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Whether you've just adopted a grand old cat or a feisty kitten, you've got to decide if you want to keep your feline indoors or let her roam outdoors. Learning what it takes to keep your cat healthy and happy outside can help you choose.

Hidden Dangers

It's easy to imagine kitty lounging at your feet, soaking up the sun. Anticipating the dangers outdoor cats face may not be so easy:

  • Fights with other animals. You may not realize your kitty has wounds until he’s infected or needs surgery. Fights often require a trip to the vet for bite wounds, says veterinarian Vanessa Douglas, DVM.  
  • Diseases. Outdoor cats are more susceptible to herpes, rabies, and heartworms. They're also at risk for fatal infections like feline leukemia. 
  • Cars and other vehicles. Some studies estimate that cars strike as many as 5.4 million cats a year.
  • Parasites. These include fleas, ticks, and worms.
  • Poisons. These include antifreeze, bleach, fertilizers, herbicides, as well as insect and rodent bait.

Prevent Hazards

Before you and your feline friend head outside, plan for your cat’s safety, says Douglas.

  • Make an outdoor enclosure. These keep your cat safe and provide plenty of enjoyment. An enclosure can be small or large, and you can set it up to stand alone or attach to a house, balcony, or deck. The best enclosure for your cat depends on where you live, how much room you have, and how much you want to spend.
  • Collar your cat. Always put a collar on your cat and attach ID tags. This helps others know your pet has a home and makes it easy for them to contact you. Be sure kitty's collar has a "break away" feature, says Douglas. If your cat gets caught on a fence or branch, this type of collar snaps open.
  • Microchip your pet. This permanent form of identification ensures that someone who finds your kitty can quickly return her. A vet checks for the ID embedded in your cat’s neck and scans it for your address.
  • Keep vaccinations up-to-date. Discuss with your vet which vaccines are most helpful for your outdoor cat’s health and how often she needs them. Follow through to protect your cat from diseases and infections.
  • Medicate for fleas and ticks. All it takes is one flea to start your kitty biting and scratching, so apply flea medicine before taking your cat outdoors.