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Finally, the time has come! The spring weather is good, my house by the river is to the level of being comfortable to sit outside, I have bought outdoor chairs, an umbrella and a table for my big balcony.
And that is exactly where I made a plan to first introduce my indoor cat to the real outside world. My cat is used to a balcony area already so it would be the most familiar environment for her to start from.
I’ve put off this “happening” for so long, from the day I bought the house I wanted to bring my cat in but nothing aligned, at least in the minimum circumstances required.
So this bright shiny day I kinda decided on a whim that I can finally start the transitioning process of turning my indoor cat into an indoor/outdoor cat.
Since my cat has been strictly an indoor cat for 6 years I would never want her to sleep outside at night or stay long periods of time outside. I’m simply too scared that something bad may happen to my fur baby! Which I would never forgive myself for and it would be something to haunt me for the rest of my life.
So I want to keep my indoor cat as safe as possible when turning her into an “outdoor” cat – or at least a semi-outdoor cat.
So below I explain and show the things I have done that turned out very well and my first step of the transition from an indoor cat to an outdoor cat was a success!
First Things First – Cat Safety Is Crucial
So before you take your kitty outside you absolutely have to ensure that your cat has maximum protection. As you know cats are not as obedient as dogs and they most likely will not come back when you call them, so you have to make sure your cat is beside you at all times.
If your cat runs away you may never see it again, especially if it is in an unfamiliar environment.
So there are 2 things that you absolutely must have when you take your cat outside
- An escape-proof cat harness
This is something to choose very carefully. I would suggest you first try the cat harness or leash inside so you’ll see how your cat reacts to it. Then maybe test it a little right outside of your home/apartment. This would also be good for developing trust in your cat towards you when you are both outdoor.
If your cat is younger then maybe you’ll need to train it a few times before the “going out in the real world”. My cat used to escape the harness when she was younger (yes there was blood involved, so also make sure your cat’s nails are trimmed or you can put plastic caps on them), but I think she got used to it or she learned to trust me so we don’t have such accidents now.
So a little preparation around the cat harness is required, depending on your cat and its character.
- A comfortable for the cat and easy for you to carry cat bag
Besides the cat leash/harness, you must have a good quality cat bag. It must be strong and sturdy to endure long trips or prolonged carrying and still be comfortable for your cat.
It will also serve as a shelter for your cat, for example, I have a over-the-shoulder cat bag that leaves my hands free and which I can lower down for her to climb in if she gets scared. It really comforts my cat and she feels more secure having a familiar object in a strange environment, something that she can hide in and reduce her stress.
I would also suggest a light and easy-to-carry cat enclosure for outdoors, unfortunately, I have lost mine (somewhere in my one-room apartment 🙂 ) but if I had it I would definitely bring it along. It’s a great way to introduce your cat to the outside world in the most secure way.
Tips For Introducing Your Indoor Cat To The Outdoor World
I forgot to do this but it is very smart to protect your cat from ticks and fleas so before going outside, especially in spring when the grass is high, get her a flea and tick collar. I for sure am getting her protected against parasites for the next time. My cat is my fur baby and I want her healthy and happy.
The next step refers to each cat individually: think about what would be the most comfortable way to get your cat outside, where would it be least stressful, and what can you do to make this transition as smooth as possible?
My cat, for example, is used to a high balcony. She already knows heights and enclosed space and she feels kinda safe on my balcony. As my weekend house has a big balcony (and I always wanted a spacious balcony, weird how indeed what you wish for comes true in life, if you are patient enough) I thought I would start from there. And it worked so well!
Here she is, going straight for the inside of the house, and particularly under the bed in the second-floor bedroom:
Of course, I didn’t let her get under the bed, it would have taken a lot of nerves and time to get her out! So this is also something to watch out for: don’t let your cat get in a place where you’ll have trouble getting it out. Your cat will be scared, you will get tired and overall it will be a miserable experience. So use that cat leash wisely!
In the picture above you can see how I have placed the cat bag “strategically” 🙂 so that she has a familiar object near where she can hide. She is actually using the bag as a shield, you can see how she peeks and checks the environment beside it. So placing the cat bag where your cat can reach it quickly and hide in it is a good thing to do when you take your cat out.
Another important thing to take care of is giving your cat water and food. I had some plastic plates in the house so I used them to pour some water for her, and I placed the plate beside the cat bag so that she would feel safe to eat or drink. I also took a wet cat food/pouch from home for her. If you plan to stay longer outside with your indoor cat please don’t forget this.
Well, she was too scared and excited to even notice the water. There she is watching intensely my mom in the little wooden garden house. Everything was so new to her that all of her attention was focused on exploring the environment and watching her back :). She forgot all about eating, sleeping or drinking.
In the beginning, I held on tightly to the cat leash, like I was holding on for dear life :). I was so afraid of her escaping the leash or going to an unreachable place that I watched her every second and every move she made. But nothing dramatic happened as she explored the balcony.
She loved smelling that pine tree, it was one of her favorite spots on the balcony. And it was a lucky circumstance that the tree kind of secluded one part of the balcony so it was like a natural secluded space for my cat to feel safe. This is also a good point to check when you take your indoor cat outside: look for natural shelters around you and get your cat near one.
I did make the mistake of getting her on the ground, and I suggest you stick to one place on your first outdoor get-out. It only confused my cat and scared her unnecessarily. The balcony was quite enough excitement for the day.
So after a while when you see that your cat is more relaxed you can take the next step: let go of the leash!
I must admit even after an hour or two of my cat staying on the balcony it was still a scary thing to do. But everything looked calm so I decided it was time to do it. I was still checking her out every 5 seconds and the leash was near me, reachable in case something unexpected happened.
