Our cats were once great roamers of the lands long before they were domesticated. Some feral cats are known to wander thousands of acres in search of food, shelter and mate.
Through the process of domestication, these cats started to wander less and they have everything they needed close to home.
There are a number of cat owners who feel that they are reducing their cat’s quality of life by just keeping their cats indoors 24/7. Some have no choice due to their landlords not allowing pets. One worry that they all have is whether their cats will run away for good if it is left outside.
There is always a strong chance of your cat running away if you let it outside. Even if your cat finds its way home, there is still a risk of your cat getting injured or harmed while it is roaming outside. The risk definitely outweighs the reward by letting your cat outside.
Let us take a look at the possible issues that your cat can face while it is outside. And how you can make it safer for your cat if you do decide to let it roam.
What Are The Risks Involved?
Before letting your cat outside, there are a couple of potential risks that you really have to consider as a responsible cat owner.
The second your cat steps outdoors, its life could be at risk due to some unforeseen circumstance regardless of how safe or smart your cat is.
There are more horrifying things to be concerned about rather than your cat just running away.
If you live in an urban area where there is very heavy vehicle traffic, there is a risk of your cat getting involved in an accident.
Yes, most cats do know how to watch out for traffic when crossing a street.
But there have also been many incidents of cats sleeping inside the engine compartment and under cars to get badly injured or run over when the car starts to move.
You don’t have to live in the city for your cat to be exposed to this risk. Many cats in rural or less built-up areas have also been victims of car accidents.
Statistics have shown that in 2021, 48 million American homes own a dog. This number will probably grow each year.
The odds of your cat running into a dog are very high.
The thing is, not every dog is friendly to cats. Dogs with high prey or hunting drives won’t hesitate to give chase and hurt a cat.
A sad but true story.
My mom recently told me that one of her friend’s cat was killed when it ventured into the neighbor’s home which had three huskies.
The poor cat didn’t even stand a fighting chance.
Even if you live in a neighborhood where every single dog loves cats, you can’t say the same if your cat encounters other animals that are wild or feral.
Cats are excellent predators but there are also many other predators that prey on cats like, foxes, wolves, coyotes, bigger wild cats, eagles, owls, etc.
Out in the wild, the rule for survival is ‘eat or be eaten’.
Your cat might be smart enough to escape from such danger a few times but eventually, it is going to start running out of spare lives.
It has been reported that two million pets are reported stolen in the United States alone. And 80% of missing pets are never found.
Those are very grim numbers if your cat were to ever go missing (touchwood).
But the truth is that there are bad people out there who won’t hesitate to steal your pet for themselves or sell it away for a profit.
I’ve met many cats in my neighborhood that are very friendly to humans. They aren’t strays but belong to someone. It won’t be difficult to just steal them without any trouble.
Getting Lost And Trapped
Many cats are smart enough to find their way home due to their awesome homing instinct. They use a combination of their acute senses to home in on your home.
There is also some speculation that cats are able to sense electricity and can make use of the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate.
However, I’m sure there are some outdoor cats that can’t even find their way out of a tissue box.
My neighbor has a Devon Rex which is mostly an indoor cat and part outdoor cat too.
There was a time when it went missing for a few days. I can hear my neighbor calling for the cat all the way into the night but to no avail.
We tried searching the vicinity but had no luck.
Thankfully, someone recognized the cat from the missing posters and found it trapped on the rooftop.
Needless to say, that was the last time the cat ever stepped foot outside again.
Getting Into Fights With Other Cats
Your cat won’t be the only one that will be roaming outside. A staggering 60 -100 million homeless cats roam the streets of America.
The chances of your cat running into a stray or feral cat is very high.
Cats are territorial in nature due to their solitary lifestyle. They love to mark their territory to serve as a boundary for other cats.
Male cats get even more territorial during mating season to prevent other males from mating with their harem of female cats.
Fights are common and expected which usually results in injuries and the spread of common diseases like FeLV and FIV.
Not something that you want your cat contracting as there isn’t a cure for it.
How To Prevent My Cat From Running Away?
If you are comfortable with the risks involved in letting your cat outside, here are some things that you should do before it even has one paw out of the door.
Make Your Cat Feel At Home
Cats are creatures of comfort and routine. They like knowing where their things are without having to find them.
To prevent your cat from venturing too far and setting up home somewhere else, you need to get your cat really settled in at your own home first.
Give it adequate food, a nice warm pet and other essential cat stuff like toys. Home is where the heart is and that is true even for house cats.
You don’t have to make your cat fear what’s outside but give it good enough reasons to always want to be indoors.
There is a story of a cat named Holly who walked more than 200 miles to find her way home. She knew where her home is regardless of distance.
If you just got your cat, keep it indoors for the next four to six weeks first. This will give your cat ample time to mark its scent at every nook and cranny of your home.
If your cat is still young, it would wait until it is much older before letting it out. Adult cats are more equipped at looking after themselves compared to kittens.
A cat is led by its nose and having its scent marked so prominently will make it easier for the cat to find its way home.
Smell goes both ways for cats.
Giving your cat time to settle in allows it to get familiar with your smell which it can also use as a guide to finding its way back home.
Make Sure Your Cat Is Spayed Or Neutered
It is very important that you get your cat fixed as soon as possible. Cats as young as four months of age can already reproduce.
You do not want your female cat getting pregnant by other tomcats while it is out and about.
Millions of cats are euthanized every year due to the lack of homes and vacancies at pet shelters.
If you have a male cat, getting it neutered will not only prevent unwanted pregnancies but also from getting into fights with other male cats.
