Letting your cat outside for the first time can be a very worrying experience. Your pet will be excited, but you’ll likely be deeply concerned about whether your cat will return home. With the right precautions, letting indoor cats outdoors can be made far less stressful for feline owners.
Your cat will likely be just as apprehensive as you when you first let them out. If they seem reluctant to stay out, don’t force them. Not all cats are cut out for outdoor life. Let’s look at the different precautions that can be taken to keep your cat safe on their first outdoor adventure.
- 1 Should I Be Worried About Letting My Cat Outdoors?
- 2 Letting My Cat Outside for the First Time
- 3 Letting My Cats Outside After Moving House
- 4 What Age Should Kittens be Let Outside?
- 5 Should Senior Cats be Kept Indoors?
Should I Be Worried About Letting My Cat Outdoors?
There are pros and cons to keeping your cat inside all the time. You can make a judgment call based on the unique needs of your cat. There are several things to consider:
- Is there a road nearby?
- Do other neighborhood cats roam outside?
- Are there any other wild animals in the area?
- If your cat gets lost, can they be identified?
- Is your cat vaccinated and protected against illnesses and parasites?
The presence of traffic will be the biggest concern, especially if you live on a busy road. If your cat has never seen a car before, they won’t know how dangerous they are.
Lost Pet Research offers some insights into the statistics surrounding road accidents and cats. According to research, males aged 7 months to 2 years are likeliest to be struck by cars.
There are more dangers than just the road, however. Other cats are a notable example. Unfriendly felines may not take kindly to your cat entering their territory.
Your pet may end up in conflict with hostile neighborhood cats. However, friendly felines can be just as dangerous. If your cat is not vaccinated, they may pick up infectious diseases. Equally possible is the sharing of fleas, and similar parasites.
Do you live in an area with snakes? Most snakes are non-venomous and terrified of cats. Either way, there’s nothing to gain by taking chances.
Prepare for the worst. Your cat may somehow get away from you. If that happens, can they be identified? A collar that lists your contact details or a microchip is highly recommended.
If you have done so, your cat may be ready for the wider world. You can take them out for the first time, and see how they react.
Letting My Cat Outside for the First Time
If your cat is going outside for the first time, keep them company. Your cat will likely be nervous at all the sights, sounds and smells they’re exposed to.
With this in mind, you may want to consider putting a leash on your cat. This way, you can take them for a walk, like you would a dog.
Not all cats go for leash training. If there’s a road nearby, it may just save your pet’s life. It’s certainly worth considering.
When you’re ready to take your cat out, check the area yourself first. It should be quiet. No children are playing, no sirens from ambulances or fire trucks, and no garbage trucks.
Another thing to bear in mind is time. Cats are most vulnerable outside between dusk and dawn. This is when many predators are active, and visibility on the roads is poor.
If your pet has a strict routine around food, this makes training easier. Take your cat outside around 10 minutes before they’re due to eat a meal. This is so your cat has the idea of food at the back of their mind.
Hunger will make them happier to come back indoors, even if they’re having fun. However, you could consider feeding your cat outdoors. This will create a positive association.
Stay close to your cat, especially if they’re not on a leash. Not too close, though. Your cat needs their independence. Try to relax, and be ready to step in if necessary.
Let them have a good sniff of everything. Felines primarily explore the world through their noses. You may also want to surround your cat with familiar scents. Favored blankets and toys may speed up your pet’s acclimatization.
Give your cat around 10 minutes outside, then take them back in. You don’t want to expose them to too much, too soon. Feed your cat, and carry on your day as usual.
If your cat takes to the outdoors and you’re happy with them roaming, let them do so. If you prefer your cat indoors, there’s nothing wrong with that.
What ID Should a Cat Have Before I Let Them Out?
It’s imperative that your cat has ID. What if your cat gets a fright and runs away? They will be lost and frightened. With ID, you can be reunited with your pet quickly.
The easiest form of ID is a collar, with a nametag. This should contain your pet’s name, your name, and your telephone number. This way, anybody that finds your cat can contact you.
Collars are not always reliable, though. They can fall off, or be illegible. This is why microchipping your cat is advisable.
Microchipping cats is not a legal requirement in any state. It does make your pet so much safer. It involves painlessly implanting a microchip under your cat’s skin that contains your information.
If your cat gets lost, they may be taken to a vet. Any vet can scan their microchip, and call you to let you know they have your cat. They’ll keep your cat safe until you can collect them.
It’s more reliable than a collar, which can fall off. It also means that you will not need to make your details a matter of public record.
It protects your cat from theft. Unthinkable though it may be, outdoor cats are stolen. With the aid of a microchip, yours can always be identified.
How Can I Help My Cat Find Their Way Home?
Of course, you’ll hope that your cat never needs to be identified as they’re lost. Thankfully, felines are believed to have excellent homing instincts.
The first study, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, found that a mother cat continually returned to her kittens, no matter how far they were separated.
Some experts claim that a cat’s superior sense of smell guides them. Others believe that cats retain information about what is important to them.
This is surprising, but seemingly valid. AnimalWised claims that have a short-term memory of around 16 hours. However, if a cat considers something to be necessary, it is retained.
