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Cats and the Outside World
Originally written 1991 & updated through 1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore.
Maintained by the Fanciers website as of July 1999.
There are a good many arguments for keeping them inside. They will
live longer since the chances of being hit by a car, hurt by other
people or animals, or infected with contagious diseases from feral cats
will be minimized. On the other hand, cats derive much pleasure from
exploring around outside.
Often, a satisfactory compromise is to allow the cat out under
supervision. This can be done by either letting them out into a fenced
yard (although if you leave them out there, they will probably
eventually climb the fence), or using a harness and leash. To use the
latter, accustom them to the harness first, in the same way as a
collar. Then accustom them to the leash by leaving it on for short
periods of time. Then take them outside, and follow them where they go
(do not try to take them "on a walk").
Sometimes you can proof your backyard against escape (or quick
escape) with either an "invisible fence" arrangement (these are
usually for dogs, but some models have been adapted for cats) or with
reinforcing material on the fence to prevent escape. Corrugated
fiberglass on the fence makes it difficult or impossible to get a
purchase for climbing over. An inward tilted addition to the top of
the fence also helps contain cats. Or an entirely enclosed structure
outside can be made.
Pet doors are a good solution for people tired of letting cats in and
out. There are many kinds of doors, including those that fit into
patio doors without requiring a hole cut through the wall or door.
You may have trouble with other animals coming in the door, or want to
let your dog but not your cat use the pet door. The solution is an
electronic pet door. The door has a lock that is deactivated by a
magnet that selected pets wear on their collar. Look under Pet Supplies
in the yellow pages. If you can't get one locally, call "America's Pet
Door Store" toll free at 1-800-826-2871 for a catalog.
Electronic pet doors are installed much like a regular pet door, but
you plug them in. The door itself needs a firmer push to open than
most. A great feature is the 4-way lock. The lock can be set so the
cat can 1) go both in and out 2) go in only - great if you want to
catch them 3) out only 4) totally locked. Doors cost about
Used most often with dogs, there are some invisible fence systems made
for cats. These systems use a special collar, a buried wire, and a
beep tone to warn the cats they are approaching the boundary (indicated
by the wire). A mild shock, adjustable in intensity, is administered
if the cat continues to approach after the warning beep. According to
people who have used it, it works fairly well -- the cats learn quickly
to avoid it. It is NOT recommended that the cats be left unsupervised
on this system for long periods of time. The people who use this
system generally are outside with the cats as well; they simply don't
have to worry about chasing after the cat. Note that this system will
not prevent your neighbor's cat from coming into the yard unless it has
a collar too!
A number of landlords initially say "no pets" but change their minds
when assured that the cat was well-behaved and assured of an extra
damage deposit if necessary.
Also, it seems like many landlords are more likely to approve of a cat
if you make it a condition of signing the lease, rather than if you ask
if it's OK to get one after you've already moved in, or if you try to
sneak one in without asking.
Try to prove that you are a responsible owner (photos of last house,
references, vet records, etc.) to help win your case.
For more ideas and tips, look up Dog Fancy, Volume 22, No. 8, August
1991, "Breaking Barriers: How to find an apartment that allows dogs,"
by Amanda Wray. The tips can be easily adapted for cat owners.
Every cat should wear ID tags, whether or not it is an indoor or
outdoor cat. A "strangleproof" or "breakaway" cat
collar with elastic section is safest; tags attached with small
keyrings won't fall off and get lost.
When a kitten gets a new collar, it should be put on tighter than usual
until she/he gets used to it. You should be able to slip 1 or 2
fingers under the collar, but it shouldn't be loose enough for the
kitten to get its jaw hooked. Of course, this means the kitten also
won't be able to get the collar over its head if it gets caught on
something, so you need to supervise more closely - especially outside.
Kittens grow fast, so you need to check the fit often. Once the kitty
is quite used to the collar and no longer tries to play with it or get
it off, you can loosen it up a bit. It usually doesn't take very long
for a kitten to get used to a collar.
Most common way to get the tag: mail order services that advertise at
pet shops and vet waiting rooms. Prices go from $3 to $8 per tag. The
cat's name is the least important thing on the tag. The most important
is your name and phone number. Home address and work number are
desirable. Some areas offer cat licensing; consider it as another way
of getting a tag. Another alternative is to write the name and phone
number on a flea collar or on a cloth collar. Don't forget to update
the information on the tag when you move! Tabby Tags offer a way to
attach information to the cat's collar without dangling tags. Inquire
at Tabby Tags, 4546 El Camino Real, B-10, Suite 340, Los Altos, CA
ID's should be worn for the following reasons:
You can get your cat tattooed in the ear or the leg and register the
tattoo number with a national registry. The basic problem with this
approach is that few people will look for a tattoo and know where to
call. Vets, though, usually know about this. Microchips are being
increasingly used, but you need a scanner to be able to read this
(although vets and animal shelters will check for these).
- In case the cat, even an indoors one, gets lost or strays.
- If your cat is injured outside and a kind stranger takes it to the
vet, the vet is more likely to treat the cat if it has tags.
