Letting your cat enjoy the great outdoors this spring can enrich his life and enhance his well-being — as long as you make his safety your number one priority
When it comes to cats, the need for environmental enrichment is underestimated. Just like dogs, cats need stimulation to prevent boredom and behavior problems. One way to provide this stimulation and enrichment is to give your cat an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors this spring and summer. While many cats are quite happy to stay inside, others appreciate being able to get out now and then. Allowing your cat to roam freely is not encouraged, but there are several ways to let him experience the outdoors in a safe and enjoyable manner.
An easy starting point is to take your cat outside in a “walking jacket”, which is a safer, more secure alternative to a collar and leash. Our cat Sofiya has a walking jacket thathas served her well from kittenhood onward, since the Velcro straps make it easily adjustable. A quick internet search brings up a lot of feline walking jacket selections on Amazon and Etsy. They can range from something as simple as a figure eight harness and leash, to a snug warm jacket for the winter. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a good fit for your cat — not so loose that she can worm her way out of it, and not so tight that it’s uncomfortable.
Getting her used to it
The key is getting your cat to accept the jacket before venturing outside. Some cats may just lie down or stagger around awkwardly when first fitted with a harness or jacket.
- Be patient and make the experience a positive one by giving your cat treats and praise while acclimatizing her to the jacket.
- When she’s used to the jacket and ready to be taken outside, start with short visits and gradually extend the time (and distance) as she becomes more comfortable.
- Watch for any signs of stress or fear. After four years, Sofiya still acts like something alien is attached to her, so she prefers to just sit or lie on the deck and watch the birds.
- Some experimentation may be needed: for example, I learned that Sofiya moves about more easily in a figure eight harness.
While your cat won’t get exercise when riding in a pet stroller, he will get the fresh air. There are several options, including strollers you can jog with and those for multiple cats, and all seem to enclose the cat securely within the interior. Make sure the stroller is durable and well-made, gives your cat proper ventilation and protection from the elements, including the sun, and that mesh materials aren’t so flimsy that your cat could escape.
Walking your cat in a stroller allows you to go further afield than you would with a jacket or harness. Keep in mind, though, that not all kitties enjoy a change of scene and can be stressed by strangers, dogs, traffic, and loud noises. As always, watch your cat for any signs of stress or fear and head home if he seems nervous or anxious.
With some carpentry skills and/or resourcefulness, you can create an enclosure for your cat in which she can enjoy the best of both worlds — freedom to move around as she pleases while staying safely contained.
Russian Blue breeder, Maartje Schoenmaker, is putting the finishing touches on her second outdoor cat enclosure. “Right now, the cats go in the garden under supervision,” she says. “I still need to do final touches on the walls to make them 100% cat-proof, and make a barrier on top of the stud runs.”
When planning an outdoor enclosure, think about how it will fit into your landscape, how long you plan to stay at your home (along with any homeowner association limitations), the number of cats you have, your level of construction expertise, and, of course, your budget.
- Catios can be as simple as a window unit or elaborate as a multi-level enclosure that attaches to the side of the house. Sizes and degrees of complexity vary.
- Free-standing enclosures or “pet play pens” come in horizontal and vertical configurations. Many can be easily moved around the yard or deck. Some are available as tunnels that can be snaked through the yard, and there are also teepee-style models. The important thing here is to supervise your cat, making sure she doesn’t get upset at being confined and try to escape.
- The Purrfect Fence works with existing fencing or comes as a standalone fencing system. What makes it escape-proof is that the material is flexible and curves overhead to discourage climbing.
- Companies can also create custom enclosures based on your specifications and number of cats. Both vertical and horizontal designs can accommodate just about any style of house. As well, many kits and DIY plans are available online; just ensure that when you’re buying materials for a DIY project, the wire fencing you choose will prevent little furry bodies from squeezing through. A corrugated plastic roof allows for all-weather access.
MAKE IT FUN!
Once your enclosure is in place, you can create a feline playground for your cat. Shelves and beds allow her to survey her domain in comfort. Tree trunks can help hone her scratching skills and a fountain is a diverting addition that can also encourage adequate water intake when your cat is outside. Include cat-safe plants and grass for snacking, and don’t forget a couple of comfy chairs and a table for you, so you can spend quality time outdoors with your cat.
As you can see, there are several great ways you can introduce your cat to the outdoors this spring, while also ensuring he stays safe and sound and out of trouble!
Sally E. Bahner specializes in cat-related issues, specifically nutrition, holistic care and behavior. She has offered her services as a feline behavior and care consultant and gives classes on cat care. Sally is the resident cat behavior expert on Tracie Hotchner’s Cat Chat radio program, and a member of the Cat Writers’ Association and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.