My indoor cat wants out.
February 15, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Our indoor cat desperately wants to go outside. Help!

We've had him for five years, and he's always been a bit zany, but this is new. He spends all his time by the door, yowling and scratching at the nob. I swear he tries to turn it. When I enter or leave the house, he tries to slip past me, and sometimes succeeds in making brief escapes. Lately, he's taking to yowling at the door throughout the night, which is not okay: sleep is not optional. We're at the end of out rope!
posted by anotherpanacea to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Is he neutered? If not, he most likely smells the sweet scent of Girl through the crack in the door. You may have an unseen female visitor to your yard, but even if you can't see her he can certainly tell she's there. Actually, he doesn't necessarily need to be un-neutered to be driven batty by other cats. All of our indoor cats are fixed and they still obsess over the doors & windows when we have outdoor kitties dropping by.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 7:34 PM on February 15, 2008

Does he have enough stimulation inside? Toys, balls, stuffed mice, scratching posts etc?

Does he have other places where he can view the outdoors? Our cat loves to run around the house looking out each window. We refer to it as "inspecting the perimeter."

Might be an animal out there he's interested in. (is he neutered?) Or a new resident in a crawl space under the house?

Does he have cat grass to chew on?
posted by quinoa at 7:34 PM on February 15, 2008

My brother has an indoor cat who used to want desperately to go outside. He started letting the cat out, but only when it was raining hard. It actually worked - to this day you can leave the front door wide open and the cat won't venture more than a few feet outside.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:09 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: He's neutered, doesn't like any scratching post that doesn't look like a chair, and has several outdoor viewing areas. The door, on the other hand, does not look out: he's just learned from experience that, occasionally, it opens. Also, so far as we can tell, there aren't any other animals prowling nearby, though of course they could be farther out.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:19 PM on February 15, 2008

Best answer: I had this problem with my girl cat....I ended up letting her out and 9 months later she was hit by a car. Over 5,000.00 later she is again an indoor cat.

I spoke to my vet about what to do so she didn't have the desire to go out anymore. She gave me some very good advice.

*Feed your cat in a different place every day. It gives them stimulation and breaks the daily grind.

*Get a spray that calms your cat. I can't remember the name of it but it also comes in a wall plug in. It really does seem to work.

*Don't let your cat have his fave toy all the time. Rotate his toys and especially pull his fave toy so he doesn't get bored with it.

*Put different scents on things as often as you can. Things like wiping cinnamon on a leg of a table or vanilla extract. Anything from the spice cabinet works well. Put it in different places in the house, different corners or pieces of furniture. Your cat will seek it out and it gives them new things.

I hope this helps you. It's kept my cat calm.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 8:32 PM on February 15, 2008 [17 favorites]

My ladycat did the same thing. She finally slipped out past me as I came home one day. She came back after a little while.

(time passes)

I was not prepared for how much newborn kittens STINK!
posted by The Deej at 9:21 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

My cat's previous owner both had him declawed AND let him go outside. Despite my insistence, the transition to becoming an indoor cat was not something he was willing to pursue. He often hid, zenlike, in various parts of the house and then sprung like a leopard at the sound of a door opening. He knew exactly where to launch in order for his escape attempt to be successful (in the blind spot behind my ankles.)

I sympathize with you. But I sympathize with the cats, too. I seriously would go a little nuts if I wasn't permitted outside. The indoor stimulation the other posters are proposing simulates their natural environment: outside.

My cat became an outdoor cat by sheer will. It took him five years to wear me down and let him out. He's old now, almost 14 and has heart failure. So, he gets a leash walk instead of an unsupervised prowl and is happy with that.

If the calming spray and toy rotation fails, daily outside time with halter and leash, supervised AT ALL TIMES might help quell his wanderlust. Cats do not "walk" like dogs. They mosey, then take a bath, then eat some grass, then try to climb a tree.

Good luck I wish I had better advice.
posted by red_lotus at 9:39 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just remembered the name of the spray I used with my cat. It's called Feliway and it works really well. Hope some of this helps.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 12:01 AM on February 16, 2008

May or may not help you, but my cat was similar -- loved the outdoors.

I would take my dog for a walk at the adjacent park and one day she followed. The damn cat just walked around the park with the dog and I and was happy to go back inside when we were through.

