Take Your Cat Outdoors…Safely

It’s a hotly debated topic: Should cats be allowed outdoors?

Statistically, indoors-only cats live much longer than their outdoor counterparts. It makes sense; they’re less likely to tussle with a coyote or raccoon or car, for instance. However, cats who live their lives indoors often experience less stimulation and exercise than outdoor or indoor-outdoor cats. Bridge the two by learning how to take your cat outdoors safely. There are three options: building or buying an outdoor enclosure, adjusting your existing fence, or training your cat to a harness and leash.

Safe Enclosure

A screened-in porch provides your cat with an outdoor experience while keeping her safe. However, not all homes have that option, so a cat run—also called a “catio” or cattery—allows for a safe, protected sojourn outdoors. It can be as simple as a mesh crate of any size attached to your house in front of a window, giving the cat easy access, or it can be expansive and part of your landscape architecture, like this example. Commercial options are available, or if you’re into DIY, you can purchase a plan from a Seattle-based manufacturer that includes materials lists and helpful hints.

Fence Adjustments

Another option is to modify an existing fence to prevent your cat from leaping over or crawling out from the safety of your yard. Along the bottom, install mesh or chicken wire to prevent your industrious cat from digging her way out. Or, for a more interesting aesthetic, you can block the bottom of the fence with decorative rocks. Because cats can jump exceptionally high, especially when motivated to, say, leap after a bird, a mesh guard along the top of the fence is critical. You can DIY this project with fairly inexpensive materials: wire mesh installed at a 45-degree angle around the top of the fence is all you need to do. For a pre-made option, you can purchase the attachments and meshing in a complete kit to install yourself.

Harness and Leash

This is the cheapest option but, in some ways, the most difficult. Many cats, especially those who are unaccustomed to wearing even a collar around the house, revolt when wearing a harness. The ASPCA offers extensive training instructions for training your cat to accept a harness and leash, but the bottom line is to go slowly and make it a positive experience for your cat. For adventurous cats and kittens who are open to new experiences, you might be able to work up to a walk around the block. For other cats, simply attach a long line—like a 20-foot-long dog training leash—and allow her to explore your quiet backyard safely tethered.

Whichever option you choose, despite your best precautions, cats occasionally ninja their way out and materials can fail. If that worse-case scenario were to happen, just be sure to have your cat’s identification information up-to-date on her collar, along with current info stored in her microchip account, before you let her enjoy the great outdoors.

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

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