Aug 05 2014

Considerations Before Letting Your Indoor Cat Go Outdoors

Dr. Jacqueline Nicholson

By Jacqueline Nicholson, DVM

Most cat owners have heard from their veterinarians that keeping your cats indoors – at all times – is safest for your cats.  Not only is it safer, but it also adds to their longevity because they have little exposure to the many potential outdoor hazards.  Indoor cats are unlikely to:

1) Become infested with internal/external parasites

2) Get into fights with wildlife, especially those that can transmit rabies (foxes, bats, raccoons, etc)

3) Be exposed to various fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides

4) Get hit by cars or sustain other forms of trauma amongst weeds, brush, thorns, and construction sites

5) Contract deadly viruses from stray cats like FeLV (feline leukemia) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus)

6) Be stolen and taken into other people’s homes or sold

Outdoor Cat - Window

That said, there will always be a percentage of households who allow their cats outdoors for a portion of the day.  For those people who are thinking about allowing their cats outside, here are some important considerations and guidelines to maximize your cat’s safety:

1) Vaccines should always be up to date.  All cats should be vaccinated for rabies, as well as FVRCCP (rhinotracheitis, coronavirus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia) virus.  If your cats go outdoors, they should also be vaccinated for feline leukemia virus.

2) Outdoor cats should be tested annually for feline leukemia virus as well as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus).  If either of these diseases is contracted, please keep those cats indoors to limit the continued spread of these diseases to other cats.

3) If you think your indoor cat may – at any point – become an outdoor cat, do not declaw your cat.  Claws are a cat’s primary defense mechanism.  Once declawed, they can’t defend themselves if they get into an altercation with another animal and they can’t climb a tree if they’re being chased.

4) All cats that go outdoors should be on a monthly flea and tick preventative.  This will not only decrease the likelihood of your pet contracting a flea or tick borne illness – but will also reduce the likelihood of your home becoming flea/tick infested.  Speak with your veterinarian regarding which flea/tick preventative is best for your cat – and NEVER apply topicals that are labeled for your dog to your cat’s skin.  Some of the topicals labeled for dogs can be lethal to your cat.

5) All indoor and outdoor cats should be microchipped.  If your cat gets out and goes missing – and is brought to a shelter or an animal hospital, there is a very good chance you will get your cat back.  The likelihood of a lost cat without a microchip being reunited with their family decreases exponentially.

6) ID collars are also a valid form of identification.  However, only breakaway collars should be used.  Breakaway collars are designed to break apart if your cat gets caught on a fence or a tree branch so he doesn’t hang himself and choke to death. Also keep in mind that there’s always a possibility that your cat will pull the collar off completely – leaving him with no identification at all.  This is why a microchip is so important.

7) If you live on or near a busy road – allowing your cat outside is not advised.  The likelihood of being hit by a moving automobile is significant.

8) If you move to a new home, all cats that are potentially going to be going outdoors should be kept strictly indoors for at least the first month.  It’s important that they learn their surroundings and approximate location by looking out the windows from every possible room in your home.  Cats have a strong sense of direction – but if they have no time to adapt, they won’t know how to return to their family.  Also during these first few weeks, feedings should be around the same time each day so your cat has the expectation of coming to you for food at those times.  It’s also helpful to get used to “calling” your cat for dinner so he gets used to hearing your command and has a positive association with food and coming back indoors.

9) Cats should always have a bowl of fresh water available outside – especially during very hot or freezing cold temperatures.  The water should be changed daily – to avoid providing a breeding ground for insects and bacteria.  Avoid leaving food outside – as this tends to attract wild animals to your home.  They should also have access to a shaded area, as well as a place to be shielded from cold wind.

10) The safest way to allow your cat some time outdoors is to provide a screened-in enclosure or fenced-in yard that’s topped with cat-proof netting.  Keep in mind that pet theft happens more often than we like to think – so if your cat goes outdoors, an enclosed area where we can monitor them is preferred over allowing them to roam freely.

Outdoor cat - Railing

Statistically, keeping your cats indoors will maximize their health and add to their longevity, allowing your furry friend to be a part of your family for a long time. However, if you choose to allow your cat outdoors, keep the above guidelines in mind.  You will be doing your part to maximize their safety!

Dr. Nicholson with Zurry

Dr. Nicholson with Zurry

Dr. Nicholson graduated from the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She was born in New York City and raised in northern New Jersey. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Alfred University and completed a post-Baccalaureate / Pre-Veterinary Program at Rutgers University.

Over the last nine years, Dr. Nicholson has gained an extensive amount of experience at emergency and specialist hospitals in both New York and New Jersey – including The Animal Medical Center in New York City. After graduation, she completed a one year rotating internship program at Garden State Veterinary Specialists where she was exposed to a wide range of specialty fields including Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and Neurology. This experience has been invaluable to both our team and our clients.

Dr. Nicholson’s special interests include feline behavior, oncology, and canine and feline soft tissue surgery.

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