The first time you let your precious cat go out on their own is a nerve-wracking moment, but there are things you can do to make sure that all goes to plan.
No doubt about it, letting your cat go out on their own for the very first time is a challenging moment.
How can you let that lovable ball of fur out of your sight at all? Let alone into the great unknown of the far end of your garden, other people’s gardens… and who knows where else?
I’ve had cats my whole life and they have all been outdoor cats, able to come and go as they please during the day. But when we got our cat Rita a few years ago, I still found it daunting to let her out on her own for her first time. It had been many years since I had taken that initial leap of faith and I couldn’t quite remember how I had done it.
Eventually, we took the plunge and off she went… out of sight… Had we done enough training? Did she know where her home is? Within about three minutes we were panicking and calling her name in the neighbours’ gardens.
Of course, we hadn’t just opened the door, let her out, and hoped for the best! We had spent time building up to it and making sure it went smoothly and there are many things you can do in the weeks beforehand, as well as on the day itself.
Linda Ryan, a certified animal behaviourist with a wealth of experience working with leading feline organisations, certainly sympathises with how nerve-wracking it is to let your cat out for the first time.
“It’s so scary and I totally empathise with anybody going through it,” she said.But she explains that with the right planning and approach you can have confidence about it.
Get your cat used to coming in and out the cat flap.
The right age
The first thing to consider is your cat’s age. It’s not safe or appropriate to let an
eight-week-old kitten outside on their own. “They can’t look after themselves, they’re just babies,” says Linda. Cats need to be at least in their adolescent phase, which can be around the four-to-seven-month period, depending on the breed, she explained.
“Then of course they’re old enough to have full physical ability and the cognitive processes to look after themselves,” says Linda.
And even if your cat is well beyond the kitten stage — perhaps you have rehomed an adult cat or you have moved with an established cat to a new area — keep them inside for at least a month and do all you can to make life indoors fun, so you can get them attached to their new home.
Linda strongly advises against letting any cat out before they are neutered. “They need to be neutered because neutered cats are much less likely to roam and go mate-seeking. The range in territory is so much smaller in a neutered animal.”
In addition, they need to be vaccinated, flea-treated, wormed and chipped, and have a snap-safe collar on with their details, so that if they do go astray, they can be returned to you. It’s also a good idea to let your nearby neighbours know that your cat is about to start going out and ask them not to talk to her or feed her so that she doesn’t get confused about where her home is.
Before your cat’s first outing, make sure the area immediately outside the cat flap is cat friendly. Don’t leave them exposed. Cats like to be able to hide away from things that startle them or when they are unsure, so position a few pots and planters and some garden furniture around the area.
You could also consider making a safe, temporary confined area outside, immediately around the back door so that they can explore without the risk of going too far for their first few excursions.
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