Most owners prefer to keep their cats indoors, as opposed to outside where they can find themselves in dangerous situations. Many animal lovers insist on having an indoor cat because keeping a cat inside is the best way to prevent serious injuries or even death caused by diseases, poisoning, predators, and cars. However, some cats prefer the outdoors and will end up trying to escape their home every chance they get. In other cases, a cat owner may be trying to feed and care for many local ferals or strays. In both cases, it’s possible to train your cat and teach them how to thrive outdoors, while protecting them from potential dangers around the yard. In this guide, I’ll go over some tips and tricks you can use that can keep your outdoor cat or the local strays and ferals safe, happy, and well-fed.
How to Raise an Outdoor Cat
If you’ve decided to allow your cat to live outdoors, spend some time outdoors, or you’ve adopted a stray who prefers to stay outside, the best thing you can do is ensure a cat is trained and prepared for life outdoors.
Benefits of Keeping a Cat Outside
An outdoor cat can benefit from increased social activity and exercise. There are no limits to the ground a cat can explore or the heights a cat can climb. A life outdoors caters to a cat’s baser instinct to hunt their prey. A cat will also be free to follow their instincts and scratch rough surfaces or spray, marking their territory. While both of these issues could be a huge problem if the cat lived indoors, outside, it won’t be a big deal.
Assessing Cat’s Outdoor Environment
As a responsible cat owner, you’ll need to carefully assess your surroundings to ensure it’s safe enough for your outdoor cat. It’s also important to research any changes you need to make to the types of products and chemicals you use around the yard or in the garden. All cats are very sensitive to chemicals, including everyday cleaners, indoor and outdoor plants, and many other types of every day items. This will protect your pet from accidental exposure to toxins.
Litter Box Training
Some cat owners prefer using a cat litter box, even outdoors. This will prevent a cat from digging in flower beds and other areas of the yard to defecate. It’s possible to train outdoor and indoor cats to use a box outside. You can easily keep the litter box in the garage, under a covered porch, or another covered area on the property, for simple and fast clean up.
Basic Care for Outdoor Cats
There are many things you can do to make a cat comfortable outdoors, from feeding them a different diet, to providing them with a safe place to lay their head for an afternoon nap. First, let’s go over the appropriate type of shelter for an outdoor cat and why this safe space is so important to their survival.
Cat Enclosure Tips
Building an outdoor cat enclosure is a popular option among many cat owners. This type of enclosure will keep your cat close by and can be built somewhere in the yard, such as the garden, giving your cat a safe space where they can explore and enjoy the sunshine. If you don’t have the basic woodworking skills, budget, or time for this type of project, you can also create a safe space for outdoor cats in your garage. Leave the garage door cracked just enough to allow your cat to come and go as they please and set up a cat house that’s durable and designed to keep your outdoor cat warm.
Outdoor Cat House
The best outdoor cat house will keep a cat safe, secure, and warm. You can decide to build an outdoor cat enclosure yourself, or you can purchase the best outdoor cat house, based on climate and cat size. These houses often have an extra exit that will allow a cat to escape, if they have been followed back to their house by a predator. There are many different types and styles of outdoor cat houses to choose from, and some are even heated. The type of cat house you choose for your cat will heavily depend on whether you live in a warm climate or you live in a part of the country that experiences harsh winters. The K&H Outdoor Heated Kitty House is a great option and one that’s perfect for cats who spend more time outdoors during the winter.
Set Up Feeding Stations for Food and Water
When caring for an outdoor cat, it’s essential that you provide fresh cat food and water. Regularly replenish their water and food supply and check the feeding station once or twice a day to ensure it’s clean and well-stocked.
If you’re caring for more than one outdoor cat, make sure you set up multiple feeding stations to prevent cats from fighting or bullying a smaller cat and eating all the cat food.
Dealing with Wildlife
When you leave cat food outside, your cats will end up competing with wildlife, such as raccoons and opossums. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure your cats are getting some of the food. This can be accomplished by setting up multiple feeding stations for outdoor cats.
