1. Is your home in a suitable location?
Your home's location is by far the most important factor when deciding whether you should let your cat outside or not. Apartments and condos are not convenient for outdoor cat living because it's close to impossible to make sure your cat can easily go in and out of your home. In addition, balconies and patios may tempt your feline to climb up, increasing the risk of falling and fractures. Busy streets are another thing to avoid at all costs. Roughly 26 million cats die annually in the U.S. from traffic accidents. Cars pose by far the greatest outdoor risk to your pet, so if you live on a busy street it's best to keep your cat indoors.
2. How old is your cat?
Your cat's age is another important factor to take into account before letting your cat outdoors. Kittens are very vulnerable and defenseless, so it's best to keep them indoors at least until they are 13-14 weeks old. By then, they should be up to date on their vaccinations and micro chipped. If, on the other hand, your cat has always been an indoor cat and is older, she may not even want to venture outside, and that's OK. Adolescent and young adult cats are best equipped to explore the outdoors, while kittens remain vulnerable and older cats may be stressed out by the noises and unfamiliarity of the outdoor environment.
3. Are there other pets or wildlife roaming around in the area?
Have you heard any coyotes? Do you have bobcats or mountain lions roaming in the outskirts of your town? What about other neighborhood pets, including outdoor cats and dogs? Any of these animals may pose a threat to your cat. Despite its feisty nature, your cat will have a hard time confronting a coyote or a bobcat. Multiple cats in the neighborhood will often engage in territory wars and cat fights. In general, the fewer pets around, the safer it will be for your cat.
4. Can your cat retrieve to safety quickly and on his own terms?
If you let your cat outdoors, you need to make sure there's an open window, patio door or cat door for him to come in through. This door needs to be easily accessible from any location. You can use this same door when you let your cat out, so she remembers it and runs to it whenever she feels like going back home. If you opt for a cat door, leave the flap off the first few times you let your cat out. This will give her some time to get used to it. If you're leaving a window open, make sure your cat can quickly and comfortably leap through it if needed.
5. Is your cat healthy?
Finally, you need to consider your cat's overall health before letting her outside. Being up to date on shots, flee, tick and worms medication is a must. In addition, you can check with your vet if your cat has any specific health conditions. Suppressed immune system (due to an FIV virus or leukemia, for example) makes cats very susceptible to any disease. In such cases, it is better to keep them indoor and avoid infections that can result from the outdoors. Are your cat's paws in good shape? The outdoor terrain may be harsh on your cat's paws and cause bleeding and discomfort. In short, the healthier the cat, the more likely she is to enjoy the outdoors. If your cat has medical issues, keeping her indoors may result in a longer, more comfortable life.
Still unsure whether you should let your cat outside or not? Try taking her out with a harness first. A little stroll around the yard may give you a more definitive answer on whether your feline is ready to play outside. Make sure your cat is used to wearing a harness, by slowly introducing it indoors over at least a couple of weeks. The first outings should be supervised and followed by a tasty treat upon returning home for extra reassurance and motivation. Let your cat explore and slowly expand its territory without trying to force her out of her comfort zone. In the end, your cat may opt for staying in and that's perfectly fine. The important thing is to understand and balance the risks of letting your pet out versus keeping them indoors.