How to Safely Have an Indoor/Outdoor Cat

I obviously can’t speak for all of my feline friends, but feeling a fresh breeze blow across my whiskers and the sun shine warmly down upon my fur makes me want to purr louder than if someone had just given me a new catnip toy. I’d love to think that I could freely roam around outside any time I’d like, but I’ve been around the block enough to know that there are more dangers lurking in the shadows than a cat can swat a furry fist at. As much as I enjoy living life “alfresco” style, I have absolutely no desire to be chased by the neighbors’ dog or to be hit by one of those metal boxes on wheels that flies past my house as I cross the road to explore the greener grass that’s on the other side.

Ideas on how you can have an indoor/outdoor cat, without them being unnecessarily exposed to common outside risks.

I’m fortunate that I own a pair of human beings who understand my desire to be a part of the outside world, but who also realize that I need to be protected when I do venture out into the wild unknown. When I first came into their world, they knew that a cat that gets to spend time outside usually gets more exercise and is also likely to be a lot less stressed. However, once they learned that the average life expectancy of indoor cats is around fifteen years while outdoor cats is only about five years (estimates vary), they wanted to make sure that my time spent outside was a life-enhancing experience, not a life-ending one.

Providing Your Cat with the Best of Both Worlds

How, you wonder – other than taking a walk on a leash or leaving a window open to allow some fresh air in the house – can curious cats safely explore the great outdoors? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of options that exist.

Actually, leashes and windows are realistic possibilities. The thing to keep in mind with cats and leashes though is that – just like a dog – you’ll need to patiently teach a cat to feel comfortable while being on a leash. While my furry friends and I like to think of ourselves as being “cool cats,” we hate to admit that some of us might occasionally get a little freaked out on the end of such a horrible human invention. That being the case, you might want to rely on one of the many cat-sized harnesses that are now available, instead of simply using a collar and leash. The harnesses really are safer (and more comfortable) than a collar that could slip off and/or choke a “struggling” cat.

If your cat simply doesn’t want to be on a leash and/or if it’s not safe for them to be, due to “risks” you might encounter while walking (e.g., stray pets that could chase them, wild animals that could attack them, loud noises that could startle them), you could use a pet stroller instead. And yes – you read that correctly. Strollers aren’t just for humans anymore! Usually sturdy, roomy, and collapsible – just like those for children – animal strollers allow a cat (or multiple cats) to hang out in an enclosed space that often looks like a mesh-type pet carrier, all the while enjoying the outdoor sights, sounds, and other sensations while their person pushes them around the neighborhood. Talk about a win-win situation! Humans get exercise and kitties get mental stimulation. I “purr-sonally” really enjoy this mode of transportation.

As for windows, there are window “box-type inserts” you can buy – or build yourself, if you’re so inclined – that allow cats to sit just outside their home. Some have built-in “lockable kitty doors” that allow them to be used year-round (you won’t find me out there on a cold winter day though). Small-scale, but (usually) easy to install, this is a good option for someone who has limited outdoor space and/or who perhaps rents their home/apartment and can’t make significant alterations.

Another option for those who are limited by space and/or the ability to erect more permanent structures are cat “play areas” that can be quickly and easily set-up in a yard. Think along the lines of an “enclosed” human baby playpen and you’ll have a good idea of what I mean. Usually made of a heavy-duty mesh-type material and anchored with light-weight metal supports, such structures come in many sizes and shapes, including tunnels, tents, and towers.

On a larger and more customizable scale are outdoor kitty enclosures that are often referred to as “catios.” Such enclosures are available in pre-packaged kits, as well as in components that can be mixed-and-matched according to someone’s own needs and space requirements. Made from a variety of materials including metal, wood, plastic, and mesh, catios can actually be movable units on wheels, free-standing structures in the location of your choice (e.g., on your deck), or more permanent fixtures such as those that enclose a porch or that incorporate a piece of yard and that are directly accessible from a home via a window, kitty door, catwalk, etc. For the do-it-yourselfer, there are also cat enclosure plans that can be purchased to guide you through the construction process.

Whether a kit is used or a simple blueprint, catios of every design can be customized with such elements as reinforced and lockable doors, adjustable shelves, weather-proof flooring, sturdy roofing, overhead “bridges” or “tunnels,” and buried perimeter fences (to prevent cats from digging their way out – and yes, that is possible). “Purr-sonal” touches include adding such things as a water feature (think fountain or small pond here, not simply an elevated water bowl, although that too is nice), a dirt patch, sand box, and real tree limbs for us “wanna-be mountain lions” to enjoy climbing. Some people also choose to make their cat enclosures big enough to accommodate their own outdoor recreational space where they can spend quality time with their feline friends. We don’t mind you doing that, as long as you play nice when you’re with us.

Last but not least, there are also fencing options for keeping cats safe outdoors. Such fences can be freestanding, as well as attached to existing fences. Many rely on the top of the structure being “angled” inwards (and sometimes “spring-loaded” – talk about a wild ride) to keep a cat from being able to scale the fence. If there are trees or “poles” (electrical, telephone, etc.) in the yard that cats could use to jump over the fence, tree guards designed specifically for cats can also be installed. While underground “invisible fence systems” do exist for cats (as they do for dogs), remember that such fences might successfully keep us confined, but they will NOT keep OUT certain dangers such as roaming dogs, wild animals, etc.

If you’re ready to “purr-sue” any of the ideas that I’ve mentioned above, a simple Google search will get you well on your way to creating and providing a safe outdoor environment for your cat(s). Regardless of what outside enhancements you make, it would be a good idea to ensure that each cat has some form of identification on them, whether a breakaway collar with an ID tag, a microchip, or tattoo, just in case they do manage to get loose. Along the same line, they should be properly vaccinated and spayed or neutered prior to being allowed outside. It’s also best to introduce them to their new environment slowly and with supervision. Better safe than sorry, right? Such is the case for any cat – indoors, outdoors, or those enjoying the best of both worlds.