Those of you with children will know the anxiety you felt when letting them go out alone for the first time, either to the corner shop or out on the town with friends. We cat owners face similar feelings of worry and caution. Our cats, after all, are our fur children. So when we decide it’s time to let them explore outside, what steps should be put into place to make it easier for us to relax?
Below are my 10 top tips to help you decide how and when to let your cat or kitten outside.
1. When to let your cat out?
You can gradually start introducing your cat to the great outdoors at about six months of age (once they have been neutered/spayed and had all of their injections). Obviously at this age they are going to still be getting into trouble so it’s really important to make sure they are fully supervised until you feel confident in allowing them to stray further.
Make sure your cat is micro-chipped and also wears a collar with your details. If your cat starts meowing at a neighbour’s kitchen window they will know straight away it’s not a stray. The chip protects you even further if anyone has any ideas about claiming your cat as their own. Your address will show up the moment they are taken to a vet.
Get your kitten used to wearing a collar early on. The collar should have your contact details on and not be too loose around the neck or it could get caught on something (you can opt for a cat collar with a safety release buckle). Feel around the neck to make sure not too tight either. A good rule of thumb is to stick too fingers between the collar and the neck. A little bell will alert any birds your cat tries to catch. Remember, your cat is growing so you will need to re-adjust the collar as time goes on.
If you do not want your cat to get pregnant, or your tomcat to impregnate all of the un-spayed females in the area, it is wise to have them done at your vets before allowing them outside. Un-neutered male toms will go far and wide seeking females, will howl at night outside any homes where they suspect a female cat inside, and will also mark everywhere around your home and outside, the smell of which is pungent.
The Blue Cross advises that your kitten should not be allowed outside until at least a week after finishing the first course of vaccinations. Vaccinations should be once a year.
It’s really important to make sure your cat comes back when it is called or when you make a noise, like the shaking of their favourite treats. Start working on this before you introduce them to the garden. Once you recall has been established, you are set to go and open those doors
7. Go out with your cat
Start taking your cat out a little at a time. You can either do this with or without a harness. They need to get used to the garden, its smells, its borders, and also the route back in again. At this early stage don’t introduce the cat flap. Open the door and take your cat out and then bring them back again when you feel it’s been enough.
You could also just sit outside of the open door and call your cat until it walks out under it’s own steam. Play with them outside and make it a fun time. Keep doing that everyday. Take the treats with you and try the recall to make sure they come back when needed. You will know when you feel it’s time to show them the cat flap. Don’t force your cat out if it really doesn’t want to go outside. The whole process should be gentle and go at the cat’s pace, not your own.
8. Cat flap
There are lots of cat flaps to choose from. Some open once programmed with your cat’s microchip number, some are magnetic, and all come in different sizes to accommodate the size of your cat. The best ones to go for are the ones that do not allow other cats to come into your home, so I would personally opt for a microchip flap.
It’s fairly easy to get your cat used to using the cat flap. Have one person stand on one side and you on the other and keep passing the cat through until they understand. Then try to coax them through holding the flap open. Let them go through part way, and once their body is halfway through, have their favourite treat waiting for them at the other side. Within 5-10 minutes they should be clambering through it. Reward with treats and lots of praise.
9. Cat proofing your garden
Some people may just want to consider securing their garden like you would if you wanted a large aviary. This option should be done if you are too worried about your cat being free roaming, but would like them not to be exclusively indoors. It’s a simple solution that can easily be done using wire mesh, garden poles and some advice from a landscape gardener or handy man friend. Get some ideas on this here.
One company that has come up with a rather unique idea is based in the UK and is called Katzecure. They have invented a simple wooden roller that fixes to any garden fence. The roller does not allow the cat to get a stable footing on it and therefore keeps the cat safe in the garden. Their designs blend well into a garden landscape and I personally think the idea is brilliant, although more expensive than chicken wire. Another great company is ProtectAPet.
10. Other cats
Your cat will need to establish its territory and do what all cats have to do; sort it out amongst themselves. There may be scuffles but this is totally natural and hopefully your cat will come out of the experience with no lasting trauma and learn where and where not to go! If you have another cat entering your garden and trying to assert itself over your cat or your cat’s territory and your cat is not sending it packing, then go outside and deter it with a short sharp squirt from a water pistol. It’s fine if your neighbour’s cat is just being friendly, as long as YOUR cat is cool with it, but if your neighbour’s cat thinks your garden is his territory too then watery persuasion is the answer – oh, and get your cat some boxing lessons!
Will my cat find its way home?
Your kitten or cat’s first time out alone will have you naturally feeling anxious. Your cat may wander further afield because they will be exploring and establishing their territory and home range. Don’t worry. Cats have great sense of direction and can find their way around quite amazingly. You can go outside and use your recall (treat packet) and see them come running through the bushes as long as it’s not every minute or your kitten/cat will never get to see anything. Males have a much wider home range than females, who will stay close to the home, possibly only venturing a garden away.
Should I leave the cat flap open all the time?
Cats come alive late at night and early morning. It’s the time they go out and hunt for prey, especially being nice and quiet but some people do not feel comfortable leaving their cat flap open at night as they fear for their cat’s safety and are worried about foxes. Only each individual cat owner can decide. Maybe shut the cat flap at night in the early stages whilst your cat gets used to his/her new freedom. It may be quite confusing for your cat but they will soon understand the routine. You may have to reshow them during the day that the cat flap is open again.
Should I be worried about foxes?
A recent study of mine revealed that foxes, as a general rule, do not see cats as food and are tolerant when sharing space with them. In urban UK cities it is a given that foxes and cats are seen sharing space with each avoiding the other. UK vets report that a cat is far more likely to be seriously hurt by another cat, in a fight, or by traffic than from a fox attack. A fox will attack a cat, however, if the cat threatens its cubs or goes to close to its den. A fox seen dragging a dead cat across the street may not have killed the cat but have found it dead already, possibly by a car accident.
So, when the time comes, stop sitting by the cat flap biting your nails and watching the clock. Keep calm and carry on. Your fur monster will be just fine and will love you for allowing it to act and be a natural born cat.