How do indoor/outdoor cats 'work'?
January 23, 2014 3:06 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: My friend wants to adopt a cat from an animal rescue centre. However, many of the shelters require access to a garden for their cats before they'll allow you to adopt (for example) - so the cat would have to be an indoor/outdoor cat. She is having trouble figuring out the logistics of this.

My friend works full-time, she lives in a ground floor flat with a little garden and a little garden shed, but she can't get a catflap installed because the landlord will not allow her to make structural changes to the property (the landlord is fine with her having a cat, though). She is also very against keeping a window open while she is away from home.

This means that to give the cat access to the outdoors she would have to let it out in the morning and let it back in in the evening after she gets home from work. This means that if she comes home late for whatever reason, the cat would have been left out all day. I suggested that she keep some water and food for the cat in the garden shed but this has been the only solution we have been able to come up with. She doesn't want to keep the cat indoors all day.

Do you own an indoor/outdoor cat? How exactly do you work it - how do you let the cat in when it wants to come in, what happens if you're not home to let it in, how do you manage the cat's coming and going if you don't own a catflap?

Most of the people we know allow their cats to roam, but there's generally someone home to let the cat in if it wants to come in.
posted by Ziggy500 to Pets & Animals (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A past landlord let us install a capflat if we agreed to pay for a handyman to come and do it (so he knew we weren't messing up his nice doors), and then paid for it to be removed again when we left. The door was a PVC one so the lower panel could be replaced with a new panel so the door was good as new.

Your friend might want to check with the landlord if they they could to sign an amendment to their tenancy agreement stating that they'd cover all installation costs and return the door to its original state when they leave.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:17 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

The garden access thing is new to me. EVERYTHING I've ever read about cat care suggests that it is much, much better to keep them indoors. It adds quite a few years to their lives. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something about the shelter's requirements... they can't actually be demanding that the cat should be able to get out of the house to wander around the neighborhood unsupervised! That's like an orphanage saying they won't let anybody adopt kids unless the kids are allowed to have free access to open containers of toxins.

It is quite possible to take a cat out on a leash and walk it around. So, the cat could get some garden access that way. Or... maybe she could just lie about it. Seriously, leaving your cat out in the yard unattended is NOT A GOOD IDEA, and she would be doing a good thing to lie about the free garden access and then just take the cat for walks on a leash.

I hope somebody will elaborate on this garden access thing. I'm all confusipated.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:26 AM on January 23, 2014 [30 favorites]

Anecdata - my ex (whom I'm still friendly with) has an indoor/outdoor cat and no cat flap. He lets it out when he goes to work in the morning if it wants to go out, either he or his housemate let it in when they get back in the evenings, and he allows it in and out as much as it wants whenever he's home. If he's going away for the weekend and his housemate also won't be around, he asks a friend (often me) to stop in, make sure the cat is let in overnight and give it some human interaction.

The cat is very happy and healthy (and, of the cats I know, seems to have the fewest behavioural oddities). It poops outside rather than in a litter tray, and always has done (he's not sure where it poops, though, as he's never found any in the garden and his neighbours have never complained - but it's not causing anyone a problem), and this is very much the cat's preference.

I wonder if this is a cultural thing? In the UK (where I'm from and where said cat lives), indoor-only cats are the exception, and most people I know with cats seem to either do indoor/outdoor with a cat flap or do it like in this example and just make sure someone is around to make the logistics work.

I don't have any actual hard data on cat longevity and happiness for indoor only vs indoor/outdoor cats, but this cat is (and all the other cats I've know who live like this are) happy and healthy. This particular cat really enjoys his time outdoors - he gets a lot of good staring-at-stuff time (cats, am I right?), plus he has some cat friends he hangs out with. Lazing in the sun in summer, that kind of thing. Being left to his own devices outside for eight hours a day doesn't seem to be negatively impacting on his quality of life at all.

