Tips For Safely Taking Your Cat Outside

Getting your indoor cat outdoors for supervised playtime is the perfect way to stimulate her senses and encourage exercise.

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Cat harnesses offer a fun way to help your cat get some exercise. insonnia/iStock/Thinkstock
Cat harnesses offer a fun way to help your cat get some exercise. insonnia/iStock/Thinkstock
Carrie Brenner

Taking your indoor cat outdoors is not only fun — picture watching your cat chewing on a blade of grass or swatting at a ladybug for the first time — it’s also a great way to help your cat get more exercise and satisfy some of her primal instincts, such as hunting.

Plus, “there’s nothing like the sensory stimulation of the outdoors,” says Karen Nichols, publisher of Mousebreath, a cat lifestyle magazine.

Before taking Kitty outside for the first time, Nichols recommends you do the following:

  • Make sure your cat has a microchip ID, pet tag and bell. The bell, Nichols explains, will help you find your cat quickly if she gets away and you can’t see her. The microchip will help your cat be returned to you if she gets lost and her tag falls off.
  • Use a flea and tick prevention treatment for cats.
  • Apply sunscreen. Humans aren’t the only ones who can benefit from sunscreen. Light-skinned cats are vulnerable to sun damage, including sunburns and skin cancer, especially around the ears and nose. You can apply sunscreen that is specifically formulated for cats to these areas. Sunscreen formulated for humans can be toxic to cats.

On The Catwalk

One of the most exciting ways for cats to explore the outdoors is with a leash and harness. When you first start using a harness, be patient. You might want to take a series of shorter excursions — or even just spend a little time in your backyard — while your cat gets used to the experience of being outdoors.

“Walking a cat is not like walking a dog,” Nichols says. “[Cats] like to stop and sniff and investigate and dart after insects. At first, they are likely to be very slow. As they get accustomed to the area, they will walk at a faster clip.”

Get step-by-step instructions for walking your cat in a leash here.

Another way to spend outdoor time with your cat is with a pet stroller. While they both hold precious cargo, the key difference between a baby stroller and a pet stroller is that a pet stroller features a zippered mesh exterior to keep your cat safely inside. Pet strollers are available in a wide range of styles and price points, and you can even make them more comfortable with stroller pads.

In a pet stroller instead of a harness, your cat won’t be able to stop and smell things, but a pet stroller offers a more anxiety-free way for them to enjoy the outdoors — your cat will feel safe from dogs and cars, Nichols says. Also, if your cat is on a leash rather than in a stroller, she can injure you if she tries to climb up on you to reach safety.

If you take your cat out with both a stroller and harness, you can cover more ground and use the stroller as a safety retreat. Courtesy of Karen Nichols

If you take your cat out with both a stroller and harness, you can cover more ground and use the stroller as a safety retreat.   Courtesy of Karen Nichols

With her cats, Nichols often combines harnesses and stroller walking.

“We take the cat on the leash, but the stroller is there if we see dogs coming,” she says.

Whichever you choose, Nichols adds, don’t take your cat for a walk or stroller ride on a busy street.

Trips To The Great Outdoors

Another way you can bring your cat outdoors is with a temporary enclosure. Most temporary cat enclosures can easily be assembled and disassembled, and they are available in a range of sizes. Some are small enough that they are convenient to take along on trips. If you decide to go camping with your cat or to the beach, for example, you can use a temporary enclosure to give your cat her own space to play in.

Temporary enclosures also are great if you want to set up a space for your kitty to play in the backyard. They can give your cat enough room to stalk, pounce and soak up the sun while still keeping her contained.

Whether you use a temporary enclosure at home or on the road, though, it is possible that your cat will be able to chew or claw her way out if left unattended, so consider supervising her.

Permanent Solutions

Permanent outdoor enclosures, also known as catios, give your cat their very own safe outdoor space. You can hire a company to build a catio for you, or you can build your own. You can find instructional videos online, visit websites for design ideas, and even order a printed guide, such as the SafeCat Outdoor Enclosure manual at just4cats.com.

Catios range in design from simple, one-room enclosures and window boxes to multistory habitats and large balcony and patio enclosures —  and some even have tunnels connecting them to their owner’s house.

Another option for spending time outdoors with your cat — and one that really gives your cat the opportunity to run and play — is cat fencing. An assortment of cat fencing is available, and styles range from freestanding fencing to barriers that can be attached to pre-existing fences to make the fence impossible to climb up and jump over.

If you choose this option, be sure to use fencing around any tree that your cat could use to climb up and jump outside of your yard from, Nichols says. Some companies that sell cat fencing even offer tree guards especially for this purpose. One thing to keep in mind before buying cat fencing, Nichols says, is that if you live in an area with raptors, such as hawks, your cat is vulnerable to an attack.

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Cats · Health and Care

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