Inny or Outtie
January 18, 2010 7:32 AM   Subscribe

New country kitten: How long before we let him go outside?

I think he's about 8 weeks old, though he could be a little older. We've had him inside for the past couple of weeks and he is doing great. We live on some land, so eventually I want him to be an indoor/outdoor cat. He's an orange, tabby kitten. But I'm not sure how long we should wait before letting him outside? Also, he hasn't gotten his shots yet, (he was a stray) so I should probably do that before letting him out. But how long for this country kitten?
posted by Rocket26 to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Going outside

Your kitten should not be allowed outside until at least a week after it has finished its first course of vaccinations at about 13 - 14 weeks old (depending on the vaccine). Once it is fully vaccinated and has become used to life in your house, you can start to let your kitten go outside. Choose a dry day (if possible) and a quiet time and accompany your kitten outside, allowing it to explore the new environment. Continue to accompany the kitten until it is used to your garden and can find its way back to the house without difficulty. It is best not to leave your kitten outside alone until it is 6 months old.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:44 AM on January 18, 2010

Going by the title of your question, I gather that there is some chance that you will keep him inside instead? This is highly recommended, as it will greatly increase his expected lifespan.
posted by fish tick at 7:44 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest waiting a good long time, and then reintroducing him to the outdoors in stages, under direct supervision. Young kittens are very vulnerable to even small predators, and they are also prone to wandering off and losing their way home. Wait until he's had his shots, been neutered (and preferably microchipped), and gotten larger and more resourceful. And do keep an eye on him at first until you're convinced he knows his way around.

Cats that go outdoors run greater risks and are less likely to live to a peaceful old age, but their lives are also probably more fulfilling.
posted by timeo danaos at 7:52 AM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please, please consider having him as indoor only. If you must take him outside, consider harness training him, or having a very secure enclosure for him. Cats are a prime target for stray dogs and coyotes, both of which are becoming a serious problem in many parts of the US.

As to age, as old as possible, such that he has had a greater majority of his vaccinations, if not already been fixed as well.
posted by strixus at 8:09 AM on January 18, 2010

You might also want to use this time to train him to a harness and leash. He'll probably acclimate to that much better while he's young, and that way if you want him to enjoy some outdoor time with good supervision and restraints, you can do that before letting him out on his own, if that's the option you're going with.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:09 AM on January 18, 2010

Post vaccination for certain, and make sure that he's had feleuk and FIV shots. Those are common in the feral/wide populations and are pretty much fatal if he gets them. That means 2-3 months for most vets. He'll need a couple sets of shots before he's had the whole course.
posted by bonehead at 8:25 AM on January 18, 2010

Regarding the in/out question, our stray momcat had three kittens. One ended up being an outside cat, two stay inside. They told us which they preferred. I recommend just listening to yours and seeing what he says. If he shows no interest in going outside, he's an inside cat. If he shows a lot of interest in what's going on out there and fights to get out when you open the door, and if he's bored and fidgety inside, he's an outside cat.

In our case, his mom was (is) around to show him how to handle himself outside. I wouldn't know how to help your little guy who sounds like he's separated from mom.
posted by fritley at 8:37 AM on January 18, 2010

Best answer: Definitely don't take him out until he's been to the vet and had all of his shots. While you're there, he should get a full checkup, and you can ask your vet this exact question. Your local country vet will know your area better than us and can tell you about the various predator risks, as well as give you a better idea of your cat's age.

You'll get a lot of people here imploring you to keep your cat indoors, but depending on your lifestyle you might be the type of family to leave your doors open all the time, and it may be best for you and your cat to make sure he's comfortable outside and can find his way back home. Use this time when he's very young to acclimate him to going in a carrying crate, and being in a harness, sometimes with a leash and sometimes not. You still shouldn't take him outside, though, because he can get bitten by various bugs that carry a myriad of diseases to which cats are susceptible.

A good vet will check your kitten out right now, answer your questions, and make you an appointment for shots when he's big enough.
posted by Mizu at 8:37 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kitten needs to know where home is and that it is always there. He has to be pretty grown-up to figure that out, since his mother isn't there to show him. You have to do that, Kitten also has to be big enough and wary enough to avoid not only dogs and coyotes but also raptors if you have any. A Chihuahua down my road was taken by a hawk a few months ago. Seconding MuffinMan: not before six months.
posted by jet_silver at 8:53 AM on January 18, 2010

I hate to pile on, but to add to what's already been said: If you're going to let him be an outside cat, be prepared for the possibility that you may one day find your kitty mortally wounded by wildlife or run over in the road. Or, he may walk out the door one morning and simply disappear without a trace, leaving you to imagine all kinds of awful scenarios without ever knowing what really happened.

