Helping Our Kitten Get Ready for the Great Outdoors
April 18, 2010 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Our kitten is slowly becoming a cat and we'd like to start prepping him for the transition from being an indoors cat to being an outdoors cat. What's the best way to do this and how will we know when he's ready?

Our kitten is about 7 or 8 months old now and has spent pretty much all of that time indoors with us. The plan has always been that once he got microchipped, de-sexed and registered (all of which he is now) and was one year old, he'd become an outdoors cat. With his one year birthday coming up in just a few months, we'd like to start preparing him to become an outdoors cat.

The plan is to let him roam, explore and play outside during the day, when we're not at home, and bring him inside at night so he can sleep on our bed and not get into any midnight-fights with the other neighbourhood cats. We're not near any busy roads so he should be safe from cars. There's also a pet-flap for the downstairs part of our house which we'll keep open, so while he won't be able to come upstairs during the day, he'll be able to come inside downstairs whenever he likes.

What my wife and I want to know is, what is the best way to do this? What should we be doing over the next four months to get him ready for the move outside? How can we be sure that once we let him out the door he'll come back to us? Any tips and pointers would be handy. And how will we know he's ready for the great outdoors?

Finally, please don't give me any answers that say "don't let him outdoors." I googled this question before I posted it here and most of the stuff I read was cat people getting angry and upset about people who would even think about letting their cat outside. I don't want that kind of emotion or advice in here, please. The fact is that the decision has been made to let our cat go outside, we just want to make sure he's ready and, perhaps most importantly, will come back when night falls.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Effigy2000 to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If he's happy indoors, why do you want him to be an outdoor cat? I'm not against them necessarily, but unless there's some reason to force him outside, I'm not clear about why you're doing this.

Bear in mind that, once he is out, you cannot necessarily make him come in and out on your schedule. A happy cat who is well treated will generally come home if he is able to, but when he wants to.
posted by jeather at 6:37 PM on April 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

I would start out by taking him around the yard on a leash or a harness. This way he can't bolt and get lost before knowing his way around the place.

If you can find pet insurance that will be worth anything, subscribe now. Our cat ripped a giant hole in his belly while exploring our yard, which was very familiar to him, which was a VERY expensive surgery. Injuries like that don't really happen inside.

Do your neighbors know about your decision? Are any of them going to try to kill your cat? Does he have a collar? Flea collar? ID tag? Microchip?
posted by mkb at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2010

You might want to look into pet health insurance since the incidence of health related problems is much higher in outdoor cats, you'll want to be able to save some money when he/she comes home sick.

You'll also want to keep handy a guide as to how to deal with poison related issues, common in outdoor cats.

Hopefully you haven't declawed him/her, the cat will need to be able to protect itself from other cats, dogs, and predators that will want to eat it.

As for the possibility of the cat coming back at night... don't count on it, there's a good chance it will fall prey to another animal, a car, or someone who doesn't care for the fact it is killing the birds at the feeder...
posted by HuronBob at 6:43 PM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have owned outdoor cats when I was younger. Was never personally able to get them to return at any particular time. If the food gets put out only in the evenings, he might come home for that, but chances are unless your area is already devoid of small wildlife, he'll be doing a lot of supplementing of his diet once he's outside, so hunger isn't always enough. Ours always just came back whenever they felt like it, which in several cases eventually meant "a couple times a week" and dwindled eventually to not at all. (We still saw them in the neighborhood for quite some time after that--they just didn't come home.) You just really don't have any control over it once they're not actually in your home anymore, I don't think.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:44 PM on April 18, 2010

"If he's happy indoors, why do you want him to be an outdoor cat? I'm not against them necessarily, but unless there's some reason to force him outside, I'm not clear about why you're doing this."
posted by jeather at 12:37 PM on April 19

Couple of reasons. Firstly, while he is happy indoors, you can tell he longs to explore outside. He's an inquisitive cat and he'll climb to any vantage point that lets him get a good look at the world outside.

Secondly, we rent our house. While our landlord allows us to have a pet, it's on the condition that our cat becomes an outdoors pet when he's ready to be one.