If the place where you're living has extremes of temperature (for instance really, really cold snaps) that a cat just couldn't withstand for eight hours a day, then possibly this is not the right approach for you. But it seems to be working pretty well for the majority of the cat owners I know here in the UK.
posted by terretu at 3:40 AM on January 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm in the UK too. Should have put that in my question, sorry. I agree that this might be a cultural thing, as the well-established rescue centres we've looked at (Mayhew, Battersea, RSPCA) all advocate outdoor-access for their cats on their websites - except in the case of very old or FIV+ cats - and their questionnaires for potential adopters all require you to state whether you will be able to provide outdoor access for your cat.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:45 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's cultural. Some US humane societies won't let you adopt if you want an indoor/outdoor as opposed to pure indoor.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:47 AM on January 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Is the requirement that the cat have access to the garden whenever it wants to go out, or is it a requirement that it is possible for the cat to access the garden at all (e.g. you're not living on the tenth floor or something)?

I would say that one of my cats is sort of an indoor/outdoor cat, but I don't have a cat flap and there isn't a window that I could leave open so she could access the garden. She's never allowed to be in the garden when no one is home, but we let her out when we are home, normally for up to a couple of hours a day. If the weather is nice, we leave the back door open so she can come and go freely. But if it's cold, windy, or rainy, we just close the back door. Someone stays on the ground floor of the house so they can keep an eye on her through the window. Would that kind of practice satisfy the requirement that the cat has outdoor access?
posted by neushoorn at 3:49 AM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Cats are far more vulnerable outdoors than indoors, and most progressive rescues these days actually insist that adopted cats be indoors-only. I would, frankly, just game the rescue: get a window cat flap fitted to a piece of plywood and fit it to a window for your home inspection. The cat rescue should then be satisfied that the cat has access to the garden, and does not need to know the cat will never actually access it.

I did this when we adopted our dog -- we had a yard that satisfied them, but we walked our dog and played in the park and she never, ever was put out back.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:52 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you own an indoor/outdoor cat?

Used to. In coyote country. (LA hills.) Cats lasted either 6 months or 15 years.

I'd be less concerned in the UK, generally.

We didn't have a catflap.

How exactly do you work it - how do you let the cat in when it wants to come in,
The cat fusses at the door or window.

You open the door.

The cat goes in the door.

what happens if you're not home to let it in

The cat doesn't go in the door.

, how do you manage the cat's coming and going if you don't own a catflap?

It just works out. You and the cat sort out a set of habits. The cat might be out 9-5, or only afternoons. Or might want to be out nights, but you don't allow it.

Your friend's overthinking it a bit.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:58 AM on January 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Current owner of three indoor/outdoor cats. No cat door or flap.

Ours go in and out "on demand" when we're home. They generally aren't outside for more than a few hours at a time, although one of our boys used to disappear for a couple of days at a time when he was younger. Two of them have ended up in fights that resulted in gross infections, but no major injuries. More often than not, our guys are hanging out in our yard or the next door neighbors' bushes, and they come when called (which is adorable).

Everyone comes inside for the night, and I prefer that they're all inside when we go to work or are going to be gone for the day. (I would suggest your friend rethink not wanting the cat inside all day. Did she say why? Worried about the cat being bored or destructive? Our cats do nothing but sleep/eat/poop all day, with an occasional fight. A wonderful life indeed.)

It helps that we have a covered porch where they can go if they want to come inside but can't get our attention, but they find places to stay dry/warm if they can't get to the porch for some reason. Your friend could set up a small cat box or crate near the door if necessary.

Cats are smart - they figure out their territory and threats fairly quickly. Letting them go outside is a risk, but you can make it work.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:13 AM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes! Huge cultural difference! My uk partner thinks its awful to make a cat live indoors. I also agree with previous posters that letting it in and out should work.
posted by misspony at 4:21 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the cat will adapt. Indoor/outdoor cats just do what they want to do. Let's say one day the cat gets let out in the morning and there's no one home to let it back in until your friend gets home late from work. If the cat doesn't enjoy that condition, cat will not want to go out in the mornings any more. The next day he doesn't get let out all day. He will figure out which condition he wants to experience and let you know about it loud and clear. I think for food they say it's better not to let the cat graze all day any way.
posted by bleep at 4:44 AM on January 23, 2014

How about you leash train the cat and take it out daily for a romp in the garden. The rescue group is happy, the cat is happy, the human companion is happy. And little critters are allowed to live in peace.