Of course, the way home is something that any cat would consider pivotal. Cats can even recall food and water sources from the territory that have not visited in years.
All the same, it doesn’t hurt to lend your cat a hand. Before you start to let your cat wander too far, take these steps.
- Place some familiar-smelling items outside your home, shielded from rain. Blankets or used litter are most effective.
- Encourage your cat to mark the outside of your property. Urine spraying, in particular, is a very dependable homing beacon.
- Leave a garage or shed door open, just a crack. Some cats prefer to sneak home quietly, rather than announce their presence.
- If looking for your cat, do so between dusk and dawn. While we advise against letting your cat out at this time, it’s when they’re most active.
When you let your cat out for the first time, they may not come back immediately. There is a whole world for them to explore, after all.
This also means that your cat ignores you when they hear your voice. Try not to take this personally. They’re just lost in the moment.
When calling your cat home, always use a calm, neutral tone. If your cat hears the panic in your voice, they’ll assume there’s a reason to be afraid. This is the last thing that you want.
Letting My Cats Outside After Moving House
If you have moved house, your cat will need quite some time to adapt. Many cats become depressed and anxious at this drastic change.
In such instances, it may be tempting to let a cat outside. At least that way they can take their mind off their anxiety. This is a big mistake. After moving, you must keep a cat home for a minimum of four weeks.
This is because your cat needs to imprint upon their new home. In essence, they need to understand that it is their home. If you let your cat outside too soon, they’ll return to your old house. That’s what they know, and trust.
If your pet is used to roaming outdoors, they will struggle with being an indoor cat. Follow these steps to make your cat as comfortable during this testing time.
- Don’t change anything else. Ensure you are using the same kitty litter as in your old home.
- Stick to previously established routines surrounding food and play.
- Bring some familiar scents from your old home and scatter them around.
- Set up a room just for your cat. If they have their territory, they’ll bond with a new home faster.
- Provide food, water, scratching posts and litter boxes in multiple locations. Your cat needs to trust that this new location meets their needs.
If you have a backyard in your new home, you can also find a happy medium.
Don’t just unleash your cat into the backyard. They’ll hop over the fence and make a break for it. If you invest in an outdoor enclosure, your cat can safely experience the outside again.
Ensure that your cat associates the yard as part of the house. Again, the scent is pivotal to this. If you apply familiar smells, your cat will become increasingly comfortable.
After around four weeks, your cat should be ready to rejoin the outside world. This is enough time to accept their change in circumstances. Their homing instincts will bring them to the new house, rather than the old.
All the same, it’s best to stay close when you first let your cat outside. Prepare yourself for some sleepless nights. Your cat is likely to spend a lot of evenings exploring their new surroundings.
What Age Should Kittens be Let Outside?
Kittens should not be allowed outside unsupervised until they are six months old. This gives their bodies and brains time to mature appropriately. Short, supervised outdoor playtimes can precede this, however.
Observe your kitten the first few times they go outside. Kittens are playful and mischievous. This may result in them endangering themselves. Be on standby to step in if necessary.
Another consideration with kittens is their vaccinations. Kittens should never be let outside unless their vaccinations are up-to-date.
Exposure to a virus-carrying neighborhood cat could make a kitten fatally ill. Even a minor respiratory infection could be deadly to a kitten with an underdeveloped immune system.
It is advisable to spay or neuter a kitten before letting them outside. This will reduce your kitten’s desire to explore a faraway territory.
This, in turn, will keep them safer. If a kitten stays close to home, they’re less likely to get lost. They will also avoid misadventure on the road by remaining local.
Should Senior Cats be Kept Indoors?
As cats get a little older, they are not quite as functional as their younger selves. This means that they should be kept indoors for longer.
One of the main reasons that senior cats should be kept at home is their reflexes. Older cats are not as sharp and reactive, especially if arthritic. This can land them in trouble outside.
Crossing the road, for example, becomes risky. Your cat will not move at speed. Also, if a car surprises them, they cannot bolt quickly.
Thankfully, most senior outdoor cats have a healthy fear of roads. This is borne of experience. They have seen cars speeding past many, many times.
It’s not just cars that older cats need to worry about, though. Hostile neighborhood cats may attack a senior cat. Your aging pet may not be able to fight back convincingly.
In addition to this, older cats struggle more with contagious illnesses. If they spend time outside, consorting with other felines, they could catch a virus. As senior cats struggle with vaccinations, this could leave them very sick.
Consider that senior cats also find their mental faculties starting to diminish. This is far from ideal for an outdoor cat. If they cannot remember their way home, they will quickly become very stressed.
Letting your cat outside for the first time is a big moment. It’s understandable that you’ll be nervous and apprehensive. As long as you supervise, however, your pet will be fine.
This is not to say that you need to let your cat outside. Many cats are perfectly content being indoor pets. This is especially likely if they don’t know any different.
If you are going to let your cat out, remember your mental checklist. Ensure the area is safe, help your cat recognize home, and observe them.
Perhaps more importantly, watch for your cat’s reaction. If they seem delighted to be out, build up their outdoor time gradually.
If your cat heads for home immediately, acknowledge and accept this. The world can be a scary place. No cat should ever be forced to spend time outside if they prefer home comforts.