"I would start out by taking him around the yard on a leash or a harness."
posted by mkb at 12:39 PM on April 19

We tried putting him in a harness. He did not like it. I've since held him and taken him for walks outside. He liked that much more.

I like the pet insurance idea. Seems reasonable and sensible. Will look into it.

HuronBob: No, he is totally not declawed.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:46 PM on April 18, 2010

[few comments removed - OP has indicated they are planning to have an outdoor cat. go to MeTa if for some reason you can't answer the question being asked.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:47 PM on April 18, 2010

I've never known anyone with an outdoor cat that was able to get them to come home on any particular schedule. Cats aren't exactly the most trainable of animals, they tend to just do what they want.
On rare occasions, there will be cats that just like to chill in the yard and never stray far from the home, and in that case, you can just lure it in with food.
posted by ishotjr at 6:49 PM on April 18, 2010

I'm not at all against outdoor cats. I appreciate the points those people are making, but the confined cats make me sad (as sad as their often declawing them makes me, actually.)

If it were me I'd set up a cat door, demonstrate it (push the cat in and out of it a few times), and then let him do what he wants. He will soon be ready to explore.

It does work best when the door leads to a garage or some other human habitat (discourages use by wild things, feline and other - at least it takes them longer to get to the kitchen). They have fancy ones with magnetic keys that attach to the pets collar too. The best set up I ever had was an old fish tank with one side and one end removed and turned upside down, and bits of heavy terry cloth on the open sides (this was in a high air condition use area. The cat could go though the window, into the tank, and watch all the world before going out into it. (I would have been even better if we hadn't had three cats, all of whom wanted to park in the tank for hours at a time.

I don't have a cat just
posted by Some1 at 6:54 PM on April 18, 2010

I have an indoor/outdoor cat. He is 9. My last one lived til 15 (died of cancer) Just to counter all the horror stories.

Mine have always just kept escaping til I gave in and let them be in/out. But what worked for a friend who was more cautious was to in the beginning let them outside w/ you while you are there. Puttering in the garden, etc and then bring them in. Show them the cat door and reward with them treats when they use it in the beginning. As well as give them a treat whenever they come inside for the first little while of their own will.

My cats have always come home at night and will scratch at the metal of the screen door to get attention to let them in if I am not paying attention.

Be warned tho w/ the treat thing or you will end up with a cat like mine who expects a treat every time he comes in/out and will circle laps around the house and go in and out the front and back door to get them :)
posted by kanata at 6:56 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you get him a collar, be sure to get a breakaway collar. I tend to think that home-made collars (sewing elastic plus a name tag with phone number and email address) are ideal. Be sure to have his favourite treats to lure him home with, but generally it's best to stop letting him out at least 24 hours before you definitely absolutely need him to be home, no matter how tractable he might normally be, and even if he has never in his life stayed outside overnight: the one time that you need him to come in, he won't.
posted by jeather at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2010

Oh, your cat will come back. Especially since he's fixed. Once he's been outdoors for a while, the size of his "turf" will increase and you may see him less. But that should take a while to happen, and just because he is slow in returning and stays gone longer doesn't mean that he won't be back. If he doesn't come back, it will be due to a circumstance that you or the cat have no control over. It won't be because he doesn't want to come back. And I think neutered cats have generally smaller "territories" than un-fixed cats.

When you call / lure him back inside after his initial outdoor explanations, I think it would be wise to give him a special treat that he only gets when he comes back home. That could probably increase your chances of having him come home every night. Work on training him to "come here" just like you would a dog. Cats have excellent hearing, so you can probably call him from your doorstep at night even if you don't see him. Really, he'll want to return regularly. No guarantee that it will be on the schedule you want, though.