- People won't think your cat is a stray and take it home and keep it.
- Let your neighbors know whose cat is whose, and what their names are.
If you have found a stray cat that you are not sure is really stray,
put a plastic collar on it and write your phone number and any message
on it. If it has an owner, the owner may call you or at least remove
Cats are extremely good at finding hiding places. Before you assume
your cat got outside and is missing, check these places:
Cats can squeeze themselves into spots you'd never think they'd fit, so
don't overlook any spots that you think are "too small."
Things to try when the cat is lost outside.
- Make up flyers with picture(s) and description. Rubberband them to
the doors of the houses in the immediate area. Use a radius that it
twice as far as your cat has wandered before.
- Take the flyers to local vets, feed stores, and animal shelters, and
any other likely place, like the laundromat or the local Y.
- If there are other cities close, don't forget their shelters. Check
with the shelters that you know about to see if there are others that
you don't know about.
- Flier copies on trees/telephone poles within an extended radius ( 2-3
- Check the local streets every day and and ask the garbage men and
mailmen for the neighborhood if they've seen anything.
- Ad in the paper
- Regular checks of the animal shelters near you.
- Register with Pet-Track
- Check out any "closed" spaces : were you in the attic ? the shed ?
could she have gotten into the neighbor's garage ?
- Long walks through the neighborhood, calling the cat. Look
carefully, as the cat may be hiding, lost, and unwilling or too scared
- Leave used articles of the cat's favorite person's laundry outside to
let the cat know that this is "home" : if the previous step above
didn't convince your neighbors that you were weird, nailing your dirty
socks and teeshirts to the fence definately will. A pile of the
kitty's used litter might also let the cat know this is *it*.
- As soon as you're sure that the cat is lost, go for a long barefoot
walk : out and back, out and back, out and back, to leave scent trails
leading to home.
- Contact relevant breed organizations, if applicable.
- Visualize the cat returning. Light candles to the deit(y,ies} of
- Rent a humane trap and bait it with the cat's favorite foodstuff. You
may wind up trapping other peoples' pets or stray wild animals, but one
poster caught their own lost and terrified cat.
- Don't give up right away: one person had success running an ad for 4
- Collar and tag the rest of the wanna-be escape artists, even if you
don't think it could ever happen to them. Your cats may be indoor
only, but what would happen if the screen came out on a sunny day?
- Under the heading of "be prepared," have multiple copies of a good
color photo of your cat on hand. You will be able to make -- and
distribute -- posters that much more quickly.
- If your neighborhood has a population of elementary school children,
place posters at their school. Kids seem to be acutely aware of the
animals they encounter, and they tend to be out and about in the
neighborhood. Offering a reward might even mobilize a small army of
On occasion, you may want to catch feral cats. They can be very
difficult to catch. When it seems to be impossible, call your local
humane society or SPCA to see if you can borrow a humane animal trap.
Some places allow you to "check out" such traps, just like books from
the library. A little food for bait, and you've got 'em.
For whatever reason, you may need to find a home for a cat. List
everywhere: newspaper, bulletin boards, computer bulletin boards,
newsletters, anywhere you like. But limit sharply: don't adopt out if
they don't meet standards. Minimal standards: will neuter as soon as
the cat's old enough, committed to a 20 year responsibility, they have
a home or apartment that permits pets, knowledgeable about cat health
and behavior or committed to become so. Do charge a nominal fee, at
least US$10, unless you know the adopter well; this keeps away those
collecting animals for research or to feed to other animals. (You can
donate all or part of the money to animal causes if you like.)
Cats generally don't like travelling in cars. For short trips, put
them in carriers to prevent accidents such as getting in the driver's
way, or escaping when the door is opened. Some cats are more calm if
kept in a pillowcase or a soft gym-bag type of carrier. For long trips
(all day or more), use cat carriers, minimize food intake beforehand,
and give water every time you stop. Consider getting harnesses and
leashes for when you stop. Most motels allow cats. Sometimes you can
use temporary fencing to block off the back of your car to give them a
roomier "cage"; you can usually then put litterboxes down instead of
keeping them for pit stops. Tranquilizers can be obtained from the
vet, but not all cats react well to them, and they may make a trip
worse than it would have been otherwise (test the cat's reaction to
them beforehand). Many cats will sack out after a few hours on the
For long-distance trips, make sure the motels take cats beforehand.
Some do not, and are very nasty about it if you try to beg a room. AAA
lists motels that accept pets.
You might want to carry along water from your home, especially if you
are traveling between states. Ice cubes in the water dish allow your
cats to have water without it spilling while you're driving (and helps
if its hot, too).
If you're traveling in the summer, make sure the cats get lots of air
or air conditioning in the car. carry an umbrella or other shade-making
device in case you have a breakdown. Keep alert to where the sun is
shining in your car (i.e., is it beating down on the back seat where
the cats are?)
Trains vary widely whether or not animals are allowed on passenger
cars. Amtrack does not. British Rail permits cats in a basket or cage
placed on the floor, seat or luggage rack. The Swedish railway company
allows pets in the smoking section of the car, although pet/non-smoker
compartments have been recently introduced.
