SHOULD I LET MY CAT OUTSIDE?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to answering this question. Some cats are outdoor cats at heart and always will be. Others wouldn't survive out there for any length of time, because they have a gentle or an anxious nature and are ill-equipped for the outside world, which can pose hazards such as injuries and infections.

There are many pros and cons to letting your cat outside. What choice you make ultimately depends on your cat’s personality, life experience, medical history and domestic set up. My cat is an outdoor cat and would most certainly develop behavioural issues if he was not allowed out, no matter how many toys I gave him to play with inside. The labyrinth of gardens outside my flat is all he has ever known. It is his world, his playground, his territory - and he knows it inside out. Does he get into fights with other cats? You bet! Does this put him more at risk of injuries and infections? Yes. Would I consider never letting him out? No, because I can see he loves being outside and does not like to be confined. Closed doors make him nervous. He was abandoned as a kitten and it is possible (although we do not know this for sure) that there was a time in his life when he had to fend for himself, without a human. His preference for outdoor living has advantages, though: Outdoor cats get considerably more exercise and burn more calories than any indoor cat could ever hope to and are therefore more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Furthermore, they are not totally dependent on their humans providing (or forgetting to provide) the things they need to stay healthy: My furry friend can drink rain water from plant pots and eat grass outside whenever he feels like it. He has wooden fences, stone walls, trees and ponds at his disposal, which serve as vantage points, scratch posts and a constant source of stimulation. And he can (and will!) gobble up the occasional juicy caterpillar or slug for an extra portion of protein.

However, there are dangers to an outdoor life. Cats, particularly male cats, are very territorial and will certainly not shy away from a fight – doing so would be losing face in the feline world. In a densely populated residential area with a substantial cat population, cat fights are frequent, particularly in the warmer months of the year. I have stopped counting the number of times I had to rush out in my pyjamas at 4 o’clock on a warm summer morning to intervene in a cat fight. One of these fights resulted in an injury to my furry friend’s tongue which required a trip to the vet and a week-long course of antibiotics. Other risks involve transmission of feline viruses (such as feline leukemia virus), which can lower your cat’s immune system and make it more susceptible to developing cancer. If a cat has feline leukemia virus it needs to be separated from other cats and kept inside, for its own protection and to stop the virus from spreading through the local cat population. Other outdoor hazards include cats being hit by cars and other vehicles.

Whether or not you let your cat outside, be sure to consult your vet what treatment options (flea and worm medication plus recommended vaccinations) are appropriate to minimise the risks of being outside. But also take your cat’s personality into account when choosing the right lifestyle for them. Cats are wise creatures and pretty good at communicating their needs.

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