Letting your cat out for the first time

What to do to ensure a smooth transition when deciding to let your cat venture outside

By Catnips – cat Grooming, cat behaviour and cat sitting service

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.

Fear perhaps?

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.

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The procedure is painless and over in seconds

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 😉

A tag doesn't have much space so have the most important information on it such as your telephone number and street name.

A tag doesn’t have much space so have the most important information on it such as your telephone number and street name.

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 😉

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Lead training is one good way of showing your cat it’s home range outside

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.

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Make sure the cat flap you get is big enough for your cat!

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.

Your cat will soon start to know the other cats in the area and who is friend or foe

Your cat will soon start to know the other cats in the area and who is friend or foe

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!

Runs like this are quite easy to make

Runs like this are quite easy to make

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

http://www.catsofaustralia.com/cat-enclosures.htm

There’s plenty of other sites too. Google under cat runs/cat enclosures/garden aviaries etc and you will get lots of ideas.

The single pole. Poles can come doubled too and come in a variety of different wood finishes

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.

Good luck!

Catnips: Your one stop shop for all things feline

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About Anita Kelsey - Cat Behaviour Consultant

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Anita's debut book, Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer is published by John Blake Publishers and is out on 7th September 2017 (available for pre-orders on Amazon UK)
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14 Responses to Letting your cat out for the first time

  1. Vanessa says:

    Hi. We have just started letting our 2 cats outside. When we have bought them back in one of them has been really grumpy & vocally aggressive, is this normal??

    Like

  2. Asma says:

    Hi Vanessa, a really great post, thank you! Informative and written well and reassuring. Thank you!

    Like

    • A cat needs to be kept in 4-6 weeks to get used to it’s home and introduced to the outside gradually. If you got her on the 18th Jan and then let your cat out straight away then I doubt she will know where her territory and would be lost. The only thing I can suggest at this stage is to put posters up, contact local rescue centres and put your cats pic up on Facebook and on the lost cat web sites.

      Like

  3. elena says:

    I just adopted a cat from craigslist and the cat is from parksville and when I got her she wanted to go outside and I hate letting cats out. I told my fiancé and he said cats will come back and I said what if she doesn’t? so he told me to let her out and I did and that happened on jan 18th 2015 and she still hasn’t came back. (I adopted her on the 18th and now its the 20th of jan. and still no signs of her. WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT??? I AM VERY WORRIED ABOUT HER AND WANTING HELP!!!

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  4. Fah says:

    Hi Elena,
    You just adopted your cat on 18Jan15 and you immediately let her out to roam & explore in good faith.
    Cat’s need about 2 weeks to become accustomed to a new home location. Cats have a natural GPS in their brains which, allows them to locate home after a night of exploration.
    Your cat did not have time to reset it’s GPS. Unfortunately, you let her go roaming too soon.
    Chances are she tried to find her way back to her last home.
    Check.
    I really hope you find her.
    That being said, once a cat is fully re homed (has been kept in doors of its new home for 2 weeks), cat can be away (disappear) for 2 days at a time. Remember they spend most of the day sleeping when they find a good spot so, they are really too lazy to return home or even heed your recall (yes, they have a will of their own 😉😊)
    When you let her out the first time, you can accompany your cat outside and watch her slowly become accustomed to the new outdoor environment (sounds, smells, sights) she will be collecting info about her new surroundings which, will help her locate home in the future. Chances are she will follow your lead the first few times and go back into the house with you.
    Slowly she will follow at longer distances and time spans until she feels courageous and secure enough to stay out longer and roam further.
    If you want to see her between adventures, keep her on a strict feeding schedule like that she will always come home to eat and you will always be able to check she is safe and sound.

    Today is 27Feb15, I hope you have found her again by now otherwise I’m very sorry for you.
    Next time check the web before taking action.

    Like

  5. Alex Thompson says:

    Hi. I want to let my cat outside, but I’m afraid that he will get run over by a car or stolen or run away. Should I trust him or let him loose? Them thing I’m most paranoid about is that he will get stolen, because he is a beautiful purebred Persian Cat. People are always complimenting my cat and saying stuff like, ” Aww! He is so cute!!! I wish he was mine. I would kill for a cat like yours. Such a beautiful kitty!!!” So that is what I’m afraid of. If you could help me with this situation, it would be a big help. Thank you!

    Like

  6. Caroline slack says:

    My little kitten is about 5 months, he’s had all his injections, microchip and has been neutered. I’m scared to let him out because I don’t want him getting lost and going to another’s house by mistake. He already comes when I shake his treats so should I take the plunge and let him out?

    Like

    • Wait until 6 months.. Do everything that I have said in the article. Start with small steps whereby you go outside with your kitty to re-assure them. Bring them back inside when you are done so the first few weeks can be you going out with them and then bringing them back inside. When you feel comfortable then you have to be a tad braver and let them explore. Collars, microchips and re-call are vital but it sounds like you know this so good luck!!!

      Like

    • P.S: He would have needed to be in your home for at least 6 weeks so he knows his territory well.

      Like

  7. Kiah says:

    Great article! Thank you 🙂 I was wondering if anyone is able to give me some advice on my cats – they have outside access and come and go as they please during daylight hours and love it out there, yet my female (1 year old) seems to meow loudly almost constantly. I’ve noticed it happening if she loses sight of her twin cat brother, and it stops when I go to investigate the problem and she sees me. No doubt it’s a separation anxiety meow – yet she doesn’t want to be inside – she wants me to watch her play. It’s driving me mad! Any tips?

    Like

  8. Melissa says:

    Thank you for the article. I read about 100 ones that basically said, “you are a f**king idiot if you let your cat out” so I find this really refreshing. No matter what people say I do think it is good for them. My 2 kittens were on the street living in a neighbors garage for 4 to 5 months when I got them. They loved the house right away and never tried to go outside. But after a few months I would see them crying at the window for birds. I was terrified but let them outside. The first 3 days they were afraid but would gradually get braver and braver. They have been climbing a tree in the yard. I sat outside with them the first couple days to read a book and always had to struggle a bit to get them inside. But now I’ve developed a routine and they come like dogs when I shake the treats. I am just worried about them annoying the neighbors…since they have a beautiful yard and garden and that is currently their favorite spot. I know the risks…but ultimately I think they would probably prefer this life even if they got hit by a car tomorrow. The house is roomy and nice….but I do feel the outside gives them something. Im terrified of fleas so I’m going to get them break away flea collars.

    Like

  9. Wayne says:

    Luv the tips and especially had a laugh about the water pistol and the boxing gloves. …where ther rite now. 🐺🐈🐱yeeaaahhh ✌

    Like

  10. Joyce says:

    Cat got out for the first time returned 2days later.now his wants out again but I live on the first floor he won’t be able to get back into the flat. Help

    Like

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