The thing is, cats are murder machines. That is one good reason, out of many, to keep kitty indoors.

But, if the rescue groups in the UK require that that kitty is allowed out to the garden, then have it be controlled.

Another option is a Catio.

Perhaps alter a rabbit hutch or some other smaller structure to allow contained outdoor access.

That is an adorable cat!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:54 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an indoor/outdoor cat who's mostly indoor. Basically, if I'm going outside to do something like gardening/getting the mail/washing the car, he comes with me. When I come back inside, he comes back inside.

This seems to be a good balance for us. It lets him get out into the sunshine and fresh air once or twice a week, but because he's largely an indoor cat, he sticks with me when we're outside or at least comes back when called. (Mostly.)

I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats who were really outdoor/indoor cats and they got hit by cars. A lot. I would encourage your friend to think twice about leaving the cat outside when she's not home unless she has some kind of magical escape-proof garden.
posted by Georgina at 4:56 AM on January 23, 2014

Hey guys, thanks a lot for the different perspectives. I like the idea of leash-training the cat, simply because I think it would be super-cute/hilarious. I will pass your answers onto my friend.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:03 AM on January 23, 2014

Huge US/UK cultural gulf, and an unbridgeable one in my experience. Indoor cats adjust pretty well to outdoor time, but it's a one way thing: a cat used to outdoor access will go stark raving mad if deprived of it unwillingly, and will take your furniture and sanity as collateral. There will undoubtedly be exceptions because cats but I think it's a pretty general case. Our two were indoors in the US and were fine, then gradually became outdoor/indoor when we moved them to the UK, and now with middle age cat indolence have a vague sniff at outdoors sometimes, but barely bother. But if they couldn't have that sniff on demand, we'd know.
posted by cromagnon at 5:08 AM on January 23, 2014

Leash trained cats are fairly awesome, honestly. I wholly recommend it.

But in case other anecdata is useful, I can tell you about my partner's cat, who was an indoor/outdoor cat before we moved in together. (Once we did, I insisted she be indoor-only.) She was indoors while he was at work during the day, but would be allowed outdoors once he came home. She'd roam around the neighborhood terrorizing small woodland creatures for a couple of hours, and then reliably be waiting on the front porch at dinnertime to be allowed in. On weekends she came and went as she pleased - she'd paw at the front door to ask to go out, and meow at the window to come back in.

It seemed to work out well enough for all involved, other than the small woodland creatures. I talked my partner 'round to my indoor-cat-only way of thinking, but if this is the norm in the UK, there's probably a way to work it.
posted by Stacey at 5:10 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Previously on the blue, this doesn't answer your question directly, but seeing what housecats actually do when they're outside may be helpful to your friend one way or another.
posted by payoto at 5:14 AM on January 23, 2014

London cat-owner here.

Putting a cat flap into a single-glazed window is not a structural change. It is about £100 to get a glazier to do at London rates although with round hole* cat flaps it is not so hard to out them in yourself. It will be about £100 to put a new pane back in when your friend moves out.

It can also be simple with some doors to replace a panel of a back door.

Your landlord might disagree on "structure", so then it's really a question of asking for permission or forgiveness.

If they're an outside cat, London cats do need to be able to come back in at will because it is such a high cat density area that being outside is a lot of conflict, even for dominant males. For this reason, for example, Battersea don't rehome (very territorial) Bengals in London as a rule. In London, if you leave your cat out all day or night it will probably end up spending time in someone else's house. There are lots of little old ladies willing to give a warm lap to a willing cat. When I work from home, I get 'begged' by neighbours' cats, each and every one 'starving', on a daily basis.

If your friend does put a cat flap in, I highly recommend a chip-based cat flap, e.g. SureFlap or similar. RFID cat flaps tend to be square hole installations so always require a glazier to install in glass.

