What to do to ensure a smooth transition when deciding to let your cat venture outside
So, you have decided to allow your cat out. That’s great news. If you have a cat that isn’t going to be stolen because it’s a pedigree cat that costs hundreds, if you have a garden that is set back from the road, If you are on the ground floor and it’s easy for your cat to go out or if your cat is bored and itching to get out and about, then why would you deny it the natural life that it’s meant to have.
I know and I understand it too well but, after denying a free roaming existence for my own 2 Norwegian Forest Cats (They are lead trained instead), I know I would never go down this road again and my next cats’, way way in the future one hopes, will be ordinary rescue moggies that can go in and out as they please.
But getting back to helping cat owners let go gradually and take the step to introducing the big wide world to their cat.
Here’s some steps that, hopefully, can ease the process and give you peace of mind!
Microchip. Make sure your cat is microchipped and also wears a collar with your details on. If your cat starts meowing at a neighbours kitchen window they will know straight away it is not a stray. The chip protects you even further so if anyone has ideas to claim your cat as their own your address will show up the moment it is taken to a vets. The chip is as small as a grain of rice and is put within the neck of the cat’s (where one may scruff a cat) and it is painless. They might feel a tiny pinprick but it is over in seconds. My cat Zaza didn’t even know when the process was over and my other cat, Kiki, just gave a little meow when the chip entered the skin. Her meow was barely audible 😉
The collar: Get your kitten used to wearing a collar early on. The collar should have your contact details on and not be too loose around the neck or it could get caught on something. Feel around the neck to make sure not too tight either. A good rule of thumb is to stick too fingers between the collar and the neck. A little bell on will alert any bird your cat tries to catch. Remember your cat is growing so you will need to re-adjust the collar when it does! I know one client who never really checked the collar and I was amazed at how tight it was on the cats neck. She didn’t think about ever adjusting it the older or heavier the cat got!!
Neuter/spayed: If you do not want your cat to get pregnant or your tom cat to impregnate all of the un-spayed females in the area it is wise to get them done at your vets before allowing outside. I am sure most people know this already but just in case you don’t then think again! Un-neutered male toms will go far and wide seeking females, will howl at night outside any homes where they suspect a female cat inside and will also mark everywhere around your home and outside which is a pungent smell.
Age: You can gradually start introducing your cat to going outside at around the age of 6 months (once they have been neutered/spayed and had all of their injections). Obviously at this age they are going to still be getting into trouble so it’s really important to make sure they are supervised until you feel confident to allow them to stray further.
Up to date injections: The Blue Cross advises “Your kitten should not be allowed outside until at least a week after finishing the first course of vaccinations”. Please ask your vet. Vaccinations should be once a year.
Recall. It’s really important to make sure your cat comes back when it is called or when you make a noise, like the shaking of their favourite treats. Start working on this before you introduce them to the garden. My cats come running when I shake a tube of their favourite treats and when they come to me they get rewarded. Once your recall has been established you are set to go and open those doors 😉
Go out with your cat. Start taking your cat out a little at a time. You can either do this with or without a harness (See past posts for more on lead training). Your cat will be curious and nervous at the same time so 15/20 mins short bursts should wet their appetite. They need to get used to the garden, its smells, it’s borders, and also the route back in again. At this early stage don’t introduce the cat flap. Open the door and take your cat out and then bring them back again when you feel it’s been enough. You could also just sit outside of the open door and call your cat until it walks out under it’s own steam. Play with them outside and make it a fun time. Keep doing that everyday. Take the treats with you and try the recall to make sure they come back when needed. You will know when you feel it’s time to show them the cat flap. Don’t force your cat out if it really doesn’t want to go outside. The whole process should be gentle and go at the cats’ pace, not your own.
Catflap. There are lots of cat flaps to choose from. Some open once programmed with your cats’ microchip number, some with special magnet collars if your cat has a magnet on it’s collar, and all come in different sizes to accomodate the size of your cat. The best ones to go for are the ones that do not allow other cats to come into your home so I would personally go for the microchip ones. It’s fairly easy to get your cat used to using the cat flap. Have one person stand on one side and you on the other and keep passing the cat through until they understand. Then try to coax them through holding the flap open and then letting go slightly once their body is halfway through and with their favourite treat waiting for them at the other side. Within 5/10 minutes they should be clambering through it. Reward with treats and lots of praise.
The first time on their own, going outside, you will feel worried. it’s only natural. Your cat will wander further afield because they will be exploring and establishing their territory and home range. Don’t worry. Cats have great sense of direction and can find their way around quite amazingly. You can go outside and use your recall (treat packet) and see them come running through the bushes as long as it’s not every minute or your cat will never get to see anything ;-). Males have a much wider home range than females, who will stay close to the home, possibly only venturing a garden away.
Other cats. Your cat will need to establish it’s territory and do what all cats have to do. Sort it out amongst themselves. There may be scuffles but this is totally natural and hopefully your cat will come out of the ‘meeting all the neighbourhood cats’ experience with no lasting trauma and learn where and where not to go! If you have another cat entering your garden and trying to assert itself over your cat or your cats territory, and your cat is not sending it packing then go outside and deter it with a short sharp squirt from a water pistol. It’s fine if your neighbours cat is just being friendly, as long as YOUR cat is cool with it, but if your neighbours cat thinks your garden is his territory too then watery persuasion is the answer – oh, and get your cat some boxing lessons!
Cat proofing your garden: Some people may just want to consider securing their garden like you would if you wanted a large aviary. This option should be done if you are too worried about your cat being free-roaming but would like them not to be exclusively indoors. It’s a simple solution that can easily be done using wire mesh, garden poles and some advice from a landscape gardener or handy man friend! Get some ideas from sites like this
There’s plenty of other sites too. Google under cat runs/cat enclosures/garden aviaries etc and you will get lots of ideas.
One company that has come up with a rather unique idea is based in the UK and is called Katzecure. They have invented a simple wooden roller which fixes to any garden fence. The roller does not allow the cat to get a stable footing on it and therefore keeps the cat safe in the garden. Their designs blend well into a garden landscape and I personally think the idea is brilliant although more expensive than chicken wire.
Nightime. Cats’ come alive at night. It’s the time they go out and hunt for prey but some people do not feel comfortable leaving their cat flap open at night as they fear for their cats’ safety and are worried about foxes. Only you can decide. Maybe shut the cat flap at night in the early stages whilst your cat gets used to his/her new freedom. It may be quite confusing for your cat but they will soon understand the routine. You may have to reshow them during the day that the cat flap is open again. Everyone is different and you should do what makes you feel comfortable, especially at the beginning.