Keeping cats safe outside

Is your cat ready for the great outdoors?

Freedom for felines

Is your cat ready to roam? Your garden is likely be a great place for your cat to get fresh air, stimulation and exercise, but knowing about potential dangers can help you keep your pet safe.

Your cat and the great outdoors

Most cats love exploring the great outdoors and having outside access can help cats get more exercise while exhibiting some of their natural behaviours. This page explains some of the dangers that exist outside and what you can do to keep your cat safe.

Getting lost

Cats that are unfamiliar with their surroundings can get lost. Even in familiar territory, cats may wander too far and may get too confused to find their way home. This is why we recommend microchipping as the best way of identifying your cat and your best hope of being reunited with your lost cat.

Collars may be helpful at identifying your cat, although they often come loose - or get snagged when your cat is exploring or climbing, which could harm your cat. If you decide to fit a collar, choose one with a quick release or snap opening. This will be less likely to trap your cat if they get snagged. Make sure the size is correct. You should be able to fit two fingers snugly underneath it when the cat is wearing it. Cats can catch their leg or jaw in an elasticated or ill-fitting collar.

See also: Microchipping

Fighting

Cats can be injured through contact with other cats, dogs and humans. Neutering may reduce aggression, but cat fights can still occur, especially when new cats move into the area. Cats will often 'time share' territory, with two cats sharing the same territory at different times of the day. Vaccination is important for any cat going outside as they can easily pick up diseases through contact - or fighting - with other animals.

Letting your cat outside for the first time

You should usually wait three to four weeks for your cat to adjust to your home before letting them outside. This gives your cat time to lay their scent around, which will help them navigate back to your home. The first time you let your cat out, do so before a meal so they will be more likely to return for food when you call.

Harnesses

Some cats will cope with wearing a harness - especially if they are used to it from a very early age - but most cats are free-roaming creatures that prefer to explore the environment at their own pace and choose areas that feel safe, and many cats will find wearing a harness stressful. Many cats react badly to being restrained, so it may be preferable to stay indoors rather than wear a harness.

If you choose to use a harness, ensure your cat is introduced to it gradually. Encourage positive associations by using food treats from their daily food ration as a reward. Make sure your cat is comfortable wearing the harness before you head outside and watch them carefully for signs of stress.

Unlike dogs, cats will not learn to go the toilet while on a lead and will be unlikely to enjoy being taken for walks in a place where they feel unsafe.

Diseases and parasites

Get your cat vaccinated before they go outside. This will protect them from common feline diseases.

If you adopted your cat from Cats Protection, they will already be vaccinated against cat flu, which includes feline herpes virus (FHV), feline calcivirus (FCV) and feline parvovirus (FPV), also known as enteritis. These vaccinations are included as part of our Minimum Veterinary Standards (MVS) but your cat will still need regular boosters. Ask your vet for advice on vaccinations for your cat.

Your cat can also pick up parasites such as fleas, ticks and internal worms. Ask your vet about preventing and treating these pests. Indoor cats can also be affected.

Roads

Your cat is a great hunter and will be more alert at night, when rodents and other prey are active. But your cat's eyes do not adjust to light changes as quickly as ours, so sudden bright headlights can be dazzling and disorientating. There is an increased risk of accidents after nightfall, so it is best to keep your cat indoors overnight.

Timing meals to coincide with rush hour may help to keep your cat away from busy roads.

Sunburn

Cats with white fur can be susceptible to sunburn during the summer months. Sun exposure can trigger a type of cancer. It is a good idea to offer some protection for cats that love to sunbathe.

Sunscreen may help protect your cat's ears and nose, but you must use a sunscreen suitable for cats. Ask your vet for advice. Cats tend to groom themselves regularly, so any sunscreen may be quickly licked away.

The best way to protect your cat from sunburn is to keep them inside during the hottest part of the day and provide shade in your garden.

Cold weather

Consider providing shelter if your cat has outdoor access. You could keep the door of a shed or outbuilding wedged open, or install a cat flap. If you provide an outdoor water source, make sure it hasn't frozen over. Also check that your cat's usual toileting site hasn't frozen over.

If your cat is seeing snow for the first time, consider giving them access to a safe and enclosed area, such as a garden, and accompany them when they go out.

Keep cats away from de-icing products and groom any rock-salt residue from your cat's fur.

Keeping cats away from hazards

Humane ways to keep cats away from dangers in your garden include:

  • citrus fruit peel (cats don't like the smell)
  • chicken manure
  • lion dung pellets

You could also try materials that feel uncomfortable under their paws, such as egg shells, stone chippings and prickly plants (but make sure the plants are not poisonous).

If all of these methods fail, clap your hands loudly or aim a low-intensity water pistol near your cat when the stray too close to the hazard.

See also: Keeping cats out of your garden

Dangers in the garden

Most gardens are safe for cats, but there are a few common features that can pose a threat.

  • Ponds - your cat may try to drink from a pond, so either place wire mesh over the pond to prevent them falling in, or create a low edge so they can climb out.
  • Water butts - keep these covered.
  • Sheds, garages and dustbins - check that your cat isn't inside before closing. Many missing cats turn up in outbuildings and bins.
  • Poisons - pest control chemicals and weed killer can be highly toxic to cats. You may be able to find a non-toxic alternative which might also be better for the environment.

See also: Poisoning

Dangerous plants

Lilies are particularly toxic to cats - but many other plants are dangerous if eaten.

Your cat doesn't need to eat a plant to get poisoned; some cats have died after brushing against poisonous plants and ingesting the toxin when grooming their coats.

See also: Dangerous plants

Suspicious activity towards cats

If you are concerned about any suspicious activity towards cats in your area, Cats Protection and Neighbourhood Watch advise the following:

  • If you believe someone is acting suspiciously towards cats in your area then alert your local Neighbourhood Watch, neighbours and report your concerns to the local community police officer and/or the RSPCA via their cruelty line 0300 1234 999
  • You may want to consider working together with your neighbours to set up additional monitoring in the area and publicise this to help dissuade anyone from antisocial or criminal behaviour

If you can, safely make note of the following:

  • Description of the individual
  • Times when suspicious activity took place
  • Number plate/description of car (if relevant)

You may also want to make notes on any CCTV cameras in your area which may have captured images and could be accessed.

There are things that cat owners can do to help minimise the chances of your cat becoming a target. These include:

  • Keeping your cat indoors at night
  • Ensure your cat can be identified – either by quick release collar or ideally by microchip
  • Help to avoid unwanted litters and reduce roaming by ensuring your cat is neutered
  • Consider taking out pet insurance to give you peace of mind and the financial means to treat your cat should anything
    unexpected arise
  • Take photos of your pet so you can put up posters if they go missing

Download this as an advice sheet

Related topics

Outdoor cats - Topic

Introducing cats to the great outdoors - from The Cat magazine - download

Photo credit

Inset image 1 - Marko Blažević - unsplash.com

Inset image 2 - Alexander Ramsey - unsplash.com

Inset image 3 - Matt Lewis - unsplash.com