Cats are independent and prefer to live on their own terms. But as an owner it is your responsibility to decide whether your cat can be allowed to roam outdoors.
There are hazards on the far side of the catﬂap, such as trafﬁc and other animals, that you can do little to protect your cat from once he is out there on his own. What you can do is try to make territory close to home as safe and inviting as possible.
Call of the Wild
Domestic cats were once wild animals, adapted to living and roaming in open spaces. Many of their wild instincts remain, but the world that cats inhabit has changed dramatically. Many cat owners live in urban environments, surrounded by busy roads, buildings, people, and other animals, and an outdoor cat will have to contend with all these hazards.
So should you allow your cat to go outdoors as and when he pleases? Take your pet’s personality into account when deciding on the limits of his freedom. Conﬁning an active and inquisitive cat indoors can lead to havoc in the house, but on the other hand you must consider the greater risks outdoors. Not all cats develop good road sense, and some will inevitably fall victim to passing cars.
If you let your cat go out after dark, buy him a collar with reﬂective patches that can be picked up in vehicle headlights. Cats are naturally more active at dawn or dusk—which are often the peak rush hour periods on the roads. Try to keep your cat indoors at these times.
Given his freedom, your cat is likely to roam beyond your yard. This leaves him vulnerable to encounters with other cats, wild animals, and possibly even cat thieves.
Creating a Backyard Sanctuary
High fencing could deter your cat from wandering, but it is an expensive option. The best way to keep an outdoor cat close to home is to make your yard a cat-friendly sanctuary. Plant bushes to provide shade and shelter as well as a few scented plants that cats love—such as catnip, mint, valerian, heather, and lemongrass—in sunny places for your cat to bask among.
If you habitually spray your grass and plants with chemicals, leave an untreated clump of cat grass for your pet to snack on. Make the yard as safe as possible for wildlife, too.
Attach a bell to your cat’s collar to warn birds and other creatures of his presence. Bird tables and scattered food are a magnet for predators, so ensure that all bird feeders are placed out of reach of the most determined cat.
Once your yard is cat-friendly, it will undoubtedly attract other cats. Feline disputes are certain to break out because cats are territorial animals. Make sure your cat is neutered; this reduces aggression among tomcats and avoids constant pregnancies among females.
Neutered cats need smaller territories, but that will not stop your cat from straying or an unneutered feral tom from invading your cat’s territory and picking a ﬁght. Make sure that your cat is immunized against common diseases, because ﬁghts inevitably lead to bites and scratches that can become infected.
Respecting the Neighbors
Appreciate that not all of your neighbors are cat lovers. Some people are allergic to cats and go to great lengths to avoid them. Even the best-trained cats have bad habits—they dig up ﬂowerbeds to defecate, chew on plants, spray, rip open garbage bags, chase birds, and wander into other homes uninvited.
If your cat has been neutered, there is at least the advantage that neutered cats bury their droppings and their urine is less smelly.
Hazards in the Garden
While cats rarely nibble anything but grass, it is wise to ﬁnd out whether your yard contains any toxic plants. Be cautious where you put down common toxins such as slug bait and rodent poisons. While some products are formulated to be safe for use with pets, others can be lethal.
You should ensure that your cat does not come into contact with or try to eat the remains of animals that have ingested poison. Ponds and wading pools are also potential hazards, especially for young kittens.
Until a kitten knows his way around, allow him out only under careful supervision. As a precaution, cover ﬁshponds with netting—which will also stop older cats from poaching ﬁsh—and empty out wading pools when not in use.
Keep shed and garage doors shut to prevent your cat from coming into contact with chemicals and sharp tools. Make sure that you do not accidentally shut your cat in, too. If you have a greenhouse in your yard, you should keep it closed at all times.
A cat trapped inside is at risk of heatstroke. Do not forget to protect your yard against the cat. Children’s sandpits and soft soil make inviting litter trays, so cover up the sandpit and scatter cat deterrents around precious plants.
A catﬂap is a handy way to allow your cat freedom of movement between your house and the outside. Cats will quickly learn to use a ﬂap once they have been shown how it works. Install a catﬂap that recognizes your cat’s microchip or a magnet on your cat’s collar, to prevent other cats from entering your home.
All catﬂaps should be lockable—for when you go on vacation, and also if you want to keep your cat indoors, such as at dawn, dusk, and evenings when there are ﬁrework displays.
Cats with white coats or patches of white can be susceptible to sunburn, especially on the nose, eyelids, and tips of the ears. As in humans, persistent sunburn can lead to the development of skin cancers, so keep your pet’s sensitive areas covered with a sunblock formulated for cats.
Shut your cat indoors during ﬁrework displays and mask the noise with music. Let your cat hide if he wants to. Do not reassure him, since this may be taken as a sign that you are afraid, too.
Other cats and sometimes dogs may be threats to your cat. Fox attacks on cats are occasionally reported but are relatively uncommon. In some regions, venomous snakes can be a danger.