How to transition your cat to a life at home

Contrary to some beliefs, cats do not have to roam outdoors to be happy. If you keep your cat entertained by creating an interesting environment, which fulfils their physical, mental and social needs, your cat will be happy to stay entirely within the confines of your house or property.

How to transition your cat to a life at home

Many cat owners have considered keeping their cat safe at home, but without practical advice the task can appear quite daunting. Here we provide some practical steps for you to follow when you decide to keep your new or existing cat happy at home.

All cats

Health and safety

Inspect door latches, fly screens, windows, balconies, and chimneys to ensure your cat won’t be able to slip out unnoticed or harm itself in any way.

 

The basics

Always provide fresh food and water for your cat, in separate locations, and make sure your cat knows where to find them. Cats enjoy vertical as well as horizontal space so having many high places they can perch on or walk along is ideal, particularly if they are able to sunbake through a window. Scratching posts, cat grass and water fountains will also allow your cat to express natural behaviours while safe at home.

Litter tray

Cats can take some time to get used to using a litter tray, so it may require some patience. Try placing it in an obvious location, but with some privacy. Ensure it is big enough for your cat to enter it, use it and exit easily. One cat needs two trays; each additional cat needs another tray, all in different places.

Playtime

In order to meet the needs of your cat, playtime is important. Each cat should enjoy several short bursts of play each day, adjusted as necessary for their age and health status. If you are able to establish a set routine, this is reassuring for your cat. Cats are most active at dawn and dusk, so this can be a good time for play.

Companionship

One of the most important enrichments in a cat’s life is interaction with humans at a level they are comfortable with – time spent playing, sitting, and sleeping with your cat will create a special bond and help fulfil its emotional needs (as well as your own).

New cats

Create a safe space

Your new cat may feel insecure and will not want to venture far, so this is the ideal time to introduce containment and establish a safe routine. Set your cat up in their own small, temporary, safe and secure space. Once settled in (it may take a few days; it may take longer), you can gently allow it to explore the rest of the house. Always leave the door to the safe space open so it can retreat there if needing privacy (or the litter box!).

Supervised excursions

If you feel your new cat would like to experience the outside, they can be taught to walk on a harness, particularly if trained from a young age. They may take you for a walk rather than the other way around, but it is a safe way for your cat to experience the outdoors.

Existing cats

Go slowly

Your cat who is used to spending time outdoors can be transitioned to being an indoor cat, but it’s best to go about any changes gradually, as cats do thrive on routine. If things don’t work out every time, don’t lose hope. Your cat may need time to learn that being safe at home can be fun.

Timing is everything

There will be certain times in your life when it will be easier for you and your cat to make a change to routine.

These include:

  • When it’s cold outside. In winter your cat is more likely to prefer to be snuggled up indoors than out in the cold. Use this as an opportunity to get your cat used to how sweet and safe a life at home can be.

  • Feeding time. Feeding time is a good opportunity to extend time safe at home. Instead of letting your cat outside straight after eating, extend the time they spend indoors.

  • Moving house. Moving house can be an optimal time to transition your cat indoors because new behaviours can be associated with the new environment. This will also help protect your cat from the dangers of roaming outside in unfamiliar territory.

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For more information

Check out our brochure Home, Sweet home, for more tips and tricks on how to make the transition easier for your cat. 

Behavioural issues

Cats like routine and transitioning a roaming cat to life indoors is a big change. Sometimes your cat might start to display a behaviour you might find problematic, this can be caused by a lack of basic provisions, boredom or the sudden change in their environment. We have created a booklet about the five most common cat behavioural issues and tips on how to solve them.  

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At Home With Cats is a series of videos that provide practical solutions and advice for people that would like to keep their cat safe at home. The Tasmanian Conservation Trust, Kingborough Council and Ten Lives Cat Centre have created this excellent series to help cat owners with transitioning their roaming cat to become a fully contained, safe and content cat. Visit the Kingborough Council website, watch the entire At Home With Cats series and be inspired to try it for yourself. 

© Tasmanian Cat Management Project 2019

TassieCat is a state-wide initiative to promote and facilitate responsible cat ownership and management in Tasmania. The project is supported by Cradle Coast Authority NRM, Kingborough Council, and NRM North through funding from the Tasmanian Government.