It is generally advisable that whenever possible, you keep your cat indoors. Indoor cats tend to live longer, as they are away from the numerous health risks associated with being outside. Outdoor or partially outdoor cats are vulnerable and more susceptible to:

  • Being hit by a car
  • Injuries, illnesses, and parasites
  • Animal cruelty
  • Accidental poisoning
  • Attacks from wild animals
  • Fights with other cats
  • Getting lost, and many more threats.

Our kitties are domesticated and not made to live outside. (Even feral cats have shorter life expectancies even though the outdoors is the only home they have ever known.)

However, especially if you have rescued a stray cat from the outdoors, cats may pine for the fresh air and sunshine. Many cats do enjoy the chance to spend some time outside, and it is difficult for many cat owners to prevent persistent cats from slipping outside or begging expectantly at the door to be let out. The idea that your cat needs to spend time outside to live a happy life is a myth – everything kitties need to have enriched lives can be accessed indoors – but with some planning, you can still give them the best of both worlds.

There are ways to allow your kitty to have some of that freedom of the outdoors, while protecting them from the dangers posed by the outside environment. Before trying any of these methods, however, there are a few precautions you should take in preparation. First and foremost, ensure your cat is spayed or neutered, up to date on all vaccinations, and has been microchipped. A collar with identification and contact information on it is a great idea too, but collars can fall off or rip off when they become caught on branches and fences, for instance. If your cat manages to get loose, you will be grateful for taking these steps as they can help keep your cat healthy as well as assist you in reuniting with your cat should it become lost.

The following are a few options for safe outdoor access for your felines:

Controlled outdoor spaces

  • Cages/pens: Portable kennel-like structures and cages can be purchased at pet stores for outdoor use. Some even have built in toys and shelves for perching. Ensure that the cage or pen secure and is heavy enough to stay in place even if your cat is playing inside or the wind is blowing.
  • “Catios”: The newest trend in pet enclosures is the “catio.” Often built around an open window, the catio forms an enclosure that resembles a hutch used to house rabbits or small rodents. The patio is completely enclosed, and attached but separate from your home, much like a patio would be. Unlike a patio, though, it is small and only your cat or cats will be able to use it. Cats enjoy these structures because they feel as though they are outdoors without actually being outdoors. They are often built of wood and mesh or other screen materials.
  • Fences: Cat fences must be much taller than the fences we use to keep our dogs in, because cats are great leapers! If you erect a fence in your yard, ensure that it is tall enough to keep your pet in, and other creatures out. Wire mesh is generally a good type of fence to use for cats, and along the top of fence, placing the mesh at a 45 degree angle makes it hard for your cat to scale up the fence and climb out.

Supervised, accompanied outdoor timeMeredith with cat on leash

  • Leashes/harnesses: Most cats are not naturally-inclined to walk on a leash, but some can be taught. Cats do not like to feel restrained, so use a leash that is 4 to 5 feet long and made of a lightweight but strong material, such as nylon. Morning or evening in a quiet area is a good time to try taking your cat out on a leash. It will likely take your cat awhile to adjust to the idea of being on a leash, but some cats will end up loving the activity! You can also purchase cat harnesses or combination-harness-collars in order to further secure and have more control over your adventurous and curious feline.
  • Strollers: Believe it or not, there are strollers made just for cats and other pets! Much like the enclosed bicycle attachments made for small children, they have mesh windows for cats to look out of, and you can push your cat down the sidewalk with you as you walk just like you would with an infant in a stroller.
  • Carriers: Carriers for cats are also available for purchase from pet stores and retailers. Many are similar to infant carriers, with adjustable waist and shoulder straps. Some cats might object to this, but other cats, such as those that are very comfortable being held, might take to carriers well.

Screened-in porches or screened windows

Don’t underestimate the power of an open window! Just having a window with a properly-secure screen open for your cat to look out of can keep them occupied and satisfy their craving for the outdoors! Failing that, consider installing a cat door to your screened-in patio. Cats are known to love sitting on porches and patios, and screens ensure they cannot wander away, but still give them a chance to feel the sun and fresh air of the outdoors.

When utilizing any of these options for outdoor access, please remember to always make sure your cat has access to shade. Cats love to sit and roll in the sunlight, but like humans, cannot sit in direct sun for extended periods of time without consequence.

With some foresight and planning, you can allow your cat some limited access to the outdoors without putting them in danger. –Kelsey Hardin

Kelsey Hardin is a crazy cat lady and graduate of the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Living back in Columbus where she grew up, she spends her spare time writing, cuddling cats, crafting, spending time with friends, and catching local concerts and theatre shows.

Photo credits:

Cats looking out window–X Posid
Cat on Leash–Meredith Southard