If you really, really cannot install a cat flap, then get an older cat. They sleep more and are typically less active, so if going outdoors could only happen when the owner was home then a 2-3 hour window of outdoor play time per day would work for a cat over the age of about 8-10, assuming they weren't habituated to a heavily outdoor-oriented life.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:24 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do not believe in indoor/outdoor cats anymore because I lost three cats that way in childhood because my parents thought that's how cats should be, and I have never lost a cat since. That said, we never had cat flaps, we just let them in and out as necessary. If there's direct access to outside and she can say that she's just going to open the door when they want in/out, I would suggest that there is not going to be anybody coming and actually checking to see that the cat is let outside when it wants outside.
posted by Sequence at 5:28 AM on January 23, 2014

I'm fascinated by this cultural difference because the indoor-only directive is so entrenched in the US it's hard to imagine outdoor access being permitted by shelters, much less a requirement. I guess it's about quality vs quantity of life? Because it's indisputable that indoor-only cats live longer (though I have sympathy for the perspective that they might have better lives, albeit shorter, with outdoor access).

Anyway, I've had indoor-outdoor cats in the past, never with a catflap, and agree with posters above that the cats and the humans just work it out, and the cat makes it known when it wants to go in or out. If the reason your friend doesn't want to leave the cat indoors all day is that it seems restrictive--it's not; the cat will be fine. Cats are very adaptable that way; they like being able to go out but are generally content for extended times inside.
posted by torticat at 5:53 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm fascinated by this cultural difference because the indoor-only directive is so entrenched in the US

We don't really have big, scary wildlife in the UK. Cats can, and do, tangle with dogs and foxes but that is the exception rather than the rule. So that's one thing.

UK shelters tend screen for proximity to a main road. A normal London terraced street, for example has gardens back to back with a wall dividing them, often the length of the street. So many cats don't naturally find themselves wandering towards roads because they can't get to them easily. Added to that, because UK towns and cities are so high cat density, territories are much smaller.

My cat, for example, like every other cat on the street, navigates down the Feline Freeway: the wall that runs parallel to the road at the back of each house's garden. Nearly every other house has a cat, which basically means going more than 10 metres either way is running the gauntlet across another cat's territory.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:05 AM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

If your friend has a sliding glass door leading out to the garden, these type of panels are designed to fit within the door frame and offer a pet door that can be easily installed and removed with no structural changes to the door itself. I can't vouch for that particular model, but my parents have a similar type of thing for their cats to access a screened porch, and it has worked out well. I don't know what is available in the UK (or even if sliding doors are a common feature in houses there) but maybe it is an option?
posted by Jemstar at 6:26 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

We have an indoor/outdoor cat. She sits by the door or paws at the door to let us know that she wants out. She does the same thing to let us know that she wants in. Sometimes she stays out while we're at work, sometimes she stays in. Sometimes she stays out overnight, sometimes she stays in. It's a lot like having a roommate who can't open the door for themselves.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:37 AM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

My cats were sort-of indoor/outdoor when I lived in a ground-floor unit in an apartment complex with a courtyard. I would leave the sliding door open when the weather was nice and I was home, and the cats would come and go as they pleased. PRO TIP: I trained them that a certain squeak-toy meant 'tasty tuna wet food treats', so I could lure them in with that whenever I wanted them to come inside asap.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:53 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've had indoor outdoor cats with no flap. You can also avoid the morning/out all day thing by just letting them out in the evening. They will let you know when they want to come back in - ours used to scratch at the door/meow, but really if we just opened the door an hour later they'd usually want to come back in. They don't need to be outdoors all day, just have some time there.
posted by corb at 7:01 AM on January 23, 2014

I had two cats growing up. One strictly indoors and one indoors/outdoors. Never had a catflap, she just came and went as she pleased when we were home. For the most part she stayed in our yard, maybe ventured into the neighbors or an adjacent field from time to time. But she'd also disappear for days on end. Sometimes come home with scratches, etc. Never phased her. She outlived 2 indoor only cats. I think your friend is over thinking this, too. The cat will be fine. They're tougher than you think.
posted by tuckeredout at 7:02 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have an indoor / outdoor cat now. Our routine looks like this:

- I wake up fairly early morning, let her out, and go back to bed.
- Later, when it's time for me to be up, I let her back in for a few minutes to eat some breakfast and she runs right back out.
- She stays outside while I'm at work.
- When I get home from work she comes in to eat then runs right back out.
- At some point during the course of the evening she decides she's had enough and she comes in for the night.