Make sure he has a "break-away" style collar on at all times. If he isn't used to wearing a collar yet, start making him wear one now. Even if he's micro-chipped and neutered, someone (read: a kid) who meets your nice cat may decide he needs adopting, if he doesn't wear a collar.
I'm assuming he's not de-clawed. That's essential. And of course, always stay current with his flea/tick preventatives, his shots, and his heartworm medicine.
If there ever is an accidental lapse with his heartworm preventative, make a vet appointment and ask for a heartworm test. Heartworms pose a much larger threat to cats than they do to dogs. Also keep an eye out for signs of wounds that may need treating, or any unusual skin features that could indicate cancer.
posted by Hdog at 7:04 PM on April 18, 2010

I don't think you need to do much. Be around the first time or two you let him out, leaving the door open so he can go in and out. Show him the cat flap, luring him through it the first time with food if necessary. Feed him in the evening when you want him to come in. You might try banging a can or something right before you feed him so there's a sound he's trained to come home to. Make sure he has his shots. That's about it -- you and he will figure all the rest of it out.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:08 PM on April 18, 2010

I noticed that once I started letting my cat out, she became a much happier cat so I believe in letting cats out if they want to be out. My kitty always comes back. Sometimes she just stays on my patio and sleeps on a cushion on one of the outdoor adirondak chairs. Its a risk to let your cat out, they say it shortens lifespan so keep that in mind, but I think its only fair to let your cat live a full life and if he/she wants to be outdoors he/she deserves the option. I never used a harness or leash. I just slowly let her out for longer periods of time. I started with staying with her outside and then let her explore on her own for an hour, going out to get her within an hour or so. She comes racing home when she hears me calling for her, tis really quite heart warming.

Again my cat always returns and if I'm delayed in letting her back in she usually has some very stern meows for me as I let her in. She doesn't like to wait. I never ever let her stay out overnight, however. Even though I'm in an urban area, there are foxes and perhaps a coyote (so i've heard) in my neighborhood that may come out at night. Be mindful of the cold and rain.
posted by dmbfan93 at 7:12 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Prop the door open so he can casually explore and then come back inside. He will probably only want to be outside for a few minutes at a time at first - the unfamiliar noises will probably scare him. He will gradually get more bold and his territory will expand.

Be sure to tell your vet that he's an outdoor kitty, too. If he hunts, and most outdoor kitties do, he will pick up more worms and parasites. My sister's cat receives an extra shot and is more closely monitored by the vet because she is an outdoor kitty.

My sister's cat comes back in for the evening about 90% of the time, but she also can go MIA for a couple of days at a time.
posted by Ostara at 7:26 PM on April 18, 2010

I have two cats. I mostly keep them indoors, but I let them out for a few hours a day. To bring them in, I feed them at a consistent time. They go out not so far away from their dinner time so they'll be hungry and come back. Also, I have a bell - pavlov dog style. It rings every time they get dinner or a treat (jingling around a treat bag also works) and they usually but not always come for that. You can train a cat in this manner, you just have to do it consistently and reward them for it.
posted by radiocontrolled at 7:38 PM on April 18, 2010

I trained my cats to come when I whistle a particular pattern. This, combined with feeding them at a regular time, makes it easy to get them to come inside when I want them.

The training is easy: Whistle immediately before feeding for a few weeks.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:38 PM on April 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have an indoor/outdoor cat. I've had her since she was a kitten, and she's about to turn 16, so it is possible to live a long, healthy life as an indoor/outdoor cat. She was abandoned in our neighborhood and we tried having her as an indoor cat, but we had a very elderly cat with whom she was totally incompatible, so we made her an "apartment" in our detached garage where she could be warm under a heat lamp at night and safe from predators, but was free to come and go. When our elderly cat died, we started letting her come in our house, but by then she was confirmed in her outdoor-loving ways. As far as I know she has never ventured further than the alley behind our house, and rarely ever leaves our back yard. She's gotten in a couple of fights but only one required a trip to the vet (for an abscessed bite wound). And she only ever killed one bird, so the bird lovers have nothing to complain about on her account.

I don't think you really need to do anything to prepare your cat. By now the cat knows that you are the source of good things like dinner, so he'll come back. Just make sure he has a place he can go to get away from anything trying to attack him (another cat, a dog, a raccoon, etc.) Don't leave food out that would attract predators. Make sure he has a source of fresh water. Oh, and you'll definitely want to worm him regularly.
posted by HotToddy at 7:40 PM on April 18, 2010

I can't really speak for preparing a cat for the outside- mine just pushed her way through the dog door one day and that was that. My backyard is about 100 feet deep, but my cat was very cautious. She spent a week exploring our small patio before moving on to the grass just past the patio. Eventually she made it all the way to the back fence, but she mostly hangs around the patio when she's outside.

