Outdoor cat being converted to indoor cat: possible?

A few weeks ago, a plank fell out of the back gate to our yard. The apartment management will not repair it, and if I call them and make an issue of it, they’ll just send the maintenance man out to rebuild the whole back fence sans gate. So, at least for the time being, we’re living with a back gate with a big opening in the middle.

That’s the background. Here’s the plot exposition:

A couple of weeks ago, while I was making breakfast, I saw a small-ish (young adult) cat creeping through the slot into our back yard. Kayla, who loves kitties, was completely charmed, and opened the door leading to the patio. I expected that the cat would take that as his cue to skedaddle, but instead he came up to Kayla when she called to him. He even let her pick him up and bring him into the house, where he was perfectly friendly with everyone (well, he was a little shy about Valor). We gave him a little bowl of milk on the floor, and he drank it enthusiastically. He stuck around for an hour or so, then went on his way.

After this, he started showing up, first every couple of days, then every day. Last week, I went to the store and bought a bag of dry cat food to have on hand for him, and of course, now he comes for breakfast every day (and usually for dinner, too).

He’s a gray and white American shorthair, seems to be in good health, wears no collar, and has not been neutered. I would estimate his age at about ten months, based on his size. Kayla and kaylasmom think he smells faintly of paint, making me wonder if he’s been spending some time hanging around some of the units that are being remodeled. I have the sense that he has at least one other family (possibly more) that he gets meals from, and possibly even has a litter box and bed. I have never seen him urinate or defecate, and have not followed him to try to. When he comes around in the morning, he doesn’t have an appearance that suggests he spent the night exposed to the elements.

All in all, he’s pretty much becoming a fixture chez '99, and I’m happy to have him around for as long as it suits him to continue showing up. kaylasmom and Kayla seem more than mildly interested in converting him to a full-time family member/resident of the apartment. I’d be okay with that, although neither kaylasmom nor I have any interest in obtaining an indoor litter box.

On to the main point:

This morning, a friend came around to help kaylasmom and me with some cleaning. She’s a cat owner (or staff member, if you prefer) from way back, and she told kaylasmom something I’d never heard before: that once an adult cat is used to living as an outdoor cat, it’s not really possible to convert it into an indoor cat. You might be able to persuade him to drop in for a visit, and maybe even take a nap in the house, but he will never have any interest in staying the night.

Is this generally true? An overstatement? An oversimplification? Total bs? What are we in for if we decide to try to get the kitty to throw in with the family for the long haul?

Thanks for any insights y’all can provide. Mods, if this strikes you as more MPSIMS-y than GQ-esque, I’ll not be offended by a move.

This is possible.

If enough time is spent inside, his territory will be reclaimed by other cats in the area.

My outdoor cat became an indoor cat when he began spending more and more time inside with inclement weather, neutering and age, our yard was taken over by other cats and he stopped making an effort to fight them.
Neutering helps alot.

Decidedly possible, did it with one of my cats years ago (he was about 2 at the time). Really, you just need to be prepared to ignore him if he’s begging to go out. Eventually, he’ll stop caring.

Before that though, hie thee to the vet and have him FIV/FeLV tested. These are both deadly disease that he could have picked up while outside and could be spread to your other cats. The test is cheap ($50 or less, my clinic it’s $30) and can be done in a matter of minutes. They’ll also check him over for fleas, tapeworms, ear mites, and other fun infectious crawlies.

It can be done, but it is a pain in the ass. Basically just be prepared to put up with weeks of howling to get out and don’t let him out: indoor cat.

It’s possible, but cats that have spent a lot of time outside will want to back outside, and can be annoying about it.

I rescued two abandoned cats when I lived in a first floor apartment in Cincinnati. They were outdoor cats, and they came and went as they pleased. I got a new job in Columbus, and would be living with a friend for a while till I could get my own place. I knew I couldn’t just let the cats out up there, so they became indoor cats. They spent some time sitting in front of the patio door staring at me, and later whining when I wouldn’t let them out. Jeri adapted quickly, Tom spent a lot of time staring out the window at night and waking me up crying to go outside. I got a third story apartment here, so they don’t have an easy way to get in and out. Now they’re indoor cats. Occasionally Tom will cry like he used to in Cincinnati, but it’s very infrequent. Tom also watches the door, and will try to get out if I let him.

As long as he’s got something to do while you’re not home (ie: another cat to play with), he should get used to being an indoor cat eventually.

^ What they said!

Allow me to introduce Sasha. He is (best guess) just over 2 years old. He had been hanging around my parents’ house for months when I met him. My Dad had been feeding him and got him used to people. But Dad got sick and died, which left this poor cat outside with no one to feed him and winter was setting in (this was last October) so when I left to come home (I live two states away) I packed up “Dad’s stray cat” and brought him with me.

