How to Convert Your Outdoor Cat to an Indoor-Only Cat

Switching your indoor-outdoor cat to an indoor-only lifestyle has many benefits. For example, it can make things a whole lot safer, and it often means fewer vet bills.

“But,” you say, “my cat loves being outside so much! She’ll never get used to it.”

Seems daunting, I know. So how do you pull it off? Here we’ll break down the steps and strategies to success in making your outdoor cat an indoor cat.

Black cat laying with front legs stretched all the way out, lounging on a screened window sill awash in sunlight

Preparing for the Transition

Before you start, you need to make sure your home is properly catified, or optimized for cat-friendliness. The goal is to meet all of your cat’s needs and instincts indoors, including the ones that were being satisfied outside.

This means providing ample opportunities for:

  • Hunting
  • Eating regular meals
  • Scratching
  • Climbing
  • Running
  • Surveying the landscape from up high
  • Sun worshiping
  • Hiding
  • Tucking away in cozy and secure spots for cat naps
  • Places for eliminating in a sandy substrate

Cat-proofing is important, too, in order to keep your cat and your stuff safe and in good shape. We invite you to check out our comprehensive guide to cat-proofing, or our quick-start cat-proofing checklist.

Gradual Introduction to Indoor Life

Strategies for slowly reducing outdoor time

Transitioning to the indoor life shouldn’t be an overnight thing. Start by gradually reducing the time your cat spends outside.

You might begin with supervised outdoor visits and then shorten the duration bit by bit, so your kitty starts to see the indoors as the main hangout spot. Or shorten outdoor time by coaxing your cat in with food at an earlier time than usual.

Use Positive Reinforcement and Redirection to Encourage Indoor Activities

During this time, ramp up the fun inside. Introduce new toys during what used to be outdoor time, and engage in interactive play to distract from the pull to go out.

Build in play, training, and cuddle sessions as frequently as possible each day. Redirect and troubleshoot any unwanted behaviors – you can do a lot in this regard with indoor enrichment.

Enriching the Indoor Environment

Meeting All Your Cat’s Needs and Instincts

Indoor enrichment means creating an environment in your home that meets all of your cats needs.

Above, we listed the needs to be met. Now here is a list of what you can provide in your home in order to meet them:

  • Vertical spaces
    • Cat trees
    • Shelves
    • Climbing poles and structures
  • Scratchers and scratching posts
  • Beds, nooks, and cozy hiding spots
  • Window perches – strategically place cat trees and beds near windows
  • Litter boxes – you need 1 more box than you have cats, and at least one on each floor of your home

Placement also matters:

  • Having multiple spots that allow window lounging provides the stimulation and interest of what might be going on outside, as well as a place to worship the sun. So put cat trees and beds near windows.
  • Scratchers should be placed throughout the house, and especially near furniture that might be a scratching temptation.
  • Litter boxes should be accessible but also in a place that isn’t super busy – cats like to feel some privacy and security here
  • Give your cat opportunities to perch up high, especially in places you hang out in, like the living room. Cats like to be a part of the action while having the ability to survey the land from a secure place.

Provide Interactive Play and Enrichment Toys

Don’t skimp on the toy box either. Things like squeaky mice, feather wands, and laser pointers keep the inner predator on the prowl.

It can make a big difference to keep toys on rotation, instead of leaving everything out all the time. I confess, I am terrible at this. But when I remember to bust out some toys that haven’t been out in a while, the novelty creates a big spike in interest and engagement with my cats.

It works best for me to rotate some toys on the first of every month.

Addressing Potential Challenges

Switching to an indoor lifestyle can come with a few speed bumps. If your cat starts begging to go out by meowing or scratching, stay firm and distract with treats or playtime. Consistency is critical, and giving in “just this once” can set back your progress.

Cats are creatures of habit, so a change in routine might have them acting out in ways like missing the litter box or clawing up the furniture.

In these cases, you want to:

  • Redirect unwanted behaviors to acceptable outlets
  • Be sure to reward desired behaviors with treats and affection
  • Assess your setup often to see if there’s anything you can improve to truly optimize your catification efforts
  • Place familiar/favorite items in places you want your cat to use
  • Sprinkling a little catnip can also entice your cat to start using something new – this worked for me recently when I introduced a new cat bed that my cats ignored at first
  • A cat-safe heating pad can also kick-start the use of new beds.

Be patient and stay at it with positive reinforcement; rewarding good behavior goes a long way. If things really aren’t going well, it can pay off to do a quick consultation with your vet or a cat behaviorist.

Establishing a Routine

Cats love predictability, so setting up a daily routine is like giving them a roadmap to happiness. Schedule regular times for meals, play, training, and snuggles, and you’ll find your cat will start looking forward to these moments, rather than plotting their next outdoor escapade.

The perfect complement to an optimized indoor environment is the rhythm and comfort of a well-rounded routine.

Using a Cat Sanctuary Room Setup

Another strategy I would recommend is to use a safe/sanctuary room setup for your cat. It’s sort of like a hard reset for your cat’s expectations.

You could use this from the very beginning, or try it if the gradual transition isn’t going well.

The idea here is to set up a designated room in your home with everything your cat needs, just like the safe room strategy for acclimating a newly adopted cat.

You would keep your cat closed in this room, while making sure to provide a good routine as outlined in the previous section. So even though the cat is restricted to that room, you spend lots of time together in there, providing meals, training, and play.

Then, after several days or even weeks, you start to allow access to the rest of the house for a short time, gradually lengthening that time each day.

The bonus of this approach is that the safe room then becomes a place you can close your cat when you have guests over, or need to prop a door open to unload the car.

Alternatives to Uncontrolled Outdoor Access

If your cat’s really missing the great outdoors, here are some potential compromises or alternatives. These allow your cat exposure to the outdoors without the dangers of unsupervised, free-roaming access.


Catios are secure outdoor enclosures that usually attach to the outside of the home or over a window.

They come in a huge range of sizes and customizations – from simple window extensions, to expansive outdoor additions. Catios are awesome because they provide the scents and sounds of the outdoors without any of the risks.

Harness Training

You can learn how to train your cat to use a harness and leash, so that you can hang out together safely on the porch, or even go for walks.

Window Perches

At the very least, you can optimize the indoors with strategically placed window perches. The only room I haven’t set up window-lounging for my cats is the kitchen, and only because the window is over the sink.

Last Meows

We’ve provided lots of strategies here for making the transition to an indoor-only cat lifestyle. It might feel rough at first, but don’t give up too quickly.

It can be done! Especially when you’re thorough in optimizing your home environment and routines.

Explore other articles in our collection covering the indoor-outdoor debate:

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The information provided here is not meant to replace professional guidance from your own veterinarian or cat behavior specialist.

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