Is it safe for my cat to stay out at night?

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Celia Haddon offers her advice to a reader who's cat tends to stay out during the night...

Q) My cat is allowed to come and go as she pleases. However, sometimes she will stay out overnight. So I decided to start locking the cat flap at night. She has now seemed to have realised that once she is in, she won’t be able to get out again, so just stays out more often. I don’t want to put her off coming home! Will it do her any harm if she has the occasional night away?

Gillian Hope, Your Cat reader

A) Celia says: Most cat authorities recommend keeping a cat in at night for their own safety. Traffic accidents are more likely to occur in the dark. At night, there are also badgers and foxes about. These animals would not attack a healthy cat but might attack juveniles, the elderly, or a cat limping home. Persevere in locking the cat flap at night and she will eventually adapt.

She needs some extra motivation to come home at the correct time. You could feed her last thing, preferably at the same time each evening, after you have shut the cat flap. This last meal should be a meal she especially enjoys. This won’t work if you feed ad lib. In this case, you need to give her a special treat last thing; a treat that she only gets for coming in at the right time. Dreamies, dried prawns or chicken, or even a defrosted prawn should do the trick.

It would also help if you taught her to come when called. Most cats get used to hearing their name in ordinary conversation, so it is a good idea to use a different command word when you want them to come to you. Start calling her to come to you when she is in the house and reward her lavishly when she does. Then call her when she is outside and the cat flap is still open. Reward her until her behaviour is reliable. Then, and only then, use the same command call at night when the cat flap will be closed after she comes home for her food. You will also need to call her to you during the daytime sometimes, so that she doesn’t get the idea that this particular call always means the flap will be closed later.