Most domesticated cats live inside the home, comfortable with their abundance of pillows, blankets and tiny spots to curl up in. However, some cats have the urge to head outside and explore like their ancestors did, or were originally strays that were brought into the home after living free on the streets. While many pet owners will shy away from allowing their pets to head outside, others accept their cat’s independence and give them free reign.
Most cats are independent creatures and are perfectly capable of handling life outside on their own. However, if your cat is not used to the outside world, you’ll want to make sure it has a safe place to return to should it need more food, water or shelter.
Outdoor cats face many more challenges than indoor cats, and if you are planning to let your cat outside, you should be prepared to serve these unique needs. Here are some of the most important things to consider when caring for a free-roaming, indoor-outdoor cat.
- Have your cat fully vaccinated: Cats might be exposed to a great number of infections and diseases while outside due to bugs and other animals. Before you let your cat head outdoors, make sure it is fully protected with vaccinations. An outdoor cat should also get a few vaccines that most indoor cats will not need, such as the feline leukemia vaccine. In addition to vaccinations, give your cat immune-boosting supplements to make sure its immune system is in the best condition possible, so it will be able to fight off infections more easily.
- Use microchips and collars: Having a microchip placed in your pet is a common practice in today’s digital world. A microchip allows you to locate your pet should it stray far from home, and it will let other people know you’re the owner if they collect your cat and take it to the vet. This helps you bring your kitty home without a long search. Having a customized tag added to a collar with your pet’s name and your address or phone number is also a good idea, even if your pet is microchipped.
- Set up an outdoor food and water dish: If your cat is going outside but is still reliant on you for food, make sure to leave a dish for water and food outside where it can access it all day. The last thing you want is your cat getting dehydrated during the day because it can’t access water, especially during the hot summer months. The main drawback to this is that you may attract other animals and even stray cats to the food and water. Monitor the dishes regularly to scare off other animals and to monitor how much your cat is eating.
- Install a doggy door: Adding a doggy door to your house will allow your cat to more freely roam inside and outside. While this means your feline friend may be able to leave whenever it wants to without your regulation, it also means that it can get back in the house to seek food, water and shelter, even when you are not home or paying attention.
- Create an outdoor shelter: If a doggy door isn’t an option, or if your cat enjoys spending entire nights outside by itself, you may want to consider constructing a small shelter for your cat to stay in if there is inclement weather. Put a cat bed, blankets and a toy or two in the shelter to make it more comfortable.
- Have a bed and toys inside: Even if your cat has access to a bed outside, make sure to keep a litter box, bed and other comfort items inside, as well. Your cat should know that your home is a safe place to return to. Additionally, moving or removing these items can cause stress in your cat when it returns, which can affect its mental and physical wellbeing.
- Check up on its health regularly: Since your cat is more susceptible to illnesses outside, you should make a point to give it a once-over every time it returns home just to ensure nothing appears wrong. Look for changes in weight gain, limping, bug bites and ticks, wounds and other physical signs of illness. If something appears off, take your cat to the vet right away and discuss what could be done to prevent the illness, infection or other issue in the future. If your cat is severely ill, it should be kept inside until it is fully healed.
- Consider training: Some owners of indoor-outdoor pets like to train their cats to respond to a bell or other sound. This way, they can use a sound to signal it is time for the pet to return home for the night or for meals. Training your cat to eat at specific times of the day may also help it return home regularly, rather than eat as it likes over the course of the day.
Whether your cat goes outside for one hour a day or roams the neighborhood for two days straight, you won’t stop loving and caring for your pet. Taking these extra precautions to keep your pet safe will make sure that it returns home to you safe and happy from its independent adventures.