Should I Let my Cat Outside?

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

There is no BEST answer to this question, although it's one that many people feel very strongly about. Indoor cats and outdoor cats encounter different challenges and risks. An indoor cat might suffer from lack of mental and physical stimulation, stress, medical issues such as obesity, or behavior problems. The outdoor cat is at higher risk for infectious diseases, injuries or trauma, or getting lost. Whatever your choice is, it's important to keep your cat healthy and safe.

Making the Outdoors Safer

  • Talk to your veterinarian and stay up to date on all vaccines, flea and heartworm prevention, and de-worming.
  • Make sure your cat has a breakaway collar and tag, is neutered or spayed and microchipped.
  • Make the immediate outdoor area safe for your cat. If possible, build an outside enclosure. This prevents your cat from getting lost, and keeps other cats out of your yard.
  • If you have a younger cat, train them to use a leash and harness. This way, you can take your cat with you on outdoor excursions.
  • Never leave a cat on a leash unattended, outside or inside.

Making the Indoors Attractive

  • Talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate diet and how much to feed.
  • Put screens on your windows and get a kitty window seat.
  • Play with your cat several times a day. See handout on how to play with your cat.
  • Cat trees, cat condos, shelves, and other climbing apparatuses give your cat more places to climb, play, and own.
  • Provide scratching posts made of different materials - corrugated cardboard, wood, carpet, or sisal rope. See handout on using scratching posts.
  • Many cats enjoy watching videos of cats, birds, fish, insects, and nature scenes.
  • Grow kitty grass. Available at many pet supply stores, it is safe and tasty for your cat to nibble.
  • Make your cat "work for food" and use food dispensing and puzzle toys.
  • Consider adopting another cat for company if your cat is an "only child".
  • Have at least one more litter box than you do cats and place them in areas to which your cat has easy access.

Remember: even indoor cats should be regularly vaccinated, receive flea prevention, and be micro-chipped. We recommend that all cats wear breakaway collars with up-to-date contact information for their guardians. Make an emergency plan in case of earthquake, fire, burglary, or other mishap.

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.

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