The first time taking your indoor cat outdoors is certainly not the time to even try releasing her completely from the cat harness or leash, no matter how calm and relaxed she looks. It only takes a few seconds for something to happen that can have permanent consequences. Your cat must be fully introduced to the house, and know her way in way out so that she can safely come inside in case of trouble.
The rest of the day was uneventful, thank God, she just stayed in one of the two corners in the balcony area hidden by the pine tree. I couldn’t have asked for a better environment to take out my indoor cat and introduce her to my weekend house by the river. I can’t wait to see if in the future she catches a mouse or maybe a fish! (yeah very unlikely but we’ll see).
Unexpectedly, the most surprising part was the driving back home part. She always is nervous and meows in the car. But she was so tired and I guess she knew we were going home so she was totally relaxed on the way back, she started grooming herself and even fell asleep! It was such a rewarding thing to see, how safe she finally felt in the car and how relieved she was to go home.
When we got back of course the first thing she did was drink water and eat, so you should have that prepared for her to give it immediately. I could tell she was super exhausted and at least for one evening she did not jump around and annoy me 🙂
Overall it was a perfect day and a perfect way to start the process of transitioning my indoor cat to a mix of indoor/outdoor cat.
Some Useful Tips For Transitioning Your Cat to an Indoor/Outdoor Lifestyle
Turning your cat from indoor cat to outdoor cat is a process and it will take time, depending on the cat, whether it is a shy one or not and how fast it adapts, but eventually, it will happen, you only need to have patience.
If you want to introduce your cat to the outside world in the home you live in it is best that you start with short time intervals and then you slowly increase the time spent outside.
You can also try giving your cat food outside during her usual eating time, this will additionally boost its confidence in the outside world. Rewarding your cat with a treat after some time spend outside is also a good idea.
Creating a schedule for time outside will be extremely beneficial: cats are creatures of habit and creating this habit will definitely help your cat make the transition as smooth as possible.
I would strongly advise that you avoid leaving your cat outside at night even if you plan to make it an outdoor cat. Nighttime can be extremely dangerous no matter whether it is in the city or the countryside.
Another thing I would like to mention is that in cold, rainy times or winter even the most hardcore outdoor cat will want to stay at home and I believe you should let your cat inside during such times. Cats love warmth and you will prolong their lifetime by giving them a thriving environment.
If you let your cat outside for a prolonged time always check on extreme temperatures and make sure it has access to food and water. I would suggest getting a scannable cat door is a very good idea as your cat can come inside or go outside according to its own desires – and we know how cats love their independence. Otherwise, your cat may get really annoying with constant demands to go in or out.
There is something that I would like to mention and that I think is common sense: you absolutely must have your cat neutered if you let your cat outside. Let us please stop the suffering of our beloved pets, by preventing them from being born without a home, when it all can be easily prevented by taking care of our cats regarding their procreation.
Should You Change Your Indoor Cat To Be a PartTime Outdoor Cat?
If you are a cat lover then you have probably heard this a thousand times: indoor cats have a greater lifespan. And it is true: an indoor cat won’t be run over by a car, get abused by local kids, catch diseases, die from dogs and many other dangers. So yes, the outside world is a cruel and scary place for a small animal like a cat.
But, there are cats who simply can’t endure a lifetime spent behind 4 walls. It really depends on the cat, but if you notice that your cat sleeps all the time or gets depressed then this is a sign that it needs more variety in life.
IMHO, if you have a garden or yard that is more or less safely fenced then it is good for the cat to spend some day time outside.
If you think that your environment is too unsafe for your cat then you can make or buy a catio and this is also a very good solution for your cat to get some diversity in life. Having a catio also helps in transitioning your cat from indoor to outdoor, if you have one you can use it for your cat to explore smells, sights and sounds in a safe enclosure.
As additional protection from getting lost, you can microchip your cat. I have not tried it on my cat but I have dogs that have been microchipped and nothing bad happened to them healthwise. In case your cat is lost if someone finds your cat they can scan it and read the information and get in contact with you. I’m sure you have seen plenty of heart-melting true stories of reuniting animals with their owners thanks to the microchip.
Putting a collar on your cat is a controversial topic as many cats have suffered and even died from their collars due to suffocation or getting stuck because of the collar, so I will leave this decision up to you. However, if you decide to put a collar on your cat please use one with a quick-release mechanism or a snap opening cat collar. The clasp on this type of collar will simply pull apart when enough force is applied, thus setting your cat free before it is trapped. Important: don’t put a bell on the collar so the potential predator can hear your cat from afar.
If you have a yard then you can put fence containment for cats or yard keeper for cats which will restrain the movement of your cat in the yard only. This option can get expensive but if you have the budget I suggest you do it, your cat will get maximum safety and you’ll have peace of mind regarding your cat. I would personally love to secure my yard fence but I’ll see how I will end up with my money.
Pros Of Letting Your Cat Outside
Finally, I would like to end with the positive things that your cat will get by spending time outdoors:
- Your cat will have a healthy balance of food intake – energy consumption
- It will get all the proper exercise to keep it healthy
- Boredom will be a thing of the past, your cat will have plenty to discover and keep itself occupied
- Your cat will be less clingy and annoying as it will have its basic needs for physical and physiological activity fulfilled
- It will appreciate your love and the security you offer more: it may sound unbelievable but whenever my cat feels a little bit endangered I can feel how much she loves me more after “the danger” has passed, it may even cuddle more with you – at least this is the case with my cat
- Overall your cat will be much healthier, the sun and the fresh air will have a positive effect on its body