As far as getting your cat to come in at night, I started feeding my cat right before I go to bed. The cat comes in on her own as soon as it gets dark and hangs around her food dish.
posted by dogmom at 7:51 PM on April 18, 2010

I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats, and adopted one a few years ago on my own. There are definitely drawbacks - mainly location. If you're in a good spot for the cat and know you'll be there for years, then I say go for it. For though, I've moved about 4 times with my cat already, and it's super stressful trying to find an apartment where both me and my cat will be happy, and cat will be safe.

There are also some other drawbacks to consider - namely parasites. If your cat is a half-capable hunter, it will almost definitely get worms, fleas and ticks. I basically have to get my cat dewormed every fall, and have to keep up with the chemicals during the year to keep the fleas and ticks off. This wouldn't be much of an issue if she was purely outdoors, but if she's coming inside I'd rather not infest the place.

All that said, my cat loves her life, and I totally understand the desire to let your cat outdoors. It hasn't taken much for my cat to learn her new territory every time I've moved. I typically let her outside as soon as we arrive, and hang out with her a bit in the yard. I try to let her explore a bit and frequently come out to call her and bring her back to the apartment for food/snacks/attention. After a few visits back home, she pretty much knows home and she can roam free.
posted by pilibeen at 7:57 PM on April 18, 2010

You might consider getting a bell for its collar. This will make the bird people in your neighborhood (not to mention the birds) happy and less likely to get upset about your outdoor cat.
posted by alms at 8:06 PM on April 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, bell that cat. Very important if you care for Australia's native fauna.

But more generally, I don't think this will be a big problem. Do it a bit slowly, with the door wide open so he knows he can run back inside as soon as he wants to, with you nearby so he is reassured, and after a couple of sessions, getting longer each time, from 10 minutes up to a few hours, he'll be right.
posted by wilful at 8:11 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be around the first time or two you let him out

I'd be a little more protective than just "the first time or two." As folks have said, start by propping the door open and letting the cat realize it can go outside while you're hanging out nearby, or, better, when you have something to do in the yard that takes a chunk of time. No need for a leash if you start slow and treat the open door casually. Keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't get too scared or wander off too far then reward him when you go back inside. He might take to the great outdoors right away or not, you just have to watch and see. But having friendly people hanging around is a great inducement to stay close to home in the early stages.

After he's comfortable in the immediate area, what I've done that seems to work is play with the cat, then wander off a few yards, let the cat catch up, then play, wander, etc. I've done this with kittens (in a cabin on fairly isolated farmland) over the course of a few weeks and it really worked to give them a general understanding of a pretty big area. (It's also lot of fun.) My roommate did the same with his cat and she now knows a couple of trails in the woods behind our place and follows us on walks, loving all the sounds and smells. I doubt she goes down that way when she's by herself, but judging from where I've seen her wander home from, she's comfortable with the neighborhood around us in most directions.

I've never known anyone with an outdoor cat that was able to get them to come home on any particular schedule.

If ours is out at night she's almost never far from the door when we wake up, and if out during the day always shows up at dinnertime. I'm not sure who's trained who, but her schedule is pretty close to regular.

And FWIW, my last cat was also indoor/outdoor and lived to be 18.
posted by mediareport at 8:42 PM on April 18, 2010

When we had young cats we started by letting them out in the late afternoon before dinner. They're hungry and waiting for food so don't really go anywhere but also excited to explore. Be there for the first few trips, interact with him both inside and outside and try to act like it's all pretty normal. They generally don't bolt but instead slowly move further around looking at all the new things, so you can keep the trips fairly short. If they do bolt leave the door open and potter around outside in a low stress way so they can hear you and get back in when they return. I didn't leave mine outside while I was away from home for several weeks at first, that way someone was always around when they checked back in plus we could leave the door open for them to come and go. Then when they were feeling more confident and had shown they'd come home we started leaving them out during the day. I don't think you need a harness, that just makes going outside stressful for everyone, just start slow and short and keep it all low key as much as possible. He'll be fine. Giving him extra love when he is inside can be a good plan for the transition too, make it very clear where home is.