Exceptions are made and I keep her inside on days where it's going to be brutally cold (rare here) or there are thunderstorms forecast, and that's about it.

I do second the idea that you can and should train your cat with treats and a noisemaker of sorts. I use a little bell because the sound carries pretty well. When she hears that she knows it's time to come in for treats. Makes it a lot easier to get her in on a day when the weather's great now but I know it's going to go downhill in a few hours, or when it's time to grab her to take her to the vet.
posted by komara at 7:08 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to have an indoor/outdoor cat but after moving to a condo, he's indoor only (although he sometimes hangs out on the balcony and snoozes).

I think the practice of just letting them out at certain periods in the day and then calling them in is better than having a cat flap. The cat will get some outside time, but you can be confident they are safe when you are away. This was essentially what I did when I was in the house, the cats were inside overnight and when I was at work, but they got a good 3 to 4 hours to wander the neighbourhood, mark whatever they needed to, assert their superiority over rival neighbourhood cats and catch mice most afternoons. It's especially safer to have the cat in at night, as drivers are less likely to see wandering cat on the street in the dark.

Why doesn't she want the cat to be inside while she's away? Cats aren't that destructive.
posted by Kurichina at 7:59 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always had indoor/outdoor cats and they just let you know when they want to go outside. Our cats had a litter box inside, but preferred to do their business outside. One cat would wait at the sliding glass door in the winter thinking it wanted to go outside, but when the door was opened he decided that his business could wait a little bit longer and ran away from the cold air. You could tell when it was really cold out because the cat would eventually go outside and do his business then a minute later he would be banging his paws on the door to be let back in instead of just leisurely waiting to be lat back in and once inside would curl up infront of a radiator to warm up.
posted by koolkat at 8:13 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

We have indoor/outdoor cats, and are in the US. No cat flap. They also actually have pretty restricted hours, and times of year. So, basically, they don't go out when: it's cold weather; its dark out (dusk to dawn); we aren't home. Since we are in New England, and it is often cold and dark and we work during the day, this eliminates a huge chunk of the year.

During the times when they do get to go out, it goes like this:

Youngest cat goes out, sniffs about, maybe chills on the porch for 15 minutes, then insists on coming back out. He's incredibly lazy and also aware that his food bowl lives inside.

Oldest cat goes out, checks out the neighborhood for a solid hour or so to make sure everything is where he left it. Comes back in for a four hour nap. Goes back out for another hour or so. Turns in for his evening slumber.

Middle cat: Goes out for 3-4 hours. Turns back up for lunch. Goes back out again for another 4 hours. Comes back in (grudgingly) for dinner, and the door gets locked behind her. She's much tougher than the middle two, but even she has agreed to the hours, and doesn't bitch about the fact that the doors close permanently once the evening wildlife start to rabble rouse.
posted by instead of three wishes at 8:44 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've only ever had (spectacularly long-lived) indoor-outdoor cats and have never had a catflap. I agree that your friend is way overthinking this - they let you know when they want to go in and out. My cat's current method is to bang the mail slot flap (somehow) if he's out the front and to sit forlornly staring in until someone walks past and sees him if he's out the back. If we're home late he's waiting by the front door when we get there. He hasn't yet discovered the golf course across the road otherwise I'm sure he'd be gone for days at a time - our last house was right by a huge allotment and this happened periodically. We were only ever concerned once, when he'd been gone a couple of days, but it turned out he'd been visiting our upstairs neighbour for snacks and cuddles and we'd just missed him every time he'd come home. Now if it's getting towards 8 or 9pm and I haven't seen him I'll shake the food pouch and call him and he comes running.