Many major airlines allow cats that fit with carrier underseat according to
the same dimension limits as for underseat baggage. Most airlines will
tell you the cat has to be able to stand up in that carrier but won't
enforce this. The pet area is not cargo, it's pressurized but possibly
not heated or cooled. Get direct flights since the airplane has little
climate control for pets or passengers while on the ground (note:
"non-stop" and "direct" flights are *not* the same thing, some "nonstop"
flights do indeed land, even tho the passenger may never leave the plane).
Airlines aren't permitted to take more than one cat per carrier except for
kittens. You must call ahead, usually only one carrier is allowed in the
cabin, the rest must go into the pet area.
Some airlines are better than others. Delta and United have failed to
follow standard procedures to protect animals in inclement weather and
as a result many animals have died on their flights. They are being
fined $300,000 for this negligence by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
American, Continental, Pan Am, and TWA have also been fined. The ASPCA
has brought charges in about 50 cases in the past five years. Much of
this information can be found in "Pets on Planes: Too Often it's a
Rough Ride," _Conde Nast Traveler_ magazine, June 1992.
- Try not to travel when temperatures are outside the 40-80 degrees F
range at either end of the flight or at any stops in between.
- Try to
travel at off-peak times to minimize delays.
- Use a sturdy kennel with
proper ventilation and room for your cat to stand, turn around, and lie
- Try not to tranquilize your cat unless absolutely necessary.
A partial list: most states require a health certificate and proof of
rabies vaccination for pets crossing state lines. Most airlines will
require this regardless.
Quarantines are usually required by Island countries (eg Britain,
Japan) or states (eg Hawaii) or subcontinents (eg Australia). Always
check with the country in question if you are contemplating importing
an animal. Exact lengths of quarantines have been changing rapidly over
the last few years, so checking is doubly necessary. Hawaii now has
a 30 day quarantine. Britain has a six month quarantine (except on
dogs from other rabies free countries such as Australia). Australia
has a four month quarantine with similar exceptions from other rabies
free countries. Even if the destination country does not have a
quarantine (eg United States, much of Europe, Canada),
health certificates may be required by either or both the
country and the airline you use to ship the animal. Plan ahead several
months so you have all the information you need to proceed without a
hitch. And don't try to get around the quarantines. That could mean the life
of your pet.
One of the most common claimed reasons cats are left at shelters in the
United States is because the owners are moving and either can't or
don't want to take their cat with them. Moving can be difficult for a
cat, but it isn't impossible. If you are considering not taking your
cat with you and taking it to a shelter, keep in mind that your cat
will only of many others in a shelter given up for the same reason. No
one will take pity on your cat in particular, or consider it an
especially 'good' potential adoptee just because it came from a home
There are a variety of responses to a change in home location.
Some cats do well, others are a nervous wreck for several weeks.
You might consider keeping your cat at someone else's home during the actual move-out.
This way you will keep it out of the way, prevent accidental escape or injury,
and spare the cat the trauma of seeing its world picked up and carried
out. Otherwise consider keeping it confined to a crate or a single room to
prevent accidental escape in the chaos of moving.
Once at the new place, keeping it for a day or so in one room of
the new place before allowing it out to explore the rest of the house
will alleviate its anxiety. In any case, be prepared for up to several weeks of
"slinking" and hiding until becoming accustomed to the new place.
If you have a cat that goes outside, you will want to keep it indoors for
about a month at your new place before you let it out. Cats have
a homing instinct that
takes about a month to "reset". If you let it out before this time,
the cat may become disoriented and get lost, or make a beeline for the
When you go on vacation or otherwise will be absent for some period of
time, you must make provisions for your cat.
It is a good idea, whichever solution you use, to inform your vet that
you're on vacation and to take care of your cats in any case that comes
up and you will settle the bill when you get back. Let the sitters
In most cases, you will be able to leave your cat alone for three to
four days with no supervision provided that it has an adequate supply
of food and water. If your cat does not free-feed, this may not be at
Find a friend (or a company that provides this service) who will drop
by your house at least once a day to feed it, water it, and generally
check up and play with it. This is the least traumatic method for the
cat since it will stay in familiar territory and has the added bonus of
your house looking occupied. Check to make sure that the professional
service you use is bonded, and interview the person beforehand. Check
references that they supply.
You can call the local humane society, animal rights groups or vets to
find a recommended sitter. These groups can often recommend good
sitters, and just as important, warn you off particular companies that
have had complaints.
Experiences have ranged from good to satisfactory to terrible with
kenneling cats. It will depend a good deal on your cat's personality
and the kennel. Look for a kennel that is clean and is attentive to
its boarders. Look for personnel that like playing and otherwise
caring for animals. Be wary of kennels that are not clean and
cheerful. Some have reported that their animals came home with
diseases; check the kennel's policy regarding these matters. Some may
involuntarily dip their clients; check for this also. Check for noise,
Find someone willing to take your cat in while you are gone. Your cat
will have to stay somewhere new for a while, but this can be
convenient, and especially if it always stays with that person while
you're gone, its adjustment can be quick.
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