The one thing you can do now to get him ready is set up a feeding schedule so he gets something in the evening (even if it's just extra wet food or new biscuits) and always shake the biscuit tin when you feed him. It probably helps if you do a dinner call too although I know I feel kind of stupid doing that. Set up that association between the noise and food. Then be really shamless about bribing him to come in in the evening, shake the tin and always give a treat even if he's had dinner. Doing this with my current young cats saved so much effort and annoyance chasing a young cat around that doesn't really want to be inside, and they do come home every evening as soon as I call.

Evenings are the hardest time because cats quite like to be out at dusk. So we always make sure to get ours in before dark, once the sun goes down they get all contrary and skip just out of reach and act frisky. Daylight savings was a pain this year because we took a few days to realise we had to start getting them in earlier, but soon the call of the fireplace will do the job for us anyway. So be ready to start before it's dark, so much easier. Oh and if he does start playing the skipping out of reach games then use a laserpointer to get his attention then run him inside (so satisfying).

I'm not sure why you're waiting for one year. Ours all went out at about four-five months old (as soon as they were fixed) and my neighbours cat, about the same age as yours, has been running around playing with my cats for four months already. This whole transition really isn't a huge deal, just go for it whenever you feel ready.

There's nothing better than coming home from work to see your cat sitting on the letterbox waiting for you.
posted by shelleycat at 8:46 PM on April 18, 2010

I had a cat that was an indoor cat for a couple of years since we lived in a tiny third floor apartment. He seemed pretty miserable so my boyfriend of the time and I take him out in the car and on picnics. Note that as much as your cat might want to explore the outside, he/she may be a little apprehensive at first. I remember my cat cowering when the wind blew the grass! We later moved to a place with a fenced in yard and he spent most days outside and was a hundred times happier (once he'd gotten over the grass moving). At first we limited his time outside and hung around with him so he wouldn't be too nervous. It didn't take long before he was totally comfortable.

We had no problem getting him to come in. In fact he'd recognize my boyfriend's car pulling up when he came home form work, run up (when it had stopped) and follow him in. When we were home on the weekends, he'd cry to come in to use the litter box! He also came when he was called, although I have no illusions that it was because he felt he should listen to me, but rather that he thought there was a possibility that food would be involved. I agree with others that a consistent evening feeding time will make getting your cat back in at night more of a sure thing.

As another data point, a friend of mine has two mostly indoor cats that spend limited time outdoors when she is home. She also has no problem getting either of them to come in at night.
posted by kaybdc at 8:53 PM on April 18, 2010

I've been living with cats my entire life (42 years).

How to make the cat come home
When I still allowed my cats outdoors, I made no special arrangements as the cats knew where they lived, and returned home when they wanted to. As soon as the kittens could navigate the stairs I would let them out. Typically, the cats would return for their regular feed at night if they hadn't come back earlier. Some would come when they were called - others raised from the same litter wouldn't. It was a matter of feline preference.

One of our current cats, fat Gordon, used to occasionally escape and would run north and into a witch's neighbour's garage, where I was disinclined to follow him. The intermediate neighbour told me about 12 months later that the witch other neighbour missed Gordon, she used to feed him and look forward to his visits, so if someone else in the street begins to love your cat, feeds might not be a sufficient reason to come home regularly.

Stuff you may not be interested in reading
Issues I've had with outdoor cats include death due to dogs, cars, snakes; serious and expensive injuries from afore mentioned, plus possums, other cats, green ant bites, abscesses from grass seeds that have clung to the insides of their mouth; run-ins with cane toads. It's also been somewhat unpleasant catching the nearly dead bird and putting it out of it's misery or trying to climb the mango tree to rescue the cat from the green ants. On the upside, kitty trays a non-issue.

