All kitties love to bask in the sun, chase butterflies and birds and sample sweet grass. But the outdoors has a lot of dangers of cats including getting lost, hit by cars, eaten by wildlife, getting into toxic plants, etc.
Today, we understand the hazards of allowing cats to roam freely, either by personal experience, hearsay or through the media, including the Internet.
Here are just a few of the outdoors dangers, although not an exhaustive list.
- The risk of contracting killer diseases, including FIV, FeLV, and FIP
- You can’t observe his litter-box habits and may miss evidence of FLUTD
- Injury and/or death from attacks by dogs, other cats, or predators
- Injury or death from vehicles
- “Cat-napping” for profit, or personal gain
- Trapping and disposal by cat-hating neighbors
- Torture and/or killing by psychopaths
- Confiscation by animal control authorities
On the other hand, there are some safe compromises to offer your indoor cat the best of both worlds, without the potential hazards of free roaming outdoors.
1. Supervised outdoor time in a secure area
For example, if you have a garden, you can go outside with your cat. He or she won’t get into trouble if you are there, too, and keep him or her away from hazards.
If your cat is on scheduled meals, you can let him or her outside before mealtime, which will make it easier to call him or her back. People whose cats are on scheduled meals often tell us that it only takes rattling a bowl or opening a can or fridge to get their cat to return.
If you don’t feed your cat on schedule, then maybe it’s a good time to start.
IMPORTANT: Bringing a cat outside and relying only on your supervision could be dangerous if you are not attentive.
Your cat needs your undivided attention during this time. Make the outdoor trips short, and don’t leave your cat unsupervised.
If your cat seems to get out of control, call him or her back using a treat. Otherwise, you will have an outdoor cat, which is not blameworthy but not safe, either.
2. Carrying your cat
Gary Loewenthal, former Host for the About Cats forum used to carry his cat, Mike around their backyard, allowing him to sniff and explore at will.
Mike’s nose led Gary on their walk, and each outdoor expedition was a bit different than the last. These explorations are best kept for a very short time – 10 or 15 minutes – as most cats will become too eager to jump down and explore on their own.
We’d suggest starting with just a minute or two for a timid cat who has never had an outdoor experience. However, carrying your cat is a great way to accustom him to the initially scary world of the outdoors, and a good preface to the next step.
3. Take your cat on a leash
Seriously! Cats can be walked on a leash, and many enjoy it. For the safety purposes, use a cat harness; do not attach a leash to a collar.
Also, remember that your cat is not a dog and that you do not walk a cat on a leash; your cat walks you. Seriously, don’t force your cat to do anything.
Train your cat to accept the leash being on. Let your cat choose where to go, and follow him or her, using the leash simply to keep your cat away from danger, not directing him or her where to walk.
Some cats might be stressed knowing that the leash prevents them from catching butterflies and climbing trees. You can overcome this by using a longer or even a very long leash (look for retractable leashes made for small dogs, but not too small as some of them are smaller than cats) and by not forcing on your cat things he or she does not like.
4. A personal carrier
If you decide that you want to make your cat a “traveling cat,” we suggest purchasing a personal vest-style carrier, called “Pet Pocket 2,” manufactured by Global Pet Products.
We bought the basic version, with a black mesh “pocket” that comfortably held our cat safely with a drawstring adjustment and a metal clip that attaches to his harness.
Our cat accompanied us on several outings, and became quite accustomed to being ‘oohed’ and ‘aaahd’ at by strangers.
5. Bringing the wild inside
“If the mountain won’t come to …” — Okay, never mind. We don’t mean that you should bring live mice and birds inside. You can, however, make some things available, like cat trees to climb, cat grass to nibble, and toys to bat.
Most importantly, your cat needs to be active, and the best way to ensure this is to regularly play with him or her. Get an interactive toy, and have great fun every day for at least ten to fifteen minutes.
There are many other ways to encourage activity without letting an indoor cat outside; all you need to do is to find the time.
6. Wheeled walker or stroller
The Kittywalk Stroller provides both a durable nylon netting “cage” so kitty can enjoy the outdoor experience and a water-resistant canvas shade for protection from the sun.
The wheel away converts to a backpack, car carrier, and bed.
7. Outdoor enclosures
For cats who would prefer to “free-roam” (within limits), outdoor enclosures are ideal. They can be built from scratch, with your own or purchased plans, or assembled as modular enclosures.
Your experiences may vary with any or all of these means of providing a safe outdoor experience for your cats, but we think you’ve been given enough alternatives here to get you started.
Remember, we are not talking about whether your cat should be an indoor or outdoor cat. This is about safe ways to provide outdoor access to an indoor cat. If you think your cat might benefit from outdoor access, go for it. At least, try it, and see what happens.