Has your State imposed a cat curfew? Local councils across Australia have threatened cat owners in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT.with fines of up to $1600 if their cat is found roaming at night. Yikes!
So how can you transition your outdoor cat to an indoor cat? Here, Victoria Cat Protection Society experts Emily McLeod and Natalya Dundovich give their top tips to help with the transition.
1. BE PATIENT: It takes most humans a few months to change a habit in their usual routine so expect that you’ll need to help your cat for a minimum of 30-60 days. Allow as much time as possible to ease your cat into the transition - especially if they have been coming & going freely for years.
2. DIARY: Keep a diary to learn your cat’s current routine (baseline) before making changes. Note times of the day they particularly want to be outdoors and why. For example, maybe it’s access to a favourite sunny spot or first thing in the morning to toilet.
3. FRESH AIR: Remember, fresh air and natural light is essential for all cats. Cat-proof fencing, Catios and enclosures allow cats unsupervised time outdoors. Did you know we can also teach cats to come when called and wear a harness & leash?
4. BUY A LITTER BOX: If your cat predominately toilets outside in the garden and they will be confined indoors more, refresh their use of the litter box. Lots of cats hate the small litterboxes that are commercially available, so it can be useful to trial a much larger litterbox (an underbed storage tub works well for this). Lots of cats prefer a clean toilet so ensure you’re spot cleaning at least twice a day - otherwise they’ll find another area of the home they deem suitable!
5. KEEP THEM OCCUPIED: Set up your cats’ space with the things they need - high perches, sturdy scratching trees, places to hide, interactive toys that encourage them to use their body and mind.
6. TRAINING: Ditch the food bowl and start tricks training. Cats have bursts of playful ‘hunting’ behaviour and a great outlet is hiding their food in enrichment toys.
Use play, favourite toys and foods to teach your cat new tricks. Doing this for five minutes a day is a great outlet for pent up energy that otherwise could manifest in disruptive behaviours. Remember that toys don’t have to be expensive – even a cardboard box can be fun!
8. HOW TO START: Start by confining your cat to your property/home for small chunks of time initially. Leave your cat with some interesting activities to keep occupied. Build up the amount of time gradually. It can be helpful to start by confining your cat during a time of day they’re taking a nap or relaxing.
If you feel that your cat isn’t coping with the changes, Natalya suggests speaking with your vet or a cat behaviour professional because there are a number of products available to support cats that are experiencing stress.
“For cats with a history of spending time outdoors or roaming freely, a sudden reduction in freedom and control over their life is likely to create frustration," she said.
"Cats communicate with us using their behaviour and vocalisations, so you may notice behaviours pop up (or escalate) as you make changes to their outdoor access.”
“Take note of toileting outside the litter box, excessive vocalising, disruptions during the night, scratching around the home, conflict with other pets, rough play, aggressive behaviours towards humans, demanding attention and not being able to settle independently.”
Why a cat curfew?
A cat that is allowed to roam free has an average life expectancy of only four years, compared to a cat that is confined which has fifteen years plus, so the benefits to a cat are enormous.
Addressing cat roaming with cat curfews helps to control overpopulation in cat colonies, which often result in extensive loss of wildlife and illness for the cats. There are also positive welfare outcomes for pet cats.
“We recommend that any cat adopted from our Society is kept indoors or within the owner's property, in a cat enclosure or suitable fencing,” says Emily.
“When your cat leaves your property, you have no idea what’s on the other side. For example, you don’t know if there’s an angry dog, or if your cat sees a possum and attacks it. They might also kill wildlife, so it’s for every creatures’ safety.”
Breaking down the Benefits
There are a number of benefits to keeping your cat confined, including:
- A reduced risk of them being injured or hit by a car
- Less chance of them fighting with feral cats or contracting a disease, such as cat flu, ringworm or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) from another cat’s bite
- Protection from being accidentally poisoned by toxic plants or baits in neighbouring gardens or being bitten by snakes or spiders
- Reduced risk of your cat getting lost, or being exposed to extreme weather
An Unfair Advantage?
When asked if a cat curfew is unfair to cats, Natalya says: “To me, it seems very reasonable to keep any domestic pet confined to your property.
"I actually work with a lot of clients who have to modify their own fencing and properties to keep nuisance animals out and protect their own pets who are contained and get really distressed by having wandering cats come through.
"So I think that that's something that we should be thinking about in terms of our communities and our neighbours.
"I also think that it's very reasonable for us to try and find a balance between giving cats what they need to be happy and healthy and also protecting our native wildlife, because we do have such rich wildlife here in Australia”.
To learn more about the Cat Protection Society of Victoria, and to see the cats and kittens up for adoption, visit https://catprotection.com.au/