Safe Outdoor Environments for Cats
to the creation and marketing of cat litter since the mid 1940s, more and more
cats are staying in-becoming indoors-only pets, that is. As such, cats are
generally leading longer, healthier lives. The average indoor cat lives
to be ten to twelve years old, and many of us know felines who are older than
twenty. Conversely, outdoor-only cats survive for an average of two years in
that situation. Our homes offer a safer, healthier environment than life
on the street. Just think, no ticks and fleas unless the family dog brings them
in; no tangling with rabid raccoons, aromatic skunks or hungry coyotes, and no
one-on-ones with moving vehicles. There's no doubt about it-indoors is
Yet, when we choose to make our cats indoors-only companions, we have a
responsibility to provide the stimulation that nature provides automatically.
Scratching and climbing posts become pseudo-trees; interactive toys become
hunted birds, bugs and field mice. A rotating array of cat playthings provides
excitement, variety and exercise.
Taking Them to the Street
That said, many cat lovers still prefer to share the Great
Outdoors with their feline friends. Happily, there are ways to minimize the
risks. While vaccinations are important to indoor cats, they are
essential to the health of cats allowed outside. The soil of a garden or yard
can harbor diseases spread by stray, unvaccinated cats for many months. And
rabies has spread over much of the country, transmitted mainly through
altercations with wildlife such as foxes, raccoons and bats.
The safest way to allow your cat to enjoy some time outdoors is to either
harness-train him or her and go for walks together or to provide a screened-in
enclosure or fenced-in yard topped with cat-proof netting.
Hold the Line
Harness training, like many things, is easiest taught during
kittenhood. But some adult cats can acclimate to it, too. Choose a figure-8 or
H-type harness and make sure it fits well. (The fit is right if you can barely
get your finger between the cat and the harness.) At first, put the harness on
for a few minutes at a time, preferably just before mealtime or during play so
that the cat associates it with something positive. Repeat this several times a
day. When the cat begins to ignore the harness, attach the leash and let him or
her drag it around for a few more short sessions; stay nearby in case the leash
catches on something. The next step is to pick up the leash and follow the cat
around the house. This will allow the cat to get used to a human following
behind, prior to providing gentle guidance with the leash.
When your cat is comfortable taking light direction, proceed to a quiet area
outdoors. Keep your first sessions short, frequent and upbeat; little food
rewards come in handy. If you are leaving your property, keep your eyes peeled
for off-leash dogs, in-line skaters or bicyclists who could put Tabby in danger
or give her a scare.