How to keep my kitten safe from the world and the world safe from my kitten?
May 9, 2011 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Another kitty question. My kitten will shortly have been with me for two weeks, and I plan to start letting her go outside. At first it will be supervised sessions only, but I want to eventually put in a cat flap and let her outdoors during the day time whenever she wants. What can I do to keep her as safe as possible?

We have neighbours over the back fence with big scary dogs that bark a lot. They seem to be chained almost always. Over the other side we have neighbours with chickens and ducks. Over the third fence there is a neighbour with an enormous Burmese cat that looks like it would eat my kitten for breakfast and then come looking for seconds.

Are there things I can do to minimise danger to her from the dogs and the other cat, and minimise HER danger to the chickens and ducks? Right now she is about a tenth the size of a chicken, so no problem, but I don't want her eventually causing trouble. I am thinking about visiting the neighbour with the Burmese and asking if she would be willing to introduce the two cats with us both present to reassure and intervene if there are problems. Would this be a good idea?

Will the kitten be naturally wary of the dogs, or should I make an effort to teach her to stay away from that garden? (Squirt her with a bottle of water if she tries to climb that fence?)

I'm actually less worried about the road, since it is quite a quiet street and the kitten would have to climb a high fence and then walk down a long driveway before getting there. I know she will do this at some point, though, so any thoughts on giving cats a healthy fear of cars would also be helpful. I do worry that she might decide to nap underneath my car or my neighbour's car (we share a driveway) and get squished, though.

Please don't turn this into an indoor/outdoor cat happiness debate. There is another thread for that. Let's assume for now that this kitty is going outside, and try to figure out how to make it safer for her.

(Other relevant information: she is microchipped, tattooed, vaccinated, spayed and has a collar with an early-bird-warning-system (bell) and our address and phone number on it.)
posted by lollusc to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, also probably relevant: our house was empty for four months before we bought it and the Burmese seems to have adopted it as her territory. She sleeps in our garden and hangs around the house all day every day. She leaves dead mice and rats on our front doorstep. She has spent a lot of time watching my kitten through our windows. I'm worried she might feel she needs to defend "her" territory against my cat.
posted by lollusc at 7:34 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: The kitten will almost certainly be afraid of big, scary, loud dogs, so I don't think you'll need to train her to stay away from them. I also don't think it's necessary to introduce her to the neighbor's cat, as that could produce some unnecessary tension between the animals that might not occur if they're just existing on the same block. They might be buds, they might just ignore each other, they might fight a lot, but introducing them will not affect that outcome in a positive way.

The issue that worries me the most is the chickens. I would definitely ask your neighbor with the cat if s/he's had any problems keeping the Burmese from preying on the chickens and ducks. I don't know if cats are all that inclined the prey on large-ish birds (though now I'm searching youtube for any hilarious videos of cats and ducks) but if your cat is a hunter then this might be problematic.
posted by slightly sissy tea hound at 7:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could try putting coyote rollers (diy link) along the top of your fence.
posted by galadriel at 8:32 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That Burmese seems to me like the only real potential trouble. Territorial adult outdoor cat, peeping in at adorable kitten through the windows? Then kitten goes outside? Hoooo boy. There's very little ways to control this, but you have the right approach: slow introduction to outside, supervision, etc. (I recently was in a very similar situation and it was a long year of keeping creepy neighborhood cat away from indoor/outdoor cat.)

As far as everything else... I live in a place with thousands of wild cats (I KNOW, IT'S SO GREAT!) and they all know how to cross the street. It's really amazing! Your cat will "get" the street after seeing it a few times. Once she learns how to climb or otherwise beat the fence. Which will be fast.

Your soon-to-be-brave cat friend will learn via rebellion. Control is gonna be hard. The best possible thing you can do is teach her to come running when you shake a treat bag. It saved us many, many, many nights of anxiety (and many mornings of night being late to work) that the gato (RIP) was a giant snack-whore. So when it's time to come in, you shake the bag, give her a treat, blammo, she's your cat-slave.

And yes. You always check under the car.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:36 PM on May 9, 2011

Response by poster: The reason that I am not willing to turn this into an indoor/outdoor debate is that I am on the indoor side of it already. My husband is not. We have had this argument before. He was not willing to have a cat that couldn't go outside; I was not willing to live without a cat. Hence, compromise.

Thank you for the replies that are focussing on the actual question.
posted by lollusc at 8:41 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is no way to make her as safe as she would be indoors. This isn't medical advice, I'm not your vet.

Make sure the collar is a break away collar.

Be mindful that the chicken owner can legally shoot your cat if she pester's the livestock. I'm a vet, and have watched owners learn this the hard (devastating and expensive) way. The damage done physically to a cat when shot is gruesome.

You won't get much mileage out of a one time forced introduction with the neighbor cat. These weird cat behaviors can range from explosive to simmering.

Could you make a fenced and netted area where she would be safe and birds/livestock would be safe from her? I know it would be a pain, but she would live longer and allow nature to do its own thing.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We are in Australia. No one has guns.
posted by lollusc at 8:48 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

My apologies for the assumption. Sorry!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:00 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: I don't have time to read the whole thread, but one thing I did with my indoor/outdoor (she *insisted*) cat was to talk to all the neighbors (especially the ones with outside pets) and make the agreement that if my cat was being a nuisance, they were more than welcome to spray her with the water hose.