Sasha is now an exclusively indoor cat but he is not always happy about that. He meowed, howled and cried for a few days, then it went to pathetic meowing whenever we went near the door only, now he cries occasionally (but not often) and every now and then tries to dart out the door when we let the dog out or when someone is going in or out (and he beats us to the door when he hears the doorbell).

He seems mostly content to be indoors (after at least a year outside) and the very few times he has managed to escape, he has come right back in (within minutes, not hours).

Not total bs, but probably an overstatement. “Adult cat” is probably key here, along with length of time outdoors. I’d wager that a young one like this, especially a neutered male, would be convertible. How much of a pain in the ass it would be is probably too variable to estimate.

I’m going to be a downer here. I have a cat who used to go out, and then we moved to a more developed neighborhood. He became an indoor cat. He whined at the door once a day. He made escape attempts, fast as lightning, and we’d spend 1/2 hour chasing him around the yard. Then he tore through a screen and was gone for a week. That was September of 2008.

After that, he howled at the door everyday. For hours. No illness, no injury. He’d start howling when I woke up, fought me at the front door on my way out, howled when I came home. I learned to love earphones. I was determined to wait him out. We have several giant cat trees. Tons of toys. Two other cats. I played with him frequently, but often he’d reject play to whine at the door.

This June I lost my job. Now I had Yowling!Cat for hours a day, all day, every day. I bought wireless headphones, and more complicated cat toys.

In November, I got a new job working from home. I discovered I couldn’t concentrate on my work (and had to lock myself in my bathroom to make business calls). I lasted one month, before letting him outside. I was so sure, like everyone said, that eventually he’d adapt. It was more than a year.

And now that he knows he can go out in the morning, the yowling has stopped. Utterly. He stays in the yard mostly, always comes in at dusk, and comes to the windows if he wants in early. In bad weather, like we’ve been having lately, I open the door, he inspects the porch, and comes back in. He’s quiet the whole day, I suppose because he made the choice. Instead of making me chase him around the yard and climbing under the cars, if I open the door and call his name, he comes running.

He snuggles with me, he sleeps on me, he purrs when I pick him up. I feel like I got my cat back. I actually love my cat again. I gave it a full year, so I don’t feel guilty.

So, there are some cats who don’t adapt, and it’s probably good to have a plan about what to do if he doesn’t.

(Note, on cat age. . . my cat was 5 when this whole nonsense started. 10 months may be a lot different)

I have had experience with one successful and one unsuccessful outdoor-to-indoor conversion.

Case #1 - Julian. A success. He was under a less than a year old when he adopted us. He knows he’s got it good and has never made an attempt to escape. He will sit at the storm door and look out and, when the weather’s nice, he enjoys lounging on the screened porch, but that’s as much as he wants to do with the great outdoors. He acquired some bad habits as an outdoor scavenger, and those persist. He will tear open garbage bags, and we can’t bring in a grocery bag containing meat and set it on the kitchen floor for even a minute while we put groceries away. I have, on more than one occasion, caught him skulking through the dining room with a whole chicken breast in his mouth.

Case #2 - Borbet. Not my cat, but a friend’s. (Yes, he looked a lot like a smaller version of Julian.) Borbet, also young when adopted, never adjusted to life indoors. He dashed out the door every time it was open, and my friend finally gave up and let him be an in-and-outdoor cat – out during the day, came home when called in the evenings. He got hit by a car about six months after my friend adopted him. :frowning: Although my friend had had him neutered, Borbet never lost the urge to roam.

To the OP are you sure that cat doesn’t already have a home. When I was a kid, I fed cats and they always came back looking for a handout. They would come, get scratched on the ears, eat some cat food I gave them, (I had my own cat), and then leave. I knew who these cats belonged to, but they were regular visitors.

Most wild or abandoned cats, I know of, don’t come up to you, usually those who do are lost cats or just visiting around.

As for the indoor conversion, I think it can be done. I had an indoor/outdoor cat and she hated cold weather and snow. She woud always ask to go out as soon as it got dark and she’d spend the rest of the night, (Till I called her in around 11pm) doing whatever cats do when they lurk in the bushes at night.

But at the first sign of snow, she’d ask to go out and then she’d immediately turn around and come in. She was not going out when it snowed. So it didn’t bother her to stay in if it was too cold or snowy.

If the cat is fixed that should also help end his/her urge to go out. Then the key is when it asks to go out distract it, by playing with him/her.

Or you can find a bigger cat that will take over the yard as his/her territory and the cat will then have to stay in the house or get his kitty butt kicked.


Thanks for all the informative responses! As I posted, I don’t have any definitive proof as to whether he already has an official home. The evidence in favor: he appears to be pretty well taken-care of, wrt grooming, and he’s certainly not been starving. Also, he is very comfortable around humans, and displays no shyness when a person approaches him.

The evidence against: no collar, and not neutered.

I guess we’ll just let this develop naturally, and see where it leads. I am open to taking the responsibility for getting him to a vet. But it looks like a concerted effort to convert him to indoors isn’t in the cards. As I mentioned, I’m not open to having a litterbox in the apartment. It would seem that any serious effort to convert him would necessitate one.