Now I work from home a lot of the time and see he spends most of the day on the conservatory roof, trying to catch whatever small rays of sunshine he can. Or sometimes he spends the day on my desk getting in my way while I'm trying to work. Our biggest thing at the moment is accidentally shutting him in cupboards in which he is sleeping and then hours later hearing him whine and scratch and not being able to work out where he is... otherwise he is as healthy and as happy can be.
posted by goo at 9:14 AM on January 23, 2014

In the morning my girlfriend's cat stands by the back door until someone opens it, and then she goes outside. In the evening she stands by the back door until someone opens it, and then she comes inside. It is not a complicated procedure.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:23 AM on January 23, 2014

Our cats are indoor/outdoor. However we only let them out when we are at home, and then they are in our fenced backyard or nearby if they happen to escape. Once winter comes around and it gets cold outside they don't want to go outside anymore, or rather they wait at the door to be let out, but when we open it they either change their mind right then and there or go outside for a few minutes and then start meowing to get back in.

It is pretty easy to install a cat flap if your window slides open. You install the flap into a small sheet of plywood, open the window and then put the plywood in the window-frame. You should make sure the plywood fills the entire opening of the window-frame and may want to put a bar on the other side of the window so that a person couldn't easily open the window and then gain entrance to your house. You could forego the cat flap and just use the bar to keep the window open to the width of the cat as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:14 AM on January 23, 2014

Ignoring all the politics of this, here is how it works for my dad, who has two indoor/outdoor cats and no "cat flap".

Food and litterbox are inside. Cats come inside at night. Cats have access to outside, which is a concept they are pretty laid back about as the cats are litter trained and get fed indoors.

Sometimes they will let the cats out for the day when they leave for work. Sometimes they will have the cats stay inside all day. Sometimes they come home for lunch and will transition the cat in or out as needed. On weekends I'm pretty sure they let the cats in and out when they meow at the door, within reason because cats are assholes. When they travel, the cats become indoor cats because it's inconvenient for the pet sitter to herd them in and/or out.

The cats have gone through phases where they are more indoorsy vs. outdoorsy.

It sounds to me like your home need to have access to outdoor space, not that you need to have the cats outdoors for a set amount of time.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 AM on January 23, 2014

I'd say it depends on the cat. When adopting, you could have her ask the shelter what hours/conditions the cat is used to. Did the previous owners work during the day? Is he/she used to being outside for long stretches of time? Etc. They should know. Every routine is different. Some cats are used to going out all night, some cats stay out all day and come back in the evening, and some cats just like having the option of going outside but prefer to be inside. My old cat (he lived til 18) was 99% outdoors because he absolutely loathed being inside and would immediately start peeing on things when confined in any form.

If she's worried, she could get an indoor only cat and teach it to walk on a leash. But doing the opposite will result in a really frustrated cat. The cat I adopted a few months ago we had to keep inside for a bit as he got used to us, and he was really getting distressed at being unable to go outside. Once we let him outside, he was happy as, and settled quite nicely.

For this cat, (he's 9) we didn't get a cat flap, (we considered it, but it was too expensive) but our area isn't that cat-dense and our routines worked out nicely. His previous owner worked and lived alone so would let him out during the day, then let him in in the evening. But we found that he doesn't like to go outside during the day at all-- as long as there is sunlight he shuns the outdoors. Occasionally he'll come outside during the day if I'm there, because he follows me around a lot. We sometimes make him go outside in the morning if one of us has work or whatever, and he reluctantly sits at the bottom of the garden.

So yeah, he prefers to stay inside all day, cuddle whoever is home for the day, eat his supper at 5pm-- then go outside after dinner. He'll stick around until it gets dark, where he goes off to wander. He usually comes back once at 8 or 9 to finish his food, then he'll go out until 9 or 10. He'll come back at 10pm when I call him usually (he'll avoid me if he's really full though, so I leave him half at 5 and the rest when he comes in for the night) ideally he'd stay outside until 2-3am if he could. But he's adapted to coming home at night now. He has a litterbox inside the garage where he sleeps but he never uses it. He tends to do his business in that evening gap. Again, every cat is different though.

Whatever your friend does, make sure she both microchips, tags and collars her pet before she lets him out.
posted by Dimes at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2014

Feed the cat a light meal in the morning. Come home, let the cat out. Call the cat after about an hour, then feed the main (largest) meal. Kitty will soon anticipate dinner and stay close. Nights that friend is home late, she doesn't mess with letting Kitty out.