If you're OK with that, then definitely wait until after he's vaccinated AND FIXED.
posted by usonian at 8:53 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

It depends where you live, a bit.

Are there predators who attack cats in the area (coyotes, for example)? If so, never.
Are you in a place where there's a real winter? If so, only after winter is really, truly, totally over.

So, given that: your kitten should have all their shots up to date -- I'd wait until a few weeks after the 2nd shot, honestly -- and have been neutered at least a month ago (to make sure all healing is done). PLUS the cat should be 6-8 months old.
posted by jeather at 9:09 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I always thought it was good for cats to be outdoors- I live in an area and grew up with people that had outdoor cats, and it seems very natural to have cats that come and go as they please. And he does show interest in going out, already, which is why I was asking. Every time we leave the house it looks like he's just vying to go out.
posted by Rocket26 at 9:33 AM on January 18, 2010

Best answer: I understand the reasons people want to keep pets indoors, but....

...unless there is a very obvious and present danger - like a main road - it seems to me awfully unnatural to confine to the house. Cats are outdoor creatures. They explore, chase, climb, rummage about. I feel the same way about overactive efforts to derisk kids' lives too. Life is risky, but that doesn't mean we should shy away from all risk. As long as you can cope with the risks, the cat won't give it a second thought, of course.

One halfway house, of course, is to not let the cat out at night. I don't know the precise stats, but it dramatically reduces the risk of injury. Some of the more clever cat flaps like Pet Porte (a UK brand) have a night mode, for example.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:33 AM on January 18, 2010

Cats are "big kittens" at 6 months and "small adults" at 1 year, if that helps you decide. This will also depend on the size of your specific cat. And he absolutely MUST have his shots and be accustomed to wearing a collar/tags before he goes out.

Most cats will be sufficiently safe in a more rural area if they have a means of escape such as a cat door and a couple of trees in case something gets between them and the door. (Cities are far more dangerous.) Your cat is not automatically doomed to a short life if he is allowed to roam out-of-doors.

Also on preview: Winter is not usually a problem with cats, because they tend to hate any kind of wet or cold weather. Just make sure he has a litter box inside if the snow is really deep so he's not forced out.
posted by anaelith at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2010

Please, please do not let the cat outside. I love cats to bits, but I love the natural environment more. There is nothing natural about cats. They do not belong in any ecosystem. They will kill birds they have no business killing - many endangered and ones most have never heard of. Humans have introduced them to environments they would not have been found in otherwise.
posted by waterandrock at 10:09 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW: I grew up with outdoor cats, and not a single one (and we had plenty) ever made it past five or six years old. I didn't have a cat die of old age until I started keeping them indoors when I left my parents' house. Sure, your kitten acts like she wants to go outside; she's a kitten and she wants to go everywhere and do everything. This will pass, and she'll be happy enough as an indoor animal. And much, much healthier and safer.
posted by something something at 10:20 AM on January 18, 2010

Here's a perspective from the American Bird Conservancy.
posted by waterandrock at 10:23 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

My cat was around 8-10 weeks old at this time of the year when I got her, and I started letting her follow me outside for early garden preparation/etc. in late March. Watching me turn over soil held her interest enough that she didn't stray far, and she seemed to get a pretty good idea of the "boundaries" of her domain.

The one big tip I have from growing up around "farm cats" is to make sure your cat is always up before you go on any long walks or extended hikes through the woods. They will follow you, and once they have been through a new area with you they are almost certain to return without you.

If it's a male cat, make sure to get him neutered as early as possible. Male cats can smell female cats in heat at ridiculous distances. Growing up, we'd have neighbors a mile away call us because one of our male cats was... courting their female cat.
posted by Benjy at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2010

something something: FWIW, all of the cats that I had growing up lived to a very ripe old age. And they all went outside. Every day and often every night. One of our cats lived to be 19 and just a few months ago we finally had to put our 20 year old cat to sleep. My parents currently have a 12 year cat that we fully expect to continue the tradition. Just because you had bad luck with your cats does not mean that all cats need to live inside.

As per the actual question of how long to wait, not whether to do it at all, I would definitely wait until the cat is vaccinated but not much longer after that. I think that kittens are better at learning and adapting to new situations and that your cat will be more comfortable outside the sooner it gets to spend time there. I probably wouldn't let the cat outside when I wasn't home until I felt like it was big enough to take care of itself though.