It is possible, but may take a while. About five years ago we started getting visits from a really beautiful cat, I’m guessing a pure Himalayan, that would come and sit on the back patio. We started feeding it, and it eventually would come up right on the other side of the cat door and wait for dinner. The funny thing about this is as we were putting his dinner dish out thru the cat door, he would always hiss at whoever was doing this. So we named him “Hissy”.

After several months of this, I decided to see if he could be touched, and gave him a tentative pat on the head. This didn’t bother him a bit, and we subsequently found that he loves to be petted.

To make a long story short, after several years, Hissy decided to come in and check things out. This began a sequence, lasting another two years, where he would come in and stay for three or four days, and then disappear for another two or three. Finally, about three months ago, he moved in on an evidently permanent basis. Now he demands attention by headbutting and figure eighting around your feet. Sleeps on the bed with me. Total house cat.

And still demands a lot of attention. So it can at least sometimes be done, just be patient.

BTW, Hissy is our second cat. The first, Andy, was also a walkon. I don’t know why folks spend good money on cats. Just be there, and they will come.

Required links:

Hissy, evidently in hyperspace


Andy doing his job of pillow testing.


Forgot to mention. After going to the links, just click on the small image and a larger one will appear.

Another interesting thing about Hissy. Evidently he was well brought up. Litter box trained. Never damages anything. Neutered. So somebody at one time took good care of him. Too bad you can never find out their stories.

I found a feral kitty in the park. It came home with me. Spaulding would not stay in. He was an in and out cat. We had a beginning rat problem in the neighborhood. He wiped them out. When I took the dogs for a walk he would follow us hanging about 1 house in back. He ate birds too. I was on the porch and he came over for a pet job. He had a lump in his belly the size of a bird. There were blue bird feathers near the pine tree. I did have him neutered.

Being neutered is a sign of ownership, but shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily. I feed and care for feral cats in my area and participate in a program where I trap (humanely!) them and take them for a low-cost spay/neuter (the vets that I work with will speuter ferals for five dollars) then they are released back to their feral ways. Anyone finding one could assume ownership, but really it was just an attempt to reduce the population.

Alternatively, my (indoor only) cat doesn’t wear a collar- he won’t keep it on and frays it when we manage to keep it there for a day or two. If he were to go outside (and he still occasionally tries, having started life as an outdoor cat) his lack of collar would make him easy to label as a stray.

It sure sounds like the cat has an owner. You should have it scanned for an implanted ID. Any vet can do that and it takes only a second. Moreover, if you plan to keep it, you should bring it to a vet anyway for a check-up and rabies shot. The vet can also supply medicine to prevent heartworm and fleas.

We had two cats who had been former outdoor cats. One came from the animal shelter. He never tried to get out the door. Our theory was that he’d had a rough time before we got him, and knew he had a cushy spot and wasn’t willing to risk losing it.

Our second cat was never on his own for too terribly long. He and his sister were abandoned by a friend’s neighbors. Our friend was highly allergic so couldn’t take them in, but took to providing food and asking around for someone to take him (the sister disappeared not long after being abandoned :(). We agreed to take him, and went over and visited / petted / fed him / kidnapped him for vet trips before we could bring him home - as our older cat had feline leukemia, we had to have the new one immunized first.

So - he never associated being outdoors as a Bad Thing, and made quite a few attempts to get out the door when we finally brought him home. Got his head accidentally slammed a couple of times, poor boy. He did ultimately get used to it, however, and was fine.

He’s more likely a stray. In which case take him in, and put up a poster or two, maybe an ad, and you’re in the clear.

It is certainly possible and certainly worth the try. Many cats love being indoors all the time.

Off the point a little, but a stray, long-haired orange tabby made his way to my door. He was emaciated and I began to feed him. He was obviously owned by somebody, as he was neutered and declawed. Soon, he began to spend all the time inside with me and I had to get kitty litter, etc.,which he uses. He used to go out to do it, but now hardly goes out at all. Anyway, I brought him to the vet, primarily to be scanned for a microchip. No chip being found, I had the vet give him his rabies shot and got six months’ supply of Revolution. The vet’s assistant told me that if I run an ad for a week and post notices and nobody claims him, he is mine. Now, I have a very loving cat.

Nonsense. It’s a 10-lb cat, you can make it do whatever you want. As long as it’s fed and gets some stimulation a cat is perfectly content not going outside, given time to adjust of course.

Every cat we had when I was growing up we found outside, then kept as an indoor car. My mom does not like to deal with all the trappings of outdoor cats (flea prevention, frequent vaccinations, mouse guts on the mat, wounds from fights, tragic deaths from cars, etc). Most didn’t even try to get out anymore after a few months.

Many cats that end up in shelters were predominately outside cats, and most shelters prefer to adopt only to people who pledge to keep them as indoor-only.