Tips and advice for transitioning an indoor-only cat to going outside

Tips and advice for transitioning an indoor-only cat to going outside


In the UK, the vast majority of our domestic pet cats live indoor/outdoor lives, which means that while they have a home and every opportunity to be inside when they like, they can also go outside and explore the world freely. For many cats, this means being able to come and go through a cat flap at all hours of the day and night as it suits while other cats may be kept in during the night-and comparatively, only a small proportion of the UK’s cats live indoors only.

There are a whole host of different reasons behind why a cat might live indoors-only, and for some cats and owners, this is the best solution-but some cats that have lived indoors their whole lives may be able to go outside if circumstances change, and this means some owners are faced with the idea of making a safe transition.

In this article, we will share some tips and advice for transitioning an indoor-only cat to going outside safely and happily. Read on to learn more.

Why transition?

The majority of the cats in the UK go outside when they want to, but there are a whole host of different reasons behind why a cat might live indoors only.

For some cats, indoor life might be the only safe and viable solution-such as if your cat has a disability or health condition that will either place them in danger outside, or pose a risk to other cats. In this situation, the cat in question will need to live inside for life. Hairless cats too like the Sphynx are not well suited for free access to the outside world and of course, if you live in a flat without your own entrance, or live in an area that is unsafe in terms of roads, your cat may need to live inside too.

It is also common for pedigree cats used for breeding to live indoors, or indoors with access to a secured run. However, once the cats in question are no longer used for breeding, they may be sold on (or simply retired) and then, may have the opportunity to go outside.

Regardless of the reasoning, making the transition to indoor/outdoor life is something that should be managed carefully, to give your cat the best possible start in their new territory!

Before you begin

There are a lot of things to consider before you start allowing an indoor cat to go outside, although they usually take to it very quickly after their initial confusion! First of all, if you have recently got the cat in question, you should keep them inside with you until they are thoroughly settler-longer than you would keep an indoor-outdoor cat after a move.

When the cat has fully settled with you, which may take a few weeks or even months, you can think about them going out.

A cat that has always lived inside will never have been exposed to strange cats and other things in the outside world, so not only will they need to get streetwise when they first go out, but you must also ensure that they have received all of their vaccinations and of course, that they are neutered. Microchipping is a must too, in case they do get lost or wander off. Whether or not you wish to put a collar on your cat to show your ID details is a matter of personal choice-there is merit to this in some respects, but also risks for cats with collars, particularly outside.

It can take time for a cat to learn to use a cat flap, and also you need to ensure that your cat can always get back inside if they want to, and are never closed out or left uncertain of how to get inside. However, how your cat will react when they do get outside can be hugely variable! Most cats will stay close to the house at first, not move very far and generally explore within a short range of space with their home in sight.

Others, however, might start to see the fun in being outside very quickly, and they may take off out of sight in short order! This can of course be worrying for the owner, but even a cat that has never been out before is highly unlikely to get lost or disorientated, and they are unlikely to go too far. This does mean though that you will be at your cat’s whim when it comes to them returning when it suits them, not when it suits you!

Going out

Some cat owners taking their pet outside for the first time take them out with a harness and lead. If your cat tolerates this, you may wish to give it a go, however it is not really necessary for your cat-only your own peace of mind!

You will probably want to go out with your cat the first couple of times that they go out, and restrict them to staying inside initially when you are not there to supervise/let them in and out, so pick a time when you are going to be home all day, in case your cat gets carried away and stays outside for ages!

Their access to the house should remain consistent too-the same door or window, which should always be open when they are out. This should be the door or window that you ultimately plan to put the cat flap in (if you intend to get one) so that your cat gets used to going to the same place.

You may want to encourage your cat to follow you outside, but never plonk them outside or try to push them into going out-let them do it in their own time.

Don’t feed your cat before they go out-this will help to encourage them to come back to eat later. Also, it helps to train your cat to come when called by shaking food or treats, and then you will be more likely to be able to call them back when they are outside.

Ultimately, letting an indoor cat outside for the first time can be fairly nerve-wracking for the owner-however, cats take it in their strides, and will get a huge amount of additional enrichment from going out.

Keep an eye out during the first few weeks for any signs of problems-like scrapping with other cats as they all get used to another cat on the territory-but otherwise, try to relax and not worry too much!

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