Although many people consider cats to be “inside” animals, an increasing number of pet owners are allowing their cats to roam around outside or are taking them on outdoor adventures. This can be great, as long as your cat’s temperament allows for it.
Now that the weather is getting nicer, more pet parents may be inclined to let their cats explore the great outdoors a little more. However, before you let your cat outside, there are a few health and safety precautions you should consider. The outdoors pose many more risks to cats than they face inside, and if you aren’t prepared, your cat could catch a disease or get hurt very quickly.
First thing’s first, you’ll want to ensure your cat is safe every time it steps outside. This means that it should wear a collar with identification information on it. The collar should be safe and well-fitting and have a breakaway device installed to allow your cat safe removal if the collar gets stuck on something. Additionally, having your pet microchipped is a good way to help you find it if it gets lost. These things are also important for indoor-only cats, but the risks for outdoor cats are much higher.
If you’re going to be taking your cat for walks instead of letting it roam outside freely, invest in a quality harness that fits well and is secure, as well as a good leash.
2. Disease Prevention
The next biggest thing to consider is that outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed to certain diseases than indoor-only cats are. If you vaccinate your cat by indoor-only standards, it’s likely that it only has a few, like rabies and FVRCP, which protects against feline distemper and respiratory viruses.
However, other vaccines exist and are quite important for outdoor cats, including the feline leukemia vaccine. “FelV” is transmitted through close contact with other cats, so your vet may not have recommended it if your cat was intended to stay indoors. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is another common “outdoor cat” vaccine because the virus is spread in a similar way to feline leukemia.
Make sure to ask your veterinarian about the essential vaccines for outdoor cats in your area, as some diseases are more common in some regions than in others.
3. Parasite Protection
Cats that are taken outside are also more susceptible to being attacked by insects and picking up parasites. This means that parasite protection is extremely important.
First, be mindful of the different kinds of parasitic worms your cat could pick up, including roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. These can be transmitted by your cat eating the feces of an infected animal.
You also should be mindful of heartworms, which can be transferred by mosquito bites and is often devastating to cats.
Fleas and ticks are also of concern. These parasites can find their way onto your pet quickly, especially if it’s roaming around in the grass or wooded areas. Ticks can transmit diseases to your pet, like lyme disease (although this is not very common), while fleas can cause constant itching all over your pet and even infect your household, making them very difficult to get rid of.
There are many preventative products on the market that target many insects at once, helping to prevent against fleas, ticks, heartworms and even other parasites. Consider these products before letting your cat go outside unprotected.
4. Spay or Neuter
If your cat has not been spayed or neutered, strongly consider having the procedure done before allowing your pet to go outside. Cats that are not spayed or neutered may go into heat and get pregnant or impregnate a cat.
If it’s your cat that gets pregnant, you may be completely unprepared to manage a litter of kittens, and if your cat impregnates a stray, it will be contributing to the already high number of stray cats without safe homes.
5. General Safety
Before you let your cat outside, be mindful that being outside puts your cat at a far higher number of risks to its health and safety. Not only can your cat face parasites, pests and diseases, but it is also in danger of being hit by a car, getting lost far from home and being attacked by a predator. Toxins and chemicals on the grass or in the road are also potential hazards.
For these reasons, it may be best to keep your cat inside instead of letting it roam around, especially if you live in an urban area. If you do want to expose your cat to the outside world, you may want to keep it on a harness and leash or in a pet-safe carrier while on a walk and only let it outside when it is supervised.