While some people become upset at the idea of wild animals stealing their cat’s food, this is the price that’s paid for leaving food out. Wild animals do not understand that the food is not intended for them. Trapping and relocating these animals will only invite more into your yard, causing new animals to wander into the territory. The best solution is to set up a feeding station or two far away from where you feed your cats, to attract wildlife away from your home.
Trips to the Veterinarian
A life outside can make it more difficult to keep a cat healthy. When you keep your cat outside, he or she will have a higher exposure to disease-causing bacteria, injuries, and parasites. Regular trips to their vet and staying up to date on their vaccines will go a long way toward keeping a cat safe and healthy.
Of course, if you’re caring for feral cats, this may not be an option since most ferals cannot be handled by humans. There is a difference between strays and ferals. Strays are used to being around humans and had owners at one point in their life. Feral cats were born and raised outdoors. If you’re concerned one of your outdoor cats is sick or in need of some type of medical attention, then it’s a good idea to speak with your vet to determine how to trap an outdoor cat or what you can do to help.
Microchipping is commonly done by pet owners who want to keep their cat indoors and locate the cat if someone accidentally lets them out.
Microchipping your outside cat or the strays you’re taking care of is also a good idea. This will prevent animal control from taking both outdoor and indoor cats to the shelter. If a pet does end up at the shelter, it will be the pet owner’s responsibility to pay a fee to bail them out.
If you’re caring for ferals, in many states they can be spayed or neutered at a low cost, since doing so helps to keep the local stray and feral population under control. However, you will have to trap the cats yourself using a humane trap, then find a vet that’s willing to work with ferals.
The universal marking of a feral cat that has been spayed or neutered is a notch cut into the ear. The notch is small and the procedure is relatively painless. Ear notching helps animal control recognize that the cat is feral and has been spayed or neutered, so they will not attempt to capture the cat and take it to the local shelter. This procedure is also low cost and well worth it since it will save you a trip to the shelter to bail out your feral cat or cats.
When you’re raising an outdoor cat, they still require the same amount of love and affection that an indoor cat does. Outdoor cats still want to be part of the family. Outside, you can run around with a feather wand, chase them, or spend some quiet time with your outdoor/indoor cat curled up on your lap, enjoying the great outdoors.
Should I Keep My Cat Indoors?
There are pros and cons to keeping a cat strictly indoors. For most pet owners, it’s the best way to keep a cat safe and prevent him or her from getting run over, attacked by another animal, or becoming lost. But many indoor cats tend to become obese over the years and spend a significant amount of time sleeping, both during the day and night.
Outside, a cat will have more room to run, play, train with their owner, and can interact with other animals who are cat friendly. They can also brush up on their hunting skills. Installing a catio, or allowing your cat to go outside for a short period of time each day, depending on the weather, can be a great compromise.
Creating a Routine
A cat can enjoy their natural environment during the day and can be brought inside at night. Once this type of routine has been established, over the period of two weeks, a cat may even come back on their own. Installing a cat door can give your cat a little more freedom, allowing them to come inside whenever they please or once it gets cold out.
Whether or not you decide to keep your cat strictly inside is up to you. If you live in a high traffic area where it’s a real possibility that your cat could get hit by a car, or the neighbor’s dogs are cat aggressive, then keeping the cat inside may be a safer option.
But, if you live in a rural area, life outside may be just what a cat who spends most of their time inside needs, which is the chance to stretch their legs, hunt, explore, and enjoy.
Learning how to raise a cat outdoors properly ensures your cats grow up to be healthy, safe, and independent. However, outdoor cats will still appreciate the affection and attention you show them. If you’ve decided to keep your cat outdoors or you’ve found yourself feeding the local strays and ferals, make sure you stay on top of their food and water supply, provide outdoor cats with a safe, warm space to sleep and rest, and inspect them as often as possible to ensure they’re healthy, and thriving.