By Jean Hofve, DVM
As you probably know, we recommend against letting cats roam freely outdoors. There are just too many dangers to make it worth the risk. However, we also recognize that the great outdoors is a wonderful place to be if you’re a kitty. It’s full of interesting sights and smells, and the fresh air and sunshine are great for everyone’s health.
Nevertheless, there are a few safe ways to give your cat the benefits of being outside while greatly minimizing the hazards.
1. Train your cat to walk with a harness and leash. While neither easy to do nor foolproof against all dangers, a secure harness and leash can provide both you and your cat many happy times together. If you can start training during kittenhood, the process will be easier, but many adult cats are also amenable. Definitely use a cat-safe harness and never just a collar. Do not be surprised when your cat expresses strong initial objections to the presence of the harness. And nearly every cat, even when accustomed to the harness, will stop and drop when they first feel the tug of the leash. It takes time and patience; but with a cat, what doesn’t?
2. Build an outdoor enclosure. This can be done from scratch if you or a friend is handy, or with a kit (available online in every conceivable size and shape). Many of our clients have been very creative about working with small or odd-shaped spaces. Some have created tunnels from a window to a more open area, access routes through walls or under stairs, or they just carry the cat from the house to the enclosure. Remember that cats can climb and jump; and that predators may attack from ground or air. Be sure to use sturdy materials on all walls and roof.
3. Secure your yard with free-standing or add-to-existing, cat-proof fencing. We recommend Purrfect Fence, which has options to fit any situation. It takes advantage of the way a cat jumps or scales an object such as a fence or tree to create a simple but effective system of containment). They even provide simple, do-it-yourself instructions for tree barriers.