Since the mid-1940s, thanks to the development and marketing of cat litter, an increasing number of cats have remained indoors, becoming indoor-only pets. Cats are living longer and healthier lives as a result. The average indoor cat lives ten to twelve years, and many of us have known felines who are over twenty. Cats that only live outside live an average of two years. Our homes offer a safer and healthier environment than life on the streets. Consider this: no ticks or fleas unless the family dog brings them in; no encounters with rabid raccoons, fragrant skunks, or hungry coyotes; and no one-on-one encounters with moving vehicles. There is no doubt about it: staying inside is the most secure option!
If we choose to keep our cats inside, we must provide the stimulation that nature provides on its own. Scratching and climbing posts become pseudo-trees, and interactive toys become hunted birds, bugs, and field mice. A rotating selection of cat toys provides amusement, variety, and exercise.
Taking Them to the Street
Nonetheless, many cat owners prefer to spend time outside with their feline companions. Fortunately, there are precautions that can be taken. Vaccinations are usually important for indoor cats, but they are critical for outdoor cats’ health. The soil in a garden or yard can harbor diseases spread by stray, unvaccinated cats for many months. And rabies has spread throughout much of the country, owing primarily to contact with wildlife such as foxes, raccoons, and bats.
Allowing your cat to spend time outside safely means harnessing him or her and going for walks with him or her, or providing a screened-in enclosure or fenced-in yard topped with cat-proof netting.
Hold the Line
Harness training, like many other skills, is best learned when your kitten is young. Adult cats, on the other hand, can adapt. Select a figure-8 or H-type harness that fits comfortably. (A good fit is when you can barely get your finger between the cat and the harness.) At first, wear the harness for a few minutes at a time, preferably right before mealtime or during play, to help the cat associate it with something positive.
Rep several times a day. Attach the leash and let the cat drag it around for a few more short sessions when the cat starts ignoring the harness; stay close by in case the leash catches on something. The next step is to grab the leash and walk the cat around the house. This allows the cat to become accustomed to a human following behind before gently guiding the cat with the leash.
Once your cat is comfortable taking light direction, move to a quiet area outside. Keep your initial sessions brief, frequent, and positive; small food rewards can help. Keep an eye out for off-leash dogs, in-line skaters, or bicyclists who could endanger or scare Tabby when leaving your property.
Hey, Fence Me In!
Because they can be built by hand or commercially, outdoor enclosures come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For durability, chain link, chicken wire, or wire mesh hardware cloth secured around a simple wood frame is preferable to ordinary window screening. Because cats are excellent climbers, roofing is required. The most successful structures include climbing and resting furniture on the inside. A shaded area with a water bowl is required for use in warm or hot weather.
Whether you choose an outdoor enclosure or add cat-proof netting to traditional fencing, keep in mind that they are best used when you are at home and outside with your cats, or when you can check on them frequently. Pet theft takes only a few minutes, whether it is committed by obnoxious neighborhood kids or by an organized group collecting animals to sell to research facilities. If all other measures fail, a microchip, tattoo, or ID tag can help you and your family feline reunite.
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