Tell agency Kitty has access to garden and is indoor/outdoor compliant.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:57 PM on January 23, 2014

We have two indoor-outdoor cats and live in a ground floor flat with a little garden in a big city too. We both work full time.

Our first unit had a very narrow laundry room window we left open for them. The next two places had bars on the windows (so we could leave the window open fairly safely and they could slip between the bars). This place has old-fashioned sash windows without bars. The small bathroom windows would be perfect, but they are *very* high off the ground. We spoke to the landlord, and he agreed to let us put a doorstop on one back window to prevent it from opening any further than the cats need. So far, so good. Honestly, all anyone needs to break into our place is a pocket knife and a brick anyway; I doubt having to bust a window frame is going to stop/encourage anybody. There are also numerous spring-loaded type devices that will latch in place into an open window frame or sliding glass door.

We have a friend who works full time and has a cat, and the cat just stayed outside unless the weather was obviously horrid. This cat didn’t have a shelter or anything and was fine (this is a very temperate climate). I like the idea of allowing her access to the garden shed or a rabbit hutch-type thing so that she’s got somewhere warm and dry to go to, with some water and a bed if she’s going to be outside a lot. I would not keep food out, as this will attract other animals (mice, etc.) and other cats (I advise this for your house too). Cats are perfectly fine being fed twice a day (breakfast and dinner), which helps keep them getting pudgy and ensures they come in at night too.

Our cats eat breakfast and we leave said window open for them – they go out on patrol and come back and say ‘hi’. Then they do some combination of waiting near the sidewalk for people to pet them, sleeping, or (our male cat) often goes to somebody else’s house (someone who’s home to pet him – eventually they call us and touch base). Everyone’s home for dinner. We’ll often come home from work and collect the mail, feed the cats, change clothes, and go back out again. If we’re home late, they wait for us (for dinner) in a mild panic. They stay inside at night (safety!) and are perfectly happy to come in and eat and sleep for (most) of the night. If we’re home during the day, they’ll hang out at home with us.

Good things about indoor-outdoorness is less litter tray action, and they’re calmer (asleep?) when they’re in. Our male cat was a terrible indoor-only cat and was super naughty (yes, he’s fixed and everything!) and very awake during the night. I think our female cat could be indoor-only and not care one whit. Flea meds + collar w/phone number + microchip. She may enjoy the short BBC documentary The Secret Life of the Cat.

If she has any questions, memail me =)
posted by jrobin276 at 2:42 PM on January 23, 2014

My cat is indoor/outdoor, and I've only lived with indoor/outdoor cats since childhood.

I try to make sure that my cat is in if I'm not going to be at home and at night. Her food and litter box are inside, though she doesn't use the litter box much if she's going out normally (ie, it's not especially cold or wet and so she's been happy to go play outside). When it's warm out I just leave the door open if it's OK for her to go in and out (ie, I'm home, it's not a weird time, etc), and when it's cold out she just comes to the door when she wants to go in or out. Cats are pretty good communicators, your friend probably won't have a problem figuring out what his cat would prefer at any given time.

As for how long a cat interacts with the outdoors: my cat likes playing outside and gets frustrated/cranky if she can't go out at least a couple times a day, but the vast majority of her time is spent inside (pretty much by her choice). There were a couple long nights in her first few months going out, when I guess she wanted to push the envelope and stay out exploring, but since then she's settled in to sticking very close. Though there are definitely exceptions, I think that's pretty par for the course with female cats, which is specifically why I wanted a female cat in the first place (that was the only criteria I went to the shelter with, actually).

When she's out, she "plays" by looking at stuff, checking out the flowers, playing/hanging out with me if I'm at all willing, eating grass, and climbing trees (ie, normal cat stuff) and is very rarely even out of sight. In the place I'm living now, there are actually a lot of birdfeeders and birds are always hanging out, but she seems to understand that they're off limits somehow? She used to hunt some at a previous place, but she doesn't even go after the birds here.

"Training" a cat: I "taught" my cat to go outside and find her way back by hanging out with her in the area that I figured would be her "territory" (the apartment's front patio). That lasted about a week, until she wanted to explore a little more and stay out longer. Also, I didn't do that right after I adopted her -- that was about three weeks in or so?

