How to Change Indoor Cats to Outdoor Cats

There's a lot of discussion about whether it is best for cats to be primarily indoors versus outdoors. There is a difference in indoor versus outdoor cat life expectancy, and while most people want to make an outdoor cat into a happy indoor cat, you may want to know the best way to go about making an indoor cat an outdoor cat.

Gray adult british cat sitting in grass.
There's a lot of discussion about whether it is best for cats to be primarily indoors versus outdoors.
credit: Anna Derzhina/iStock/GettyImages

Letting cats outside

When you're letting cats outside for the first time, it's important that they be supervised and that they feel safe. How you do this depends on whether the cat is a kitten or an adult that has already been outside before. Kittens, because of the risk of catching diseases or getting lost or frightened on their own, should be kept indoors until they are at least six months old and have had all their vaccinations.

An adult indoor cat to outdoor cat transition can take place differently, but they should be supervised for their first few outdoor visits. They will likely be overwhelmed by new smells. If the adult cat is new to you, or you have recently moved to a new home, keep them indoors for a couple of weeks for them to acclimate to their new environment first. Short visits seem to work best by allowing them to take their time to get used to the outdoors and return to the safety of the familiar indoors whenever they're ready.

It's a good idea to get your cat microchipped if you plan to make the indoor cat to outdoor cat transition (remember to keep your cat's microchip details up to date!). Fit him with a reflective collar, which will make it easier for him to be seen by passing cars. Try getting a harness and leash that you can clip to a piece of outdoor furniture — this can give your cat the satisfaction of being outside while providing you with the peace of mind to know they're safe.

Indoor outdoor cat life expectancy

There is a difference between indoor and outdoor cat life expectancy, so unless you really need to allow your cat to go outdoors, it might be best not to. The life expectancy of an indoor cat is typically at least 12 years although they can live up to 20 years.

While it can be hard to tell how long an outdoor cat will live, the Humane Society's fact sheet lists numerous dangers that outdoor cats can be exposed to. Diseases, parasites, predators, and fast cars are just some of the dangers that outdoor cats face.

When making an indoor cat an outdoor cat, try to account for these pressures as much as possible. For instance, make sure your cat has her vaccinations. Check her regularly for fleas and parasites such as intestinal worms or ear mites that can impact her overall health. If you do decide to let her outside, try to train her to come inside at nightfall (maybe by calling to her and giving her a treat or shaking the food bowl) so she can be safe from nighttime dangers.

Outdoor cat house

The indoor cat to outdoor cat transition can be a lot easier if your cat has a safe spot he can go to outside. This can work especially well if your cat is trained in using a cat door or cat flap, which then can connect to an enclosed area outside. Perhaps a section of your porch can be screened in for a safe place your cat can access through a cat door for anything he wants to.