Neutered male cats have a lesser desire to foam far and wide to look for a mate which makes them easier to find.
Get Your Cat Microchipped
Microchipping is common for dogs but not many cat owners know that they can get their cats microchipped as well.
A microchip will come in very useful if your cat gets lost and someone brings it to the shelter or the vet.
They will be able to scan your can for a chip with your contact details on it and return your lost cat safely back to you.
Give Your Cat A Breakaway Collar
Besides getting your cat microchipped, letting your cat with a collar will also help if it’s lost.
The collar should be a breakaway version which allows the collar to snap free if it gets snagged on something.
This will allow your cat to get away and not suffocate to death.
The collar should also have an ID tag with your contact details on it to make it easy to get in touch with you.
Two other things which are good to have is a collar that is reflective and has a loud bell.
It can be hard to drivers to see your cat in low light conditions. Having a reflective collar can alert them of your cat’s presence.
A bell is needed to alert the surrounding wildlife of your cat’s presence. Your cat might be all cute and cuddly with you but it’s a natural-born hunter if the need arises.
Many cats kill their prey for fun and this has serious ramifications on the population of some wildlife species.
Train Your Cat To Come When Called
Having a cat that can come when called can make finding your cat really easy when it is roaming outside.
Dr. John Bradshaw of the School of Veterinary Sciences at Bristol University says that the average roaming range of most cats is between 40-200 meters from home. Thankfully, that isn’t too far away.
Training indoor cats to come when called can be challenging but doable.
The best way to do it is with food and a clicker.
Call your cat to come towards you and when it does, click and give it a treat. By doing so, the cat will start to associate your voice or the clicker sound with food.
Another way that will get your cat eager to come home is to not feed it too early.
If you lay out food for your cat in the late afternoon, it can still head out for many hours after roaming and spend the night elsewhere which can be very dangerous.
A good time to be feeding your cat is in the late evening when it’s supposedly their hunting time.
Once your cat hears your calling for feeding time, it will be eager to run back to fill its growling tummy.
Make sure that your cat remains indoors after it eats.
Should I Let My Cat Outside?
It isn’t all doom and gloom if you do wish to let your cat roam outside. But it is best if you are there to supervise your cat’s outdoor adventures.
There are some benefits to letting cats have a taste of the outdoors once in a while.
It Allows Your Cat To Be A Cat
As much as we want to treat our cats like furry humans, they are first and foremost a cat.
They have all these natural cat instincts that are just lying dormant in them from being couped up indoors for so long.
Bringing your cat outside allows them to do what a wild cat would do. They can climb trees, observe the wildlife and smell plants.
It Keeps Them Mentally Stimulated
All cats need some form of physical exercise to remain healthy. This can be from having some playtime together with you.
What most cats do not get enough of is mental stimulation which is also essential for your cat’s well-being.
Cats are known to be curious creatures and all the sights, sounds and doors when outdoors will spark off your cat’s mental acuity.
It sure beats letting your cat just sleep all day long at home without any interaction.
These cats can start to develop behavioral problems like being destructive, aggressive and less sociable.
Cats Like Some Heat
Cats like to seek out warm places and being outside allows them to bask in the sun to their little heart’s desire.
Your cat isn’t trying to work on its tan but having a higher natural body temperature than humans means that your cat needs more heat to stay warm.
Even indoor cats need to bask in the golden rays from time to time.
How Can I Keep My Cat Safe When It Is Outside?
In order to let indoor cats reap some of the benefits of outdoor cats, their time outdoors needs to be supervised at all times.
Use A Cat Leash
The easiest way that you can keep an eye on your cat at all times is to keep it on a leash. A cat leash isn’t similar to a dog leash that is attached to a collar around its neck.
This can hurt your cat as it has a very soft and fragile neck.
A good cat leash is one that is attached to a body harness that is worn by the cat. The harness is something that your cat needs to get used to wearing.
Many cats aren’t fans of it as it feels rather unnatural for them but it can be trained over time.
Build An Outdoor Cat Enclosure
If you have space to spare in your backyard, building your cat an outdoor enclosure is truly a great way for it to experience the outdoors and stay safe at the same time.
Many cat owners seem to think that it is very expensive to build one for their cats. It can be if you are going for something very elaborate.
But having an area that is enclosed and for your cats to move about outdoors is good enough.
If you aren’t too confident about your DIY skills, there are companies that specialize in building outdoor cat enclosures.
You can always speak to a few and get a quote.
Don’t Let Your Cat Outside If You Have Any Concerns
Not all cats are meant to roam the great outdoors. If I were to let my cat whose entire universe has been the insides of my home, he wouldn’t last long out there.
If your cat suffers from anxiety, has mobility issues or is just too old, being indoors might be the only option for them,
To prevent your cat from getting out, make sure that your doors and windows are always closed.
If you have a dog or cat flat, make sure that you are able to lock it when necessary.
Don’t let your cat out if you are always going to be worried about its safety. There has to be some level of confidence that your cat is going to make it back home every single time.
You might feel that you are doing a cat a disservice by keeping it indoors all the time and not allowing it to explore the outdoors.
I’ve had my cat for 14 years and I don’t feel that way.
The potential risk that your cat can encounter when it is alone outside just makes it too dangerous.
That’s why the average lifespan of feral or stray cats is only 2-5 years compared to more than 13 years for indoor cats.
Ultimately, the decision lies with each cat owner after knowing the risks.
If possible, it would be best to be there to supervise your cat while it explores the outdoors. That would give your cat the best of both worlds.