Letting Your Cat Outside: What You Need to Know
Cats with access to the great outdoors enjoy lots of fun experiences but they also face risks too: traffic, dogs, other cats, picking up fleas or contracting diseases…the list is endless. If you decide to let your cat explore the world outside your house, there are things you can do to help keep your cat safe.
What Age Should Your Cat Go Outside?
Kittens should not be allowed outside to mix with other cats until they are vaccinated. It is also much better to have your cat neutered before letting it have free access outdoors. Male cats that are not neutered tend to wander over a much wider area and get into fights with other male cats. This commonly results in cat bite abscesses developing and can even cause your cat to contract a viral disease. By the time a cat has completed a course of vaccinations and been neutered, they will be around 6 months of age and much more capable of looking after themselves.
What Time of Day is Best to Go Outside?
It is far better to let your cat outdoors in the morning, rather than at night, when they are more likely to be involved in a road accident because of poor visibility. Ideally adopt scheduled meal times, rather than allowing free access to food, for some weeks before allowing your cat outside. If you let your cat out shortly before feeding time, hunger will encourage your cat to comeback at meal times. You can also train your cat by using a sound - such as a bell, clicker or jangling keys before offering meals or food based treats. Making that sound tells your pet that you are in the vicinity with a food based reward. Simply shaking the food bag may result in lots of cats coming running! Leaving food outdoors can work but does not always help as it can attract neighboring cats that your own cat might be afraid of, further reducing the chances of them coming home.
Precautions for Outside
A collar with a bell will significantly reduce your cat's success in capturing small birds and can help you hear when your cat is in the area. Microchipping will enhance the likelihood of your cat being returned to you if found. There are a number of organizations that will register your contact details and give you a coded pet tag to place on your cat's collar. This is not just a visible means of identification; it can also be a more secure way of protecting your contact details. Some cat owners using address marked pet tags have been lured to a spot by a person who claims to have found their cat, only to return and find their home has been burgled.
Flagging the boundaries of your home and garden with cat scents from home can also help attract your cat back: a bit of bedding, hair or the contents of the litter box can all be used in an emergency when your cat has been away for too long.
When Not to Let Your Cat Outside
Moving to a new house can be a stressful time and the last thing you want is to lose your cat too. Keep your cat indoors for at least 2 weeks before allowing outdoor access at the new house and consider using a plug-in pheromone diffuser to encourage your cat to feel secure and relaxed in the new home. Last but not least, always keep an up to date photo of your cat to use in posters and so on if they are lost.