Is It Safe to Take My Cat Outside?
Some cats just love to get outside and will attempt to bolt out the door any chance they get. These sneaky escape artists can make it difficult to keep them safe. Many people know that there are dangers to a cat being indoor-outdoor as opposed to living a solely indoor lifestyle.
Letting your cat outside can cut their average lifespan in half, however, making it too risky for most loving cat owners to justify. It can become a problem, though, when it’s a battle of will, wits and speed between you and your cat.
Risk and Benefits of Taking Your Cat Outdoor
Cats evolved outdoors and have spent tens of thousands of years napping under the sun and stars during their time alongside humans. They’re physically and mentally programmed to benefit from spending time outdoors.
Getting some outdoor playtime can be great for your cat’s mental health. It can reduce unwanted behaviors such as aggression to humans or other animals, inappropriate scratching or urine marking and just reduce their overall stress levels.
However, uncontrolled outdoor access has been shown to lead to a whole host of negative outcomes. Not only is the outside filled with predators, parasites and other diseases they could contract, but according to the National Traffic Safety Administration 5.4 Million cats are hit by cars each year in the United States alone. Then there are the toxins they could ingest, the possibility of getting lost or stolen by other humans and the damage they do to the local wildlife.
Don’t let all the negatives scare you though! Letting your cat have supervised outdoor play time can make for a happy and healthy cat when done right. Here are some ways to let your cat get the sun they crave while reducing risk factors.
Harness & Leash
Training your cat to walk on a harness and leash isn’t too hard, especially if you start when they’re kittens. If you start early and repeat the action often, it highly increases your chances of your cat taking to this method.
Some cats will take to it really well while others just don’t care for it. If your cat is in the second group, don’t worry. There are other ways to get them some time in the sun safely.
Even if harnesses aren’t for every cat, it’s still something worth trying with all new kittens.
Pro-tip: Bring a well-liked toy out with you. Whether a laser pointer, stick teaser, or something else, it can be the exact tool you need to get your cat used to this new dynamic. Use the toy to lead the cat around. Stay in a familiar environment to begin and you can slowly expand your radius. Some cats will enjoy going on outings while others may prefer just a short walk to the end of the block. Take it at their pace and keep it a positive experience!
A Safe Space
A catio (cat patio) is the ideal place for your cats to get the best of both worlds. It provides the safety of the inside world with the sunny warmth of the outside world. Having a fully enclosed space ensures that there are no risks while they bask in the sun. This can be expensive and unattainable for a lot of cat owners though, so it may not be a fix if creating this kind of space isn’t in the budget.
A more budget-friendly option is a pop-up enclosure. This gives your cat the outside time that they crave in a safe manner. However, these are relatively small which may not make for an ideal experience for some cats.
Supervised outside time is something that we can all do though and it doesn’t cost a thing. It can’t prevent all accidents, but our presence keeps away most predators that would go after a housecat. This approach keeps your cats within a small radius and away from most dangers.
This method, again, can be cat-dependent. Some cats will wander off while others will stay close in order to keep their freedom. Training and positive reinforcement are important here. Where you live may also impact whether or not this is a viable option.
Just this week one of our cats, Litten, decided to go wander into the neighbor’s yard and disappeared from sight in less than a minute. So even if you’re giving your cats supervised free reign, it’s still important to keep an even closer eye on your cats more prone to wander.
Your cat needs to be easily identifiable just in case they get away. There’s a lot of debate about a tag versus a microchip. You could choose between one or the other, but whenever possible, both is best.
Not everyone knows to take a cat somewhere to have them scanned for a microchip, but it’s something that can’t get lost or removed and can help to prove ownership.
If you get your cat microchipped, make sure you register it correctly or it won’t provide much aid in reuniting you and your cat.
An engraved tag with your information will make it so that your cat is easy to return to you in most cases. However, since cats need to use breakaway collars, it’s easy for their tag to get lost, especially if they’re outside. Having both a personalized tag and a microchip on your cat gives you the best chance of getting them back home safely.
Having your cat chipped and tagged is the best option whether or not your cat typically goes outside. It only takes a second for them to run out the door and a cat without some form of ID is very unlikely to make it back home if they get lost.
While there are pros and cons for each option, they’re all significantly safer than letting your cat free roam around the neighborhood unsupervised. For many cat owners, a combination of these things provides the best results that put the least stress on both cat and owner alike. Do what’s best for you and your cats. (And remember, if they’re happy staying inside all the time, there’s no reason to push to change this!)