More and more experts agree that indoors is the safest place for your cat. The average life span of an outdoor cat is three to five years, while the average life span of an indoor cat is 12 to 16 years. But how do you teach a cat who has been going out to accept that she is no longer allowed outside?

If you can, begin the transition when the cat would rather be inside anyway. In colder climates, winter is the best time to start. If you are planning a move, begin acclimating your cat to the indoors when you are in your new home.

“I started imposing earlier and earlier curfews on Taj so that he wouldn’t be out after dark,” says Susan, who lives in the Chicago area. It helps if your cat comes when called or if you know your cat’s hangouts. If not, stand outside and shake a bag of food or open a can of cat food. Reward your cat for coming in when called, and slowly bring her in earlier and earlier.

The next step is to teach your cat that the doors are off-limits. Jasper, owned by Fran in Connecticut, is a good example. Soon after Jasper’s arrival, it became painfully obvious he was previously an outdoor cat. And he wanted out again. Fran, however, was adamant that Jasper stay indoors. Living on a very busy main road, she knew Jasper’s life would be short if he spent any time outside.

But Jasper had other ideas. “He’d stand by the door and cry to go out.” Fran and her family had to devise a way to keep Jasper away from the door until he could completely adjust to his new life. “When he got near the door, we would stomp our feet loudly, or turn on the vacuum cleaner, which he’s afraid of.” After awhile Jasper began to get the idea, and now just a firm “no” is enough to discourage him when he tries to sneak out.

I used to set up my own cat, Pounce. I would wait just outside with the door cracked open and, when he came near, I would squirt him with water (not in the face!) and close the door quickly. You can also try banging on the door. If you are persistent enough, eventually your cat will get the idea and forget about trying to get out. With some cats this may take a day, others months, even years. Most cats get the idea very quickly, especially if they are young and have not been roaming long.

Besides teaching your cat to avoid the doors, you should also make sure being inside is more fun than going out. “What we’ve done is give Taj even more attention and affection,” Susan says of her 14 year-old outdoor-indoor cat, who recently made the transition to strictly indoors. “Also, we’ve placed a chair by the dining room window so he can sit or lie there and look out.” Lots of wide, kitty-comfortable sills will do the same job, and a bird feeder set up just outside the window will bring your cat hours of interesting action.
Cat-friendly plants can be added for atmosphere and to give your cat something to nibble on (be sure to only have plants that are safe for cats to eat, such as catnip and cat grass). Also, make sure to provide your cat with a large, sturdy cat tree so she can scratch and climb as she would a tree outside. Just be sure to place the tree in a central location where your cat spends most of her time — not off in an abandoned room or in the basement, where kitty would never bother to go.

Some older cats may never completely acclimate to indoor life. It’s up to you as your cat’s caretaker to decide if the stress of bringing your cat in outweighs the reasons for doing so. Giving the cat a safe place to be outdoors — perhaps a screened in patio or porch — may be the answer.