Seven Ways to Protect Your Outdoor Cat
These are the vaccinations, precautions, and trained behaviors you should know.
Cats hunt-and no amount of domestication has changed their inherent desire to patrol their domain in the hunt for prey. Even cats that don't go out of their way to chase a mouse still have inborn hunting and territorial characteristics. We've all seen the look of pure joy on our cat's faces when they watch birds or squirrels from the window. And because cats are naturally curious creatures, they love to explore. This is why some people allow their cats to spend considerable time outdoors. The downside, of course, is that the outdoors has many dangers for our feline friends. It's our job as responsible pet parents to keep them safe.
While many veterinarians and cat behaviorists recommend keeping cats indoors, you can allow your cats to get some fresh air in relative safety. "You have to be mindful of your surrounding area," says Amy Kohlbecker, cat care manager at Best Friends Animal Society. "[Do you live by] a busy road? Are there lots of predators [that would prey on your cat]?" You may have to put some controls in place to ensure that your cat is protected when he or she goes outside. And if you want to allow your cat to free roam the neighborhood, you also have to think about the ways that you can keep your cat as safe as possible.
Try Leash Training
Giving your cats some outdoor time can be very enjoyable and healthy for them, but you might want to provide a more controlled environment for that outdoor experience. How can you do this? Leash training is one of the easiest ways to monitor where your cat goes, especially because you get to go along for the walk. "You'll want to use a harness and a bungee leash, not a leash collar that goes around the neck," Kohlbecker says. "Cats generally don't like harnesses though, so you'll have to get them used to wearing it first." She suggests having the cat try on the harness while indoors and provide positive reinforcement with your cat's favorite treats. Supervised outdoor time is a great way to bond with your cat and give her the mental stimulation and physical exercise that her instincts crave.
Outfit Your Cat with the Proper Identification
Whether you like to keep your cat as close as possible to you or allow her to roam free around your block, it's important to have some identification on your cat. Lori Bierbrier, DVM, the NYC medical director for the ASPCA, says, "If you plan to let your cat outdoors for extra playtime, always make sure your cat wears a safety collar and an ID tag. A safety collar with an elastic panel will allow your cat to break loose if the collar gets caught on something." She also recommends that the ID tag includes all owner information and that you have the cat microchipped. Make sure your contact information is updated because you'll want anyone who finds your cat to be able to contact you.
Build an Outdoor Catio
Catios are a special outdoor enclosure for your cat. You can make a simple one that only goes partially outdoors or build an elaborate one-outfitted with a custom hammock-that spans the entire backyard. "You'll want to be mindful of the materials that you use for your catio," Kohlbecker says. "Make sure that it is sturdy enough to keep out predators and that there is a solid bottom so that your cat can't dig a way out." The catio can serve as an outdoor playground for your cat that keeps her within the vicinity of her home. You'll always know where she is, and she's safe from running out into the street or being picked up by large predatory birds or coyotes that may roam the area. Cat fencing is another way to keep your cat contained to your backyard. It's a special kind of fence that curves over the fence to prevent your high-jumping cat from getting over it.
If your cat spends considerable time outdoors, he's bound to run into other animals. Your cat can catch feline leukemia and FIV from other outdoor cats, and there's also the risk for fleas, ticks, worms, and mosquitoes. "It is a good idea to keep your cat up to date on veterinary check-ups including vaccinations and flea preventative, especially if they are allowed to play outside," says Dr. Bierbrier. Stay on your vet's recommended schedule for cat vaccines and get your cat checked out on a regular basis. You don't know whether the other animals in your neighborhood have been vaccinated, so do what you can to keep your cat safe. Flea prevention medicines and regular deworming is also recommended.
Plant a Non-Toxic Yard
Your yard could become dangerous for your cat. "Be mindful of the plants and the fertilizer you have in your yard," Kohlbecker says. "Some could be very toxic to your cat." For example, lilies might look pretty in a garden, but they can kill your cat if she eats one. You can check out the ASPCA's list of non-toxic and toxic plants as you plan a cat-friendly garden. Another thing that you can do to keep your yard safe is to make sure that anything potentially toxic or dangerous, like oil cans and power tools, are kept locked up and secured from the cat. Cats can swallow small objects like nails, which will cause an obstruction in their bowels. Put tools and hardware in locked cabinets to prevent your cat from getting into them.
Know Friendly Neighbors
Your neighbors can also be a source of protection for your cat. If you know your neighbors well, you can ask them to watch out for your cat and provide additional safety if your feline wanderer ever needs it. Neighbors may also want to make sure that their yards are safe and non-toxic for your cat. Of course, some of us have neighbors who may not be so kind to our cats. In this case, supervised outdoor time with your cat would be a good idea.
Schedule a Regular Dinner Time
If there's one thing we have learned from our cats, it is that they return for a tasty meal. Kohlbecker recommends having a scheduled dinner time that you indicate with a bell or by shaking the bag of food. Your cat can be trained to know that the sound means it's time to come home and eat for dinner. "Then, you can keep your cat indoors for the rest of the night," she says. Your cat will be safe inside of the house with you over night. This protects her from nightly predators like coyotes until she can do her daily patrol again in the morning.