Also, if you let the cat out in the morning when you first wake up, she'll probably just go pee and come back for breakfast. I always feed my cat when she comes in rather than before she goes out for that reason -- so that she knows to come back when I call because then I'll be feeding her.

And I tried the leash thing -- my cat went absolutely limp in the most passive aggressive "cooperation" ever.

In general: I strongly encourage your friend to let the cat out to play and come and go as she pleases, for the most part -- the cats I know who are indoor/outdoor are much calmer and in better physical shape than the ones I know that aren't, and for what it's worth, they honestly do seem happier to me as well.
posted by rue72 at 3:12 PM on January 23, 2014

I didn't like the idea of letting cats outside for most of my (and my cat's) life. This was fine, because for most of that time, I lived in a mid-rise in Chicago. Worst-case scenario, if he got out of the apartment, was that I'd catch him trying to figure out how to work the elevator. :)

When I moved to New England, and moved in with a room mate who had an indoor/outdoor cat, things got complicated. Her cat went out; my cat got jealous and started yelling. ENDLESSLY.

After a while, I gave in, and with a great deal of fear and trepidation, started letting him outside when he was 8 years old. He blossomed. He slimmed down, got more energetic, got happier, got healthier, and I'll swear he got smarter, too.

Our neighborhood is away from most major roads; there's less danger from cars than from sick raccoons that might wander out of the woods, and that usually only happens after dark.

We only let the cats out when we're home and during the daylight, and the cats have mostly agreed to our terms. Some evenings I have to go out and yell for mine for a while, but not so much these days - he's 14, and now more fond of his blanket nest than the outdoors. When the cats want out, they go to the door and meow a bit. When they want to come back in, they come to the door and attempt to climb the screen like a tree. (When they're about halfway up, we open the door, pluck them off, and drop them inside.)

It's worth noting that almost all of our neighbors have cats, too. And almost all of them let the cats out when they're home. I haven't seen any evidence of any of them getting into serious fights with each other. Every now and then, one of ours will chase the neighbor cat off our property, or vice versa, but it's just a bunch of hissing and glaring.
posted by kythuen at 4:55 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also a big fan of indoor/outdoor cats here. Indoor only seems very inhumane (in-feline?) to the cat.

My roommate had an indoor/outdoor cat, my roommate had a weird schedule, so the cat also had some food outside the door. Not sure if I recommend that, but the cat still wanted to come inside when my roommate got home. Other friends have a cat who goes in and out of the house as he pleases, the entire family has to run around opening and closing doors for him. It's awesome.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2014

My family had indoor/outdoor cats growing up. The first person to wake up would let the cat out and someone would make sure the cat was back inside before everyone left for school or work. Once we were home for the evening the cat would ask to go out (yowling at the door) or ask to come back in (sitting on the window sill where we could see him) as it pleased until bedtime. We would try to get the cat in before everyone went to bed but occasionally one would spend the night outside. We always had the cat inside when we weren't home.

Usually standing at the door yelling, "here kitty kitty," would bring them back to the house. As a backup, we had a bell we rang when we fed them, so if we were trying to leave and the cat was out roaming around we could ring the bell and it would come running.

rue72's tip about feeding them after they've been outside is a good one. If you do that there's a good chance the cat will be waiting nearby when it's time to come in.
posted by balacat at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2014

Indoor only seems very inhumane (in-feline?) to the cat.

Yes. They do live longer, though, and are less likely to have complications related to fleas and so on.

I had a cat that absolutely insisted on going out (this was in NYC), and we gave in against-shelter's-orders because she was utterly determined. She was hit by a car and killed when she was only a couple years old. As awful as that was, I still found it hard to regret making the choice we'd made, because it made her so happy. (No, I wouldn't use the same calculus on a human child, and realize some will think what we did was equally irresponsible.)

But as far as the OP's concerns are concerned, there is DEFINITELY no inhumanity in keeping a cat indoors during work hours, so there should be no worry there.
posted by torticat at 9:10 PM on January 23, 2014

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