We have had a great deal of success with a kitty run built by professionals at the back corner of our house which they also provided finance for. However, with our next move, I intend to invent kitty tunnels out of netting, something like croquet hoops (but bigger to allow for our fatty boombahs) and some cable ties. Portable, cheaper than the instore stuff, and non-permanent.
posted by b33j at 9:06 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never known anyone with an outdoor cat that was able to get them to come home on any particular schedule. Cats aren't exactly the most trainable of animals, they tend to just do what they want.

Not true at all. When Sammy Katz was indoor/outdoor, I had no problem calling him in at night. Key to this, of course, is the fact that he reliably came when called. Eventually, I cut down on the time he was in to about 45 minutes between when I'd wake up and when I'd leave for work. Key to this was letting him out before I fed him, so he'd come in for noms.

That being said, don't be surprised if he goes missing on occasion. Less aware cat owners will tell you that this is no big deal, and that cats sometimes "go missing" (sometimes never to be found again). The only times that ever happened with Sam Katz was when he was stuck in neighbors' garages (two different ones, two different times) for week-long stretches. Had I not heard him meowing in either case, he likely would have starved to death--and indeed, disappeared for good. Indoor/outdoor cats will always come home if they can.

Eventually, I started keeping him in because I was tired of his getting into fights--despite the fact that he never went out at night--and catching fleas and worms, and I was worried about a rash of coyote-related cat deaths in my area. He's fatter now, but cat ownership is both cheaper and much less stressful. Maybe your landlord's guidelines are less weird in your area, but please don't expect cat ownership to be easy or stress-free if you go through with your plan--there are a lot more contingencies you'll need to be prepared for.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:24 PM on April 18, 2010

Just adding to the voices who say this really isn't a big deal - in the UK it's really quite rare to have an indoors-only cat. I've had lots of different cats over the years and they've always been indoors/outdoors.

As people have said, it's possible to train your cat to come back in. For example, before I feed my cat I tap a spoon against a glass, which makes a ringing noise that seems to travel far - sometimes I'll do it and he'll come sprinting back about five minutes later. He must have been really far away, but heard the noise and knew it was tea time.

The only thing I'd say is that sometimes my cat will have his tea, and go back outside exploring for the evening. Sometimes he's back when I go to bed, sometimes not (he has a cat flap into the main house so comes and goes as he pleases). In order to make sure he's in when you want to go to bed and keep him in it might be an idea to call him back in for tea and not let him out afterwards. Cats are easy to call home when they're hungry, but it might not be so easy after tea when your cat might be intent on night time exploration.

Make sure you're around the first few times you let your cat outside, and always do it when it's hungry. There's an old wives' tale saying that if you rub butter on the underside of their paws when they leave for the first time, it helps them find their way home more easily. I have no idea if it's true. You may find that on the cats first few trips outside he's too scared to go further than a few feet, or he may shoot outside and disappear within a few seconds. Don't worry either way, he'll come back. If you can leave the back door open the first few times it might help him, just making it easier to come and go without having to tackle the cat flap, which might freak him out a little at first. He'll figure it out, though, and love his new-found freedom!
posted by schmoo at 12:05 AM on April 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

No preparation necessary, IMHO, just be around the first few times when you let it out, and get a cat flap or similar arrangement for the cat to get back in at any time. It might need a retreat in the beginning, in case the other neighborhood cats get aggressive/territorial - they need to get used to the "new face". But this:

The plan is to let him roam, explore and play outside during the day, when we're not at home, and bring him inside at night so he can sleep on our bed and not get into any midnight-fights with the other neighbourhood cats. not going to work. Cats are not kids. The cat will come home on his/her own schedule, which will probably not be identical with yours. Cats love being outside late at night, because that's when the interesting stuff happens: mice and other critters come out when it gets dark, cat-groups meet, and yes, cats fight (or just stare at each other for hours). Good on you for letting the cat outside, it will be a very happy, balanced feline with a life of its own, not just a dependent pet!
posted by The Toad at 12:31 AM on April 19, 2010

I keep very cheapo shrimp bought from the supermarket in my freezer. When I whistle my cat to come in, she gets some of these defrosted in the microwave. That way she associates my whistle and her coming home with a treat.

