Before they were domesticated, cats roamed the wild on their own, hunting their food and defending themselves against predators. Although many stray cats still do this, cats are largely domestic animals now, content with living in luxury indoors. But if your cat expresses interest in heading out into the great unknown, is it okay to let them tap into their instincts and explore outside?
The outdoors pose a number of serious dangers to cats, especially those who have lived their entire lives inside. Keeping them in the house is the best way to ensure their safety and health. Although some cats thrive living an indoor/outdoor life, others might not be as lucky. It’s extremely important to weigh the risks before allowing your kitty to head outside and roam.
The dangers outdoor cats face
Indoor cats are expected to live almost twice as long as outdoor cats because of how many dangers await them outside. Previously stray cats who were adopted might be better at taking care of themselves outside, but even they are not immune to risks they face while unsupervised and unprotected.
While you can protect your cat from some of these dangers, others are not preventable while your cat is out of sight.
- Disease: Some of the biggest risks to your furry friend’s health are serious diseases that they can catch from other outdoor animals. Feral cats might be carrying feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), rabies and other viruses.
- Parasites: A number of parasites also await your cat outside, from fleas and ticks to intestinal worms. Your cat might pick up parasites after being bit by an insect, encountering an infected animal or drinking contaminated water.
- Wild animals: Stray cats can be fiercely protective of their environment. This might put your cat at risk for a dangerous fight! The last thing you want is your cat coming home covered in scratches or bites.
- Other wild animals: Aside from stray cats, there are many other wild animals lurking outside. One wrong encounter with a large animal could seriously injure or even kill your pet.
- Traffic: In urban areas, traffic is one of the major risks to your pet’s safety. Startled pets might run out into the road and get hit by a car.
- Pregnancy: If your female cat has not been spayed, there’s a chance they will be impregnated by a stray outside. Although pregnancy is generally safe for cats, it will come with added expenses and effort if she delivers a litter of kittens!
- Getting lost: Sometimes, cats get confused and lose track of their way back home. Lost pets can become extremely stressed and have trouble taking care of themselves. Worse, it can make it extremely difficult for you to be reunited!
Are there safer ways to let your cat explore?
Despite all of the risks, many pet owners feel guilty about depriving their feline friend of fresh air, sunshine and the freedom to explore by keeping them inside their whole lives. Fortunately, there are a few ways to reduce your cat’s safety risks and give them a little more freedom outside.
- Tracking and identification: Whether you’re letting your cat out to roam free or keeping them inside, it’s a good idea to have them microchipped. This way, if they get lost and returned to a shelter, a vet can scan them and get your information. Equipping your cat with a collar and ID tag can also signal to others that your pet is domesticated.
- Preventative health: Cats who are let outside in any capacity should be given a number of preventative health measures to protect them from disease and parasites. Topical parasite protection typically works for around a month, while vaccinations can protect your pet from serious illnesses for a year or more. Discuss the most pressing dangers for your area with your vet and take the appropriate precautions.
- Enclosed backyard: Many cats are happy exploring the outdoors in a limited capacity, such as in a backyard! They still get to enjoy the fresh air and experience new things but are safe from many dangers. If you want to let your cat out in your backyard, make sure the yard is enclosed with a fence that isn’t easy to climb or sneak under, so your cat doesn’t escape. Always supervise your cat while they’re outside, just to be safe.
- Catios: If you can’t enclose your backyard, you might be able to erect an enclosed structure for your cat to go “outside” in called a “catio.” These “cat patios” typically use mesh as a protective barrier while allowing your pet to explore outside a little more than usual.
- Take them for walks: Cats can even be taken for walks outside, just like dogs can! It might take some patience and training, but you can teach your pet to wear a harness and walk with you on a leash. This is a great way to allow your cat to experience the outdoors in a safe way.
It’s possible to give your cat a completely enriching and happy life while keeping them indoors permanently. However, if you really want to allow your cat outside, make sure you’re taking precautions for their health and safety and giving them freedom in a safe and responsible way.