How to Keep An Outdoor Cat Safe
She’s better off indoors, but if your kitty must spend time outside, pounce on this advice
Feline fact of life: Indoor cats tend to live longer than outdoor cats, who are exposed to all sorts of modern hazards, such as traffic. They may be mighty hunters, but kitties aren’t usually street savvy and are frequently struck by cars.
If you have a cat who seems to long for the great outdoors, do all you can to satisfy her curiosity without letting her roam free (give her easy access to windows so she can see out, provide plenty of toys to “hunt,” even take her outside on a leash). But if your cat already spends time outside, there are things you should do to help her stay healthy and safe.
Regular vet visits
An outdoor cat should have annual check-ups. The veterinarian will do blood work, make sure the kitty’s teeth are healthy and get a stool sample to check for parasites, says Jeffrey Levy, DVM, a veterinarian in New York City.
Related: When To Take a Sick Pet to the Vet
The best shots
In general, all cats should be vaccinated for distemper and rabies (required by law in most states). Cats that are regularly boarded or groomed should be vaccinated for Bordetella, a bacterium that causes upper respiratory infections that are highly contagious.
Outdoor cats frequently come in contact with feral and stray animals that carry disease, so most should have certain other vaccinations, such as for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Make sure your veterinarian knows where and how your outdoor cat spends her time so he can figure out exactly which additional vaccinations your pet needs. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has specific guidelines regarding which vaccinations are recommended for cats based on how they live, which your vet can access.
Be vigilant about giving your cat her once-a-month heartworm pill. The same goes for regular doses of flea and tick preventative medicine, even when it’s cold out. Purchase these from your veterinarian or an accredited pharmacy.
Give her shelter
Make sure your outdoor cat can get out of the cold and rain. If there’s a way to do so safely, leave your garage door open a crack, suggests Levy. Or, create a cozy shelter for her: Remove the door from a pet carrier and tuck the carrier under your deck or in another spot that’s dry and relatively warm.
If your tabby toggles between being indoors and outdoors, consider installing a pet door. This will give her freedom to come and go — and give you a break from constantly letting her in and out. To keep unwelcome critters from wandering in, invest in a door with a mechanism that will open only for your pet by detecting a magnet attached to her collar.
Invite her in for meals
Leaving food outside for your cat may seem convenient — she can nosh whenever she likes. But doing so can attract other creatures, from flies to raccoons. Your cat should be in the habit of dining indoors. “This will virtually guarantee that she’ll come home regularly and that she gets enough to eat,” adds Levy.
Detox her home environment
There’s not much you can do about potential poisons off your property. But do keep your own home and yard clear of substances that could make your cat ill or even kill her. One of these is antifreeze. Thoroughly wipe up any puddles or spills on your driveway or in the garage. Cats can also be sickened by rodent poison, either directly or if they eat a rat or mouse that has recently taken the bait.
Make her easy to ID
Deck her out with a collar and tag imprinted with your contact info. Besides making it easy for someone who finds her to get her back home, “people notice collars and will recognize that your kitty is an owned pet and not a stray or feral animal,” says Victor Dasaro, DVM, of the Newburgh Veterinary Hospital in Newburgh, New York. For an extra level of protection — if her tag or collar comes off, say — you can also have your cat microchipped: A tiny chip (about the size of a grain of rice) is implanted between an animal’s shoulder blades. The chip is imprinted with a registry number that can be read with a special scanner.
Don’t leave her defenseless
Never declaw a cat that spends any amount of time outside, advises the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Without her claws she won’t be able to defend herself or climb to safety if she feels threatened.
Keep in mind, too, that some cats will scramble up so high that they’re afraid to come back down. If your kitty goes missing, be sure to scan all the trees in your area. She may have gone only as far as the uppermost branches of your backyard elm.
Related: How To Safely Trim a Cat’s Claws