(Alternate Title: Should you let your cat go outside?)
In an ideal world, our cats would be able to wander the neighborhood without consequence. Watching a cat explore the great outdoors is fun. Whether they are crouched low in the long grass, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, or simply lounging in the sun on warm pavement, it’s captivating to see them enjoying the fresh air.
Unfortunately, cats are extremely vulnerable to the many dangers of the outside world. Some of these threats are obvious, while others are deceptively tricky to avoid. Any cat lover who has watched their cat look longingly out a window can relate to the desire to let that cat outside. Before you do that, it’s important to know the associated risks involved. Since our cats have only us to depend upon for their well-being, we have the responsibility of making smart choices for them.
Other Animals and Predators
One of the most obvious dangers involved in letting your cat outside is the fact that animals roam around. Other cats and dogs could come across your cat and engage in a fight. Coyotes, raccoons, and other wild animals have also been well-known to kill cats. Even large birds, such as eagles, are capable of harming cats. If your cat runs into an aggressive animal, the best-case scenario is likely some hefty vet bills. The worst-case scenario, of course, would be the loss of your cat. Even the fastest or strongest cat around is no match for some of the predators that she could face out there.
Cars and Traffic
Another very common threat to outdoor pets is cars. Some people suggest that cats know to avoid cars, but there are all kinds of scenarios in which even a clever cat could be in harm’s way. Sometimes drivers are too out of control and erratic for even people to predict. A cat who gets spooked by something might run into the street in a panic, or even freeze in a car’s path. Many cats simply have no street sense at all, especially those who are not accustomed to being outside.
Sadly, humans are threats to outdoor cats in other ways besides driving. Sometimes this is accidental, such as in the case of leaving out rat poison which a cat then consumes. Other circumstances are purposeful cruelty, like when people use cats as target practice. Children, sometimes unaware of the consequences of their behavior, can frighten with their enthusiasm or taunting. Lastly, there’s the menace of theft. This is a particularly high risk if you have an expensive cat that would be worth the effort of stealing.
Threats of Nature
The natural world has a whole host of hazards out there for our feline friends. It hardly has to be mentioned that cats are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. Whether it be severe cold or relentless heat, cats are not proficient at regulating through those temperatures. There are also parasites and diseases lurking in nature. A strong and proactive anti-parasite program can help combat the former, but there will still be a much higher risk attached for cats who spend time outdoors.
Providing a Stimulating Indoor Life
Some cat owners worry that their cats are missing out by remaining indoors. There are shrewd ways you can set your cat up for safe outdoors time, but you can also take steps to ensure her indoor life is rewarding. Providing interesting toys is one of the easiest ways you can keep your cat’s mind occupied throughout the day. Foraging or puzzle toys, where the cat has to figure out how to access a tasty treat, are especially enriching. Tall cat furniture or perches that allow a cat to explore and get a good vantage point are terrific. As any cat owner can attest, cats will enjoy hours of entertainment from any spare cardboard boxes you have lying around. Scratching posts provide a solid outlet for your cat – one that is not your furniture! Whenever possible, allowing cats access to natural light and window-watching is ideal.
Furry Friends to Combat Loneliness
If your cat spends long periods of time at home alone, you might consider bringing home a companion. Some owners fear that their cat is lonely when left alone in the house all day. One way to combat that without resorting to letting the cat outdoors is to find the cat a friend. This isn’t something to rush into, and not all cats will necessarily get along. It may be a while before you trust that you can leave the two new friends alone together. Still, if you know your cat will otherwise be spending an excessive amount of time alone, it could be worth examining.
Striking an Indoor/Outdoor Balance
Even with all of the facts taken into account, it’s undeniable that cats can benefit from a little fresh air. If you want to let your feline friend get a taste of the outdoors, there are ways to do that responsibly. The first option is a harness. Sure, it’s not so common to see people walking their cat, as they would their dog, down the street. However, cat-walking is growing in popularity for a reason. It’s a fantastically secure way to let your cat explore while never going out of your reach. By keeping her on a leash, you give yourself plenty of time to scan for incoming dangers. If necessary, you will have enough warning to scoop your cat up out of harm’s way. Not all cats are thrilled with the prospect of being harnessed. Give your cat time to come around to the concept, and she may just adjust.
If your cat stubbornly refuses to warm up to the harness, there’s also the option of building an enclosure. This is not as tedious or tough a task as it might sound. There are many ready-made options available for purchase, or you can cut costs by going the DIY-route. Thanks to the popularity of these sheltering spaces, there are many tutorials and guidelines available online. Having a cat enclosure is the perfect way to let your cat soak up some sun or dig in the dirt, all while being protected. Avoid leaving your cat unsupervised in the enclosure for too long, as predators can be crafty about finding their way inside.
Protecting Our Cats
On average, indoor cats live much longer and healthier lives than outdoor cats. This makes sense when you consider all of the intense risks that our fragile felines are exposed to when roaming in nature. As nice as it would be to let them frolic in fields without any care, it would be neglecting our roles as their caretakers. Fortunately, options like the harness or cat enclosure allow our cats to have the best of both worlds.