Also, I have known a few people recently who, after a few completely supervised sessions, let their kittens learn to be outside by just leaving the door open. The cat could venture out when it wanted to but could also run back inside if it got scared. This method seemed to work since it let the cat decide what it was ready for.
posted by horses, of courses at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2010

And geez, I'm surprised at all the "keep him indoors" answers. Most of the farm cats I grew up around lived well into their teens.
posted by Benjy at 10:35 AM on January 18, 2010

Having grown up on a farm and had cats as a kid that went outside and lived to ripe ages (including one to 22 years who eventually had to be put down due to kidney failure and dementia - not due to becoming coyote food!), I'm glad you're letting your cat out. He will be fitter and happier because of it.

One thing I'd recommend is trying to train him to come when called as you introduce him to the outdoors. My cats that go out are kept inside after dark (as I now live in an urban residential neighbourhood) and the only way I accomplish this through the knowledge that I can clink together the saucers in which I give them their wet food and know that wherever they are, they'll come running home immediately. If you can get him to come (by randomly giving treats about two thirds of the time he comes to a sound like that) you'll feel much safer about letting him out.

Also, he'll surely be eating mice - ask your vet about a de-worming program for your little guy.
posted by Kurichina at 10:38 AM on January 18, 2010

Ah yes - getting your cat back in.

I keep the cheapest of cheapo frozen prawns in my freezer. I defrost them in the microwave - in small portions - for my cat. When whistle my cat, she knows she is going to get some prawns, and shoots back through the cat flap at some speed from wherever she's been.

It's failed only once. And just at the point I started wondering where she was I found I had, in fact, accidentally shut her in a bedroom.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2010

One thing I'd recommend is trying to train him to come when called as you introduce him to the outdoors.

Yes to this. I grew up with farm cats that were indoor/out. The vast majority lived to a ripe old age. All of them knew to come when called at night so they could either be put in the barn with the barn dogs or in the house or garage.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:44 PM on January 18, 2010

Response by poster: I do sympathize with the birds, for sure, and it is something to consider. However the argument that cats don't belong in nature truly doesn't not make a lot of sense. Aren't cat descendants of wildcats? And even more so, humans have introduced tons of things to the environment, pretty much everything we use (cars, houses, razor blades, computers)... so I'm not sure that cats are doing the damage, honestly.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2010

Wildcats are not the same as domestic cats and do not populate the planet to the same extent or have the same lifestyle. The domestic cat is long removed from its ancestor in Egypt.

According to Stanley Temple, a University of Wisconsin professor, rural cats kill 39 million birds every year in Wisconsin alone.

Rural cats do a lot more damage than urban cats.

Please read this page from the University of Michigan.

This page also provides more details: Cats Kill Over 1 Billion Birds Each Year in the U.S.
posted by waterandrock at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and according to the National Audubon Society, "worldwide, cats may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction".
posted by waterandrock at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) Never.
2) if you are really, truly diametrically opposed to #1, clearly Kitten doesn't leave the house until after all shots & FOR THE LOVE OF GOD not until he's had those little kitten-making testicles of his lopped right off.
3) Not until he's spent some time out-of-doors with you, learning the lay of the land. Yes, they're smart, but they're not good with map & compass & they can indeed get lost.
4) Never

FWIW: my cats were raised in a concrete jungle - the most outdoor exposure they had was a balcony in Russia with a 3ft. high concrete wall & steel bars. When I moved them home to the lush 'burbs of Mpls (with a backyard full of ferns, a pond with ducks and resident muskrat, trees lousy with all manner of woodland creatures), I thought maybe they would enjoy the stimulation (on a leash, mind you). They were terrified. Hated it. Couldn't get back inside fast enough. 13 years later, & the 'great' out of doors still scares them shitless. They'll gladly take a nice screened-in window perch any day.
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 10:06 PM on January 18, 2010

so I'm not sure that cats are doing the damage, honestly.

for a small animal, any cat bite is a fatal bite, as they almost invariably become mortally infected. cats' mouths are a teeming cesspool. if you've ever been bitten through the skin, you'll know it.

I love cats. I have three indoor (all strays, all neutered) and two outdoor (both strays that wouldn't convert to inside, and both neutered). I would never release a cat to outdoors and I wish I didn't have the outdoor cats, but the only alternative is to have them euthanized. in my area, any cats (unlike dogs) taken to animal control are immediately euthanized (that same day), not because the supply exceeds the demand, but because there is no demand.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:38 AM on January 20, 2010

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