Q: Can my 12-year-old cat be retrained from going to the bathroom outdoors to using a litterbox in the house? I am moving to a new home.
A: Some cats easily make the transition from using the great outdoors for their litterbox to using an indoor cat box; others need a little more encouragement and patience. Because your cat is 12 years old, the transition to using a litterbox might take a little more time and he may have a few out of the box experiences in the beginning. Don’t punish him if he does have accidents. After all, he’s never had to use a litterbox.
Start by confining your cat to one large, comfortable room that has lots of tall objects to climb on, places to hide and toys to play with. Of course, his sanctuary room should also have food, water and comfortable places to sleep.
Place three or four big, shallow litterboxes in different locations in his room. Large 40- or 60-quart under-the-bed storage boxes work well as introduction cat boxes. They need to be located in areas where the cat won’t feel he can be cornered and he has a good view of the whole room when he’s using them.
After a few days, if your cat still has challenges using the litterboxes, then bring the outdoors in by putting clean garden soil in the boxes. After he consistently uses the litterboxes containing the soil, gradually add cat litter to the soil in the boxes. It may take a couple of weeks to make the transition to cat litter.
After your cat is comfortable in his room and he’s using the litterboxes, the door of his room can be opened so that he can explore the rest of his new home. Make sure to place litterboxes around the house. Later when he’s using the litterboxes consistently and he’s successfully made the transition to living indoors, the boxes that aren’t being used can be gradually removed.
It is safer to keep cats indoors, but at 12 years of age the transition from outdoors to indoors may be difficult for him. If your new home has a yard, consider either building a large, safe enclosure for your cat or installing a safe, nonaversive fencing system that will keep your 12-year-old safely in his yard while, simultaneously, keeping other animals out.