Owning a cat and making the choice to let them roam outside or to keep them as an inside only cat, is often a very hard decision for people to make. Many people think it is cruel to keep a cat indoors all the time and to some degree yes, we believe it is, but the facts are that letting your cat outside to roam unsupervised is downright dangerous to both the cat, the native wildlife and also to cyclists and motorists. A cat roaming freely outside can lead to injury, sickness and death and we are not just talking about the cat. So does this mean you have to keep your cat indoors permanently? No, not necessarily, in this article we address this issue and offer your cat some safer ways that they to can still get to enjoy the great outdoors.
Just as you wouldn't let young children or even your dog outside to wander the streets unattended, nor should you let your cat. Cat's may be intelligent, but they do not have the street smarts needed to keep safe when alone outside.
Here is a list that we hope will convince you that your cat left to roam outside alone is just not a great idea!
- Cats no matter how clever, do not know to check the road before running across and in-front of the path of a motor-vehicle or cyclist. They also don't know that hiding under a car, or inside a warm car engine is not really the safest place for them to be. Many cat owners tragically have run over their own cats.
- Roaming through neighbours rubbish bins may be a fascinating pass-time for cats, but it can lead to cats ingesting toxic substances, getting cut on sharp broken glass and tin lids, or tangled up and even strangled by wire cords & ropes etc. Your cat may even become trapped inside the bin without ever being found before the garbage truck comes along! Cats who like to visit other people's gardens could ingest toxic snail or rat bait, anti-freeze, pesticides and fungicides, they may also nibble on plants and flowers that are toxic to cats.
- Cats left to wander freely outside often get into nasty fights with other cats in the neighbourhood, which all to often leads to serious life threatening injuries and illnesses; e.g. infected cuts and abscesses and contracting feline HIV and Feline Leukemia. Read more Indoor Cats vs Outdoor Cats by American Humane Association. Cats roaming outdoors can pick up fleas, ringworm, ticks and other parasites, that not only affect them, but can affect the human and other animal members of the family.
- Cats wandering the streets, or entering unknown backyards, are also often common victims of dog attacks, some of these are fatal. They can also be bitten by snakes and attacked by other wildlife who feel threatened by their presence.
- A cat left outside can also be stolen and especially if it is an exotic breed. Other unscrupulous and heartless people exist who steal cats off the street to sell onto animal testing laboratories and as live bait to train dogs up for dog fights read, 'Outdoor' Cats by PETA.org. It pays to remember that not everyone likes cats and there are some cruel and inhumane people that think torturing an animal is actually funny.
- Cats wander into other peoples gardens and can end up living with them, instead of with you. Many a cat has been known to leave their home and adopt a new family, who through no fault of their own, believe the cat is a friendly stray and adopt it.
- Cats left to their own devices can get stuck up a tree, under a house, inside a roof or garage and even get lost. If a cat wanders far enough away it may not be able to find it's way home.
- Cats just like humans and some other animals are susceptible to skin cancer and here in Australia the sun is at it's strongest, so a cat basking all day out in the sun is not a great idea.
- Cats inherit natural instinct is to hunt, they are predators through and through. This predatory instinct is hard-wired into a cat and no matter how well you feed your cat it still will have the drive to hunt. A cat left outside will often hunt and kill native wildlife and this is just not acceptable, nor is it natural selection as some people like to believe. Domesticated cats are not native to Australia and many of the other countries they live in, so when they kill wildlife they are not contributing to the circle of life, 'the balance of nature', instead they are tipping the scales in the wrong direction, down towards the extinction of certain native animals and therefore it is the responsibility of all cat owners to do all they can to stop their cats hunting wildlife.
What Can You Do
Firstly cat's can be perfectly happy indoors if they are kept stimulated and exercised. Indoor cats need you to interact and play with and be with them more. It is important to provide your indoor cat with interesting, 'cat safe' toys, scratching posts and climbing perches. It is a good idea to alternate toys so they don't get bored. Be creative and find ways to get your cat exercising indoors; e.g. a small light beam moving over the walls and across the floors is excellent, great stalking practise, fun for your cat, but never ever shine the light directly into your cats eyes. Another bonus for indoor only cats, is that they tend be healthier and live longer.
But if you want your cat to get out in the fresh air, (which we personally believe all land animals regularly need in order to be healthy), then your only safe and responsible options are.
1. Training your cat to wear a cat harness and lead. We personally knows this works well, as we did this for our old cat Topaz (pictured left wearing her lead and harness). From a very young kitten, the harness and lead was put on her and she was taken into the backyard and on regular outings in the car to family and friends houses. You can also train an older cat to also accept the harness and lead. Initially when you first put the harness on do not be surprised if you cat performs 360's in an attempt to try and get it off her. Try and distract your cat with toys, treats and cuddles. In time and with daily sessions of wearing the harness for longer and longer periods indoors, your cat will accept wearing it. Once your cat is comfortable with the harness then attach the lead to the harness and gently try and coax her to come to you by walking the distance of the lead while holding it, then crouching down and encouraging her to come to you, again treat rewards are good. Getting your cat to associate wearing the harness and lead with going outside is a great positive incentive for her, so put it on say 'outside' and take her outside to have a wander and sniff around.
Remember not all cats will actually be willing to walk on a lead like a dog, but what you can do is to still pop the harness on them and get a light-weight extension lead that gives them some room to roam around your back or front yard, or even a park that is dog free. Never tie the lead to something and never leave your cat unattended as they could accidentally strangle or hang themselves.
2. Building an outdoor Cat Enclosure or Cat Run - You can get outdoor cat enclosures in all shapes and sizes and they can also be designed in a way that gives your cat freedom to come indoors and outdoors as it pleases. You can build them yourself if you are handy, otherwise there are companies that specializes in building cat runs and enclosures. Note- if you do build a cat enclosure yourself, by mindful of the materials you use. Make sure that they are safe and non-toxic, with no sharp edges, toxic glues or exposed nails and if possible, eco-friendly. See here for some great ideas.
3. Cat Escape-Proof Your Backyard - You can take measures to cat escape-proof your own backyard There are fantastic rolling paddles that you can add to the top of your fences such as Oscillat Cat Containment, or you can attach floppy chicken wire along the top perimeter of your fence, being sure to enclose trees and any other objects that a cat could climb up and over e.g block off access to the roof. See the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries Keeping Your Cat Happy and Safe.
Make sure that your backyard is a completely safe, toxic free roaming environment for your cat-
- A cat left outdoors in your backyard should always still wear an identification collar with a bell, so as to warn any native birds, possums and other wildlife of their presence in the garden.
- Make sure your outdoor cat enclosure, or your fenced in backyard, has areas that provide adequate shelter from the sun for your cat.
- Make sure your cat has fresh water available when outside.
- Before letting your cat out into your yard, look for gaps under the fence, holes under the house and other potential escape points.
- Check for poisonous plants, rubbish and debris and make sure there is nothing poisonous that has been sprayed, scattered or left out around the garden; e.g. snail bait, pesticides, bottles of chemicals etc.
- All cats should be micro-chipped so that in the event that if they did escape and loose their collar in the process, then they can still be identified.
- All cats should be De-sexed as soon as they are old enough to be, as even if they are confined to your own backyard, another neighbourhood cat could get in and there are already thousands and thousands of unwanted kittens born each year here in Australia that end up euthanized.
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