Our cats stay indoors. Paul and I adopted Annie and Eddie from Grayson County Humane Society in Leitchfield, Kentucky, and rescued Mercy as a kitten from the alley behind our apartment where he was part of a feral colony. We worried that Mercy might not adjust to indoor living, but he took to the warmth and love of Paul’s mom’s home just fine. The transition from feral cat toughing it out on the mean streets to that of indoor prince went smoothly. In fact, he showed no interest in going back outside.
Last year, Paul’s mom fell and broke her shoulder. After her fall, Mercy began trying to escape the house when the door was open. This was the first time he had been separated for any length of time from Paul’s mom, and we think the trauma of her accident and the influx of new faces frightened him.
Paul and I brought Mercy to our home while his mom recovered, and then she came to live with us, too, a couple of months later. Annie and Eddie welcomed Mercy without any incident, and everyone transitioned smoothly except for sometimes when Mercy tries to run out the door.
Mercy’s motivation to go outside might be a mix of both territorial and opportunistic factors. He was used to being the only cat in a house for the past seven years. Sharing a new home with two kittens brought a new set of challenges for him.
Where once, Mercy laid claim to an entire house, now he had to figure out how to time-share the space in our home with two other cats. While he adjusted to his new space, Paul and I took steps to mitigate Mercy’s desire to run along with precautions to keep him from escaping. You can take these actions, as well, if you have an adult cat who wants to run away.
1. Cat-Proof Any Exits
In our sunroom, there are lots of big windows and a sliding glass door. We placed C-clamps on the windows and doorframe to prevent them from opening wide enough for Mercy to slip out. The C-clamps also act as a reminder to us to check where he is before opening the door.
Paul and I use the side garage door to enter and exit our home 95 percent of the time. We began using a “double-gate barrier” system on the side door. We will not open the side door to our home until the garage doors are completely down so that if Mercy were to slip out, he would still be contained in the safety of our garage.
If Mercy were to slip outside, we fear it would be difficult to get him back inside. Once outside, Mercy would be exposed to an entirely new territory, and we know that fear and panic might take him over. A cat’s instinct in a strange territory is to go into defensive mode and hide from everything and anything that he perceives as a threat. We think Mercy would be too terrified to come to us when called and that recovering him would be difficult.
2. Adjust The Cat’s Environment
The next step was to create an environment for Mercy that would make him feel more at ease and stop his desire to run. The first thing we realized was that Mercy was in need of alone time. Even though Annie, Eddie and Mercy all get along, just like us, cats have a need for their own space. A cat’s territorial needs are hard-wired, and even though a territory will overlap in the outdoors, cats use pheromones as social signals to let the other cats know they are time-sharing the area. These signals let the other cats know approximately where and when the cat was last in the area, and might even let the cats know when he might return.
We dedicated several places throughout the house for all the cats to perch. We cleared off the fireplace mantel, a desk and a dresser to create separate high spaces to seek refuge. Mercy has made it clear that the mantel is his space. Annie and Eddie respect this claim by avoiding the mantel, and Mercy avoids the cat tower in the sunroom. We have several bird feeders and a squirrel feeder placed strategically around the sunroom windows for maximum viewing. All three cats can bird-watch without being on top of each other.
We also added two more litterboxes to our home to allow each cat to have privacy using the box and to avoid feeling trapped when nature calls. We provide three different dining locations for the cats even though most of the time they eat meals together.
All of these steps have helped curtail Mercy’s attempts to flee. Mercy is closely bonded with Paul, so Paul makes sure to give him extra attention each day. They spend time together on the sofa, and Mercy sits beside Paul when he is working on his laptop.
3. Have A Backup Plan
If your cat continues to want to run, you might consider teaching him to enter a humane trap. You can do this by placing food inside the humane trap and propping the door open so the trip mechanism will not close when your cat steps on the trigger plate. By placing food inside the trap, your cat will associate the trap with food and safety, so if your cat should slip out, he will be more likely to enter the trap and you will be able to bring your cat back inside. Your cat should wear a collar with contact information and be micro-chipped to make contacting you and helping return your cat home. Spaying and neutering your cat will also help deter your cat’s desire to run.
4. Stay Positive
It is important to remember not to punish your cat but to redirect him. A fearful cat is likely to run and hide. Enriching your cat’s environment, providing private space and giving special attention will help to alleviate your cat’s desire to run.