If you want an outdoors cat but don't want your cat to go out at night, then Pet Porte and similar are good options. Firstly, the cat flap reads the chip in your cat's scruff (and DO get a chip put in) and will only let your cat in. Secondly, they have a night mode which means when the sun goes down the cat can't go out. I don't use it but it is there (you will need a litter tray for night times if you go down that route).
posted by MuffinMan at 12:56 AM on April 19, 2010

One thing you might want to know -- outdoor kitties have a very high risk of getting infected with the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Every time we've taken a stray to the vet, they have already been FIV+. Cats spread the virus when fighting and doing territorial biting. We currently have a stray who adopted us but has to live in his own room because, although he is a sweet, loving kitty to all people, he is extremely aggressive to our other (indoor) cats and is FIV+. And because of the FIV, he can never go outside again -- because he could spread it to the neighbors' outdoor kitties. (We have been trying for months to find a home where he can be the only cat. No luck yet.) Cats do like to fight over territory, unfortunately.

I'm not saying this to say "don't let the cat out," just to mention that this is something you might want to know more about. There is a vaccine but it is controversial whether it works at all, but if you decide to try it you would probably want to do that before the cat goes outside.

"The only times that ever happened with Sam Katz was when he was stuck in neighbors' garages (two different ones, two different times) for week-long stretches."

This happened to the cat I had when growing up, too. That cat was an indoor/outdoor cat and he lived to be 15. Died of kidney failure. But he was hit by a car as a kitten, and managed to survive, though he spent some time in the pet hospital. He had ragged ears from fighting and once got a big infected lump on his face -- also from fighting. He was a tough kitty.

I agree with what others have said about cats wanting to be outside at night when the fun stuff happens. And once they learn that they can get your attention by clawing at the door to get in or out, they will do it a lot. I like the Pet Porte idea (I didn't know about the night mode -- that's pretty cool!), but cats will make noise if they try to use a cat door and it is locked. Scratching, crying, etc. Make sure you can tolerate this. NEVER EVER get up and respond to the whining if at all possible, because when you do that, you teach the cat that the loud meowing works. He may not be smart enough to realize the door won't let him back out at night, so the night mode might help keep him in at night, and if feeding time is right before then, that would help. If you don't reward the midnight meowing, he might learn not to bother you at night. Especially if the Pet Porte automatically opens up at some point in the early morning.

I suppose if you made an electric can opener noise every evening the cat would come running. ;) Ours certainly would.

(Forgive me if this post is especially scattered. I'm really tired and probably should be sleeping instead of posting on AskMe.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:42 AM on April 19, 2010

Most birds do not associate bells with there is a subsided feral predator about to kill me for fun before it goes home for dinner, so while I would second the bell on the collar idea, please supplement it with bright colors so that your little introduced species doesn't do too much damage to everyone's wildlife.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:08 AM on April 19, 2010

Voice from the UK - where the idea of an indoor cat is a very strange one.

Mine have always been indoor/outdoor cats - the current pair are 7 years old. The last one was about 14 when she got clipped by a car (although she was clearly declining in health at this point anyway).

If you can, get a cat flap with a magnetic or IR lock on it. Some landlords are open to it, others aren't. Our last place wouldn't let us install a flap, so she used to ask to go in and out. You can hear a cat yelling through a door - whether you want to or not. We would normally come home to find her sat on the doorstep waiting for us and her dinner. First thing in the morning she'd want to go out, and not return until lunchtime. If we ignored her, she'd go away again and come back at 5pm.

If you have control of the door, he will occasionally bugger off when you want him in, just to spite you. Every now and then Chloe would refuse to come in, and force me to wander down the road at 2am, calling her name as quietly as I could. Every bloody time I'd suddenly realised she was silently stalking me...

If you can't get a cat flap, it's worth making sure there's somewhere with some shelter where Mog can wait out the worst of the weather.

Definitely nth-ing snapaway collars with a metal ID tag on them. Ours have never lost theirs but (in a pre-cat struggle) I learnt that the damned things do indeed allow cats to escape.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:29 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your cat is hard to see at night, something reflective on their collar is very sensible. My sister used to have a black cat that enjoyed lying in the middle of the road outside our house. It did not live into old age.
posted by kjs4 at 7:21 PM on April 19, 2010

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