No idea what the site of an unleashed cat and dog following a human around a park must have looked like from an outsider, but it worked for the three of us.
posted by bprater at 2:36 AM on February 16, 2008

I hissed loudly and clapped my hands whenever ours got near the door. That did a lot to discourage him from trying. Also, he did succeed in getting out one time when it 10 degrees F with about a foot of snow outside. After about five or ten seconds you could see that he'd decided that he had made a mistake and he walked right back in. After that he didn't try so hard for awhile.

It got easier to discourage him over time and now he doesn't even try anymore. Sometimes I think our cat really thinks he's a dog, and wanted to go out because our Labradors do.
posted by 14580 at 6:53 AM on February 16, 2008

get a harness and a long leash. put the leash on a stake in the yard. let him hang out for a couple of hours a day when you're home.

is your cat neutered? it makes an enormous difference.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: Surpised noone's mentioned this, but I have two cats (10 and almost 2). The both like to go outside but the younger LOVES it. Through a long, step by step process (standing at door, venturing just past door, standing right outside door, venturing within several feet of door...) that took months, I would go out with them (usually separately) and now, when they want to go out, I go out with them, staying right near the front door (sometimes I let the younger one venture slightly further, with me following him). They never go out without me, and we never go far. Mostly we stay on the porch. They now know to stick near me, and in this way, they get some outside time. Of course, this requires time, patience and a safe area. But it works well if you can commit it, like any kind of pet training. The cats seem to really enjoy it.

I would NEVER let them out alone to roam, but this might be a good solution if you're willing to give them and the process some time. Otherwise, maybe a secure enclosed outdoor space?
posted by FlyByDay at 12:02 PM on February 16, 2008

We live on a very busy street, and have two cats. #1 is happy to sleep, eat, and, from time to time, play. #2 wants to meet the neighborhood cats, wants to see the wide world. She's also not "street smart." She was taken from her mother too early and hand-raised, and doesn't quite know how to be a cat. I used to take her onto the (enclosed) porch and let her hang out while I sat with her and read, but all she wanted to do was find a way out. Eventually she figured out how to open the screen door, and so had a habit of going out (onto the busy-street side.) She gave us a few scares before we figured out her trick and locked the door more securely. Now she has beds by all the windows where she can watch the world go by, and she enjoys it, but still wants to meet the other kitties. I'm trying to figure out a way to let her meet them sometimes, but this problem is made even more difficult by the fact that #1 hates the other kitties, and freaks out for about a day if she so much as sees one through the window.
I like Holy foxy moxie batman!'s suggestions and will add: play with him, give him catnip sometimes if he likes it, and keep a spray-bottle by the door. If he makes a break, spray him, and keep spraying him until he decides to go back inside. I would also squirt him in response to midnight yowling, but that's me.
posted by agentofselection at 12:32 PM on February 16, 2008

Response by poster: An update: squirting him in the middle of the night is not effective. He either ignores it, or runs away, chastised, and then returns five minutes later, just as I've gotten back into bed. My partner had graduated to dumping a glass of water on him by the time we decided this wasn't the right stategy.

We're also trying out FlyByDay's idea... walking around outside with him. So far, he's stayed withing thirty feet of the front door, so I feel reasonably confident I can keep him out of the street. That said, I'm worried that this might count as reinforcement for the yowling: we've generally done it when he escapes, but doesn't it come to the same thing?

With spring coming to Nashville, I doubt we'll have any good snow to send him out into for a while. I'm waiting for some serious rain, though.

Thanks all, for your responses. Please let me know if you have any more ideas!
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:41 PM on February 17, 2008

My cat is the same way - he sits by the front door, and sometimes does this frantic scratching on the door that makes me insane. He obviously smells something out there (another cat, a rabbit, etc.) which is exactly why I DON'T let him out. Generally, he is agreeable if I open the window (where he perches constantly) just a crack, so he can smell what's happening out there. Other times, I just have to admit defeat and take him for a walk. Since he wants to go out SO BADLY, he doesn't mind that the only way to go out is on a leash. I bought a harness for a small(ish) dog and a leash and I we go for walks.

The neighbors get a huge laugh out of it and we get lots of attention (which the cat loves), but he also knows that the only way he is allowed to go Outside is with the leash on. Now, whenever we move the harness and the buckle jangles, he comes running and yelling with excitement.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, leash training a cat isn't that hard - especially when the motivator is whether or not he gets outside. It's a million times more effective than using snackies! :)
posted by giddygirlie at 6:22 PM on February 23, 2008

Response by poster: Another update: Now that he's leash trained, whenever I take him for walks he spends the rest of the day scratching at the door with three times the ferocity and plaintive whines. This is not an improvement.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

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