Although many cat caretakers keep their charges indoors, some believe it’s crucial to their feline friends’ health and well-being to let them spend time outside. But an outdoor life can be dangerous for cats, and outdoor cats can be dangerous to songbirds or other prey species. So what’s a kitty parent to do? Here are some options that will help your cat stay safer and enjoy the outdoors.
A couple of companies make a kit you can install on an existing 5- or 6-foot fence that will make it impossible for a cat to climb over and roam outside your yard. Typically these consist of spring-loaded arms that support a high-strength mesh, which extends over your yard in a way that makes it impossible for a cat to climb out. A fence extender kit isn’t cheap (one company lists its product for $329), but it could be a good choice if you can afford it. For a more economical option, Alley Cat Allies has instructions on how to build a one yourself.
Many companies sell special outdoor cages and gazebos made for cats. These products range widely in size and price. Some are huge custom-made enclosures built from redwood and metal mesh that could cost hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of dollars. There are also less-expensive build-it-yourself kits in which the vendor provides the parts and you provide the labor. If you have more carpentry skills than money, you can buy plans for outdoor enclosures from Just4Cats for about $25 and buy the materials yourself.
Celebrity cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommends that cat caretakers who have limited space and felines with personality issues build their feline friends a "catio" to extend territory and provide extra entertainment. A web search will reveal several sites with designs and building instructions; Catio Designs is among the best known of these.
If you don’t want to build an enclosure, or your landlord or homeowners’ association won’t give you permission, give your kitty a safe taste of the outdoors by teaching him how to walk in a harness and leash. Some cats take to the harness and leash right away, while others need more time. To learn how to get your cat used to a harness and leash, check out these instructions or watch this video.
No matter how you choose to give your cat his outdoor time, make sure his vaccinations are up to date and that you’re using good-quality flea and heartworm prevention.
Have you built a special place for your cat to enjoy the outdoors? Do you take him for walks on a leash or in a stroller? Please tell us about your outdoor-but-safe kitty experiences in the comments.