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Cats - In Or Out?

Cats are largely nocturnal creatures, and you may have noticed your cat becoming a lot livelier during the evening, even if you are at home all day to entertain them. It's just how cats are - they sleep for a lot of the day, and then come out to play in the evening. It used to be traditional in Britain to 'put the cat out' at night, as part of the locking up routine, and certainly until the widespread availability of proprietary cat litter in the 1950s, there wasn't much choice in the matter. Non-pedigree cats often used to be kept for their skills as a 'mouser' in keeping down the rodent population in sheds and in the garden, rather than purely for the pleasure of their company as much-loved family pets as they tend to be now. The advantages of keeping your cat in at night are better understood these days, and even for people whose cats have a cat flap and can come and as they please, there are a number of risks in allowing your cat out once it becomes dark. Cats are at a far greater risk of being killed or badly injured in a road traffic accident at night than during the daytime, especially if you live near a main road, and you then wouldn't necessarily know about such a mishap for several hours. Cats become mesmerised by car headlights in the same way that wild rabbits are, and can then become transfixed by the glare and not move as a vehicle is speeding towards them - in daylight, they stand a better chance of seeing a car coming, and equally, they will be more visible to drivers. Even if you have a cat flap, a cat that has the option of going out at all times will probably go out on a nightly hunting spree, and you may emerge in the morning to an array of dead rodents as mice and rats are also nocturnal and far more likely to become feline prey once it's dark. If you are very unlucky, your cat might even bring you a live mouse to play with during the night! Most domestic cats (as opposed to those living in the wild) hunt for the fun of it, and not because they're hungry, they just see it as a good game. Cats are very territorial and sometimes try their luck at extending their 'patch' at night, and if some of their feline neighbours are of like mind, or there are feral cats about, fights are subsequently more likely to happen then. Even if your own cat is safely tucked up indoors, you have probably often heard catfights going on in neighbouring gardens, and cats can be very vocal at night. With more wild animals making their way into our towns and cities now, there is also a risk of cats being attacked by foxes and badgers. There has unfortunately been an increase in the number of cats being stolen for a wide variety of reasons, and statistically this is far more likely to happen at night when the perpetrator stands less chance of being caught. It's not just valuable pedigree cats that are getting taken like this, but also non-pedigrees too. However, even during the daytime there are additional risks associated with letting cats out - they can become shut in sheds and outbuildings, there's a possibility of being accidentally poisoned by coming into contact with garden chemicals, they sometimes pick up fleas, ticks and diseases by contact with other animals, they bring home members of the bird population (which is often very unpopular with the neighbours), and they occasionally become stowaways in vehicles left with their doors temporarily open. And if you're out during the day, and your cat discovers a neighbour who is in, especially if there is a warm fire to curl up in front of, you may find your cat gradually moving his things next door, especially if your neighbour starts to feed him! Many cats are happy to live indoors all the time, but for many non-pedigree cats in particular, patrolling the neighbourhood is part of their lifestyle although it is wise to keep all cats in at night for the reasons mentioned above, even if it does mean having a litter tray overnight. For those cats that do go out during the day, it might be worth bearing the following tips in mind:

  • Make sure your cat is neutered whether it is male or female - entire cats are far more likely to wander looking for a mate, and may sustain serious injuries in fights or pick up unpleasant diseases or infections.
  • Have your cat micro-chipped - and keep the contact details up-to-date. This is much better than a collar with a tag that could possibly get lost, or could even choke your cat if they got tangled up with it in a tree or in a tight spot.
  • Keep worming treatment and vaccinations up-to-date
  • If you live near a busy road, try and keep your cat in during peak periods, and try and make these coincide with meal times so that they are happy to be indoors.
  • Don't encourage the local bird life into your garden with bird tables and food - they may become an impromptu additional meal for your cat!
  • Watch out if your neighbours have removal lorries or delivery vans visiting - cats will often seize the opportunity to hitch a ride, unnoticed.
  • If your neighbour is encouraging your cats to visit by feeding them, have a quiet word about it - you could always say that Puss is on a special diet so that there won't be any awkwardness.

Keeping a cat indoors at night, and for certain periods during the day, will necessitate a litter tray at times, but manufacturers of modern cat litter focus on helping owners to keep smells to a minimum, and if trays are cleaned regularly, it shouldn't really be much of a problem.


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