if you end up giving in and opening the door, you have just made your next attempt harder. The yowling will be even more persistent next time. You can make going near the door unpleasant by using a squirt bottle, but only as a last resort as you want being inside to be fun, not scary. A Comfort Zone Feliway Plug-in near the door may also help the cat calm down and have less desire to go outside. It is worth the investment to have a few of these plugged in around the house while making the transition. Plan on buying some refills and using them for at least a few months.
This advice is from Animal Behavior Consultant Cheryl Falkenburry. Read more about Cheryl and her work.