She was less upset by the hose than by me laughing at her when she ran into the living room soaked, after which I would find the neighbor who sprayed her and apologize. It only happened once. I guess my cat decided after that humiliation she shouldn't annoy that particular neighbor.
posted by MuChao at 9:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When you're ready to let her go outside, make sure you start using an anti-flea (ticks too? I don't know if Australia has them) medication. Check with your vet. In North America you can get Frontline or Advantage. I advise against a flea collar for a couple reasons. They don't work as well as the meds, they can get caught on fences, etc. and some of them can make your kitty very ill.

Other than that, I think you've got it covered.
posted by deborah at 9:03 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: I have an outdoor cat! He was supposed to be an indoor cat, but after nine months of near constant, miserable meowing and scratching at the door, he is now a happy outdoor cat. If something tragic befalls him, I'm sure I'll be devastated, but I won't regret my decision. He was miserable all the time, and now he's the happiest, most affectionate cat I've ever met. It's that simple.

There isn't much you can do to protect kitteh as he roams. My cat is pretty much a runt. He deals with larger neighborhood cats by sitting on the roof and glaring at them until they leave.

My main tip is to let your neighbors know that you are OK with your cat going outside, and that if they see him they don't need to return him OR try to adopt him. My commodore once went missing for three days, and returned home with a flea collar. Some neighbors hadn't met him yet and thought he was a stray.
posted by mmmbacon at 9:06 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I always thought that one of these enclosures would be very cool if I had a yard and wanted my kitties to enjoy being outside safely.
posted by la petite marie at 9:19 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Bonus! Those cat enclosures are in Australia!
posted by la petite marie at 9:21 PM on May 9, 2011

I'm having some success taking my ex-feral now indoor cat for walks on a harness.
posted by orthogonality at 9:47 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: minimise HER danger to the chickens and ducks?

I can't speak for ducks, but assuming the chickens are standard size (i.e. not tiny little banties) they are almost certainly in no danger from your cat. Many people in our neighborhood (including us) have chickens (why yes, we do live in Portland). Many people in our neighborhood have outdoor cats (not including us, as we would prefer not to cut our cats' life expectancy in half). I have never heard of anything even approaching a cat-chicken incident. Several of the neighborhood cats will sit on top of our fence and watch our chickens, but none of them (not even the largest, most badass of the bunch, a giant, unaltered gray tomcat named Sid) have ever actually approached the chickens-- a full grown chicken can fuck a cat up, and cats tend to sense this.
posted by dersins at 9:54 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: Don't bother with the bell on her collar, she will learn how to walk without making it jingle. Absolutely get a breakaway collar.

She's probably little enough that you can start her out taking walks on a leash -- so little, in fact, that I would wait to show her the outdoors at all. Can you put your husband off until she is 8 months, until you've been in your new place for more than a month or two?

Most cats are scared of running cars, though they often sleep under them for shade in the summer and shelter in the winter. They run away when the car starts, which is enough time for them to escape.

Cats generally kill things which are smaller than they are. But if you put in a cat flap, you may get the Burmese coming in, and your kitten coming in with dead or not-yet-dead treats for you.
posted by jeather at 10:24 PM on May 9, 2011

I forgot to mention that we keep Commodore inside at night so that he doesn't get hit by a car because of poor visibility. He pretty much sleeps when we do, and plays outside during the day.
posted by mmmbacon at 10:26 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dersins is right. I had chickens (including one small chicken and one banty) until recently. I have watched my small cat get in the way of the chicken at the bottom of the pecking order, and then all the chickens bullied her away. They really enjoy keeping their pecking order, and cats don't peck, so she was an easy target. She tried hissing at them, but they didn't understand what hissing meant. My cat was definitely at the bottom of the pecking order. They pretty much peacefully coexisted. They would dig nice dust bath holes, and Cat would sit in the dust baths when the chickens weren't using them.

Since your cat is a kitten, the chickens will probably teach her to respect them. Chickens are birds, cats kill birds, and some cat somewhere has probably killed some chicken somewhere, but I don't think that's something you or your neighbors need to worry about.
posted by aniola at 10:27 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, these suggestions are really helpful. I have had cats before, but they all came fully grown and all except one were used to the outdoors already. And the one that wasn't was in a very safe area with no other houses for miles.

We do intend to keep her inside at night - we'll get a lockable cat door. I am thinking about getting a cat door that is keyed to an RFID tag so that the Burmese can't use it but maybe if she were chasing my cat closely she would be able to just follow in while the door was open. Has anyone had experience with those sorts of cat flaps?

My last cat's number of dead mouse presents dropped dramatically (from one a day to once a month or so) once we added a bell to her collar, but maybe she was just a bit dim. Hopefully it will have some effect on this one, too, though...

I'm glad to hear we probably don't have to worry about the chickens.
posted by lollusc at 10:30 PM on May 9, 2011

Don't get an RFID-tagged collar until you're sure that your kitten -- who has a name, no? -- isn't capable of removing collars herself. (My cat Sam hated the very idea of collars, and I would catch him taking the collars off the other cat, too.)

Generally collars with bells affect the cat for a few days before they learn to stop irritating you with the stupid jingling all the time walk carefully and can kill again. I've never had a cat who got mice or squirrels more than every week or two, though.
posted by jeather at 11:49 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: I have indoor/outdoor cats in Australia, and a few things to add to some of the excellent advice already offered.

(a) When it's snake season, don't let her out during the really hot hours. Our rule of thumb is 25C or above (which unfortunately means that during the really hot months there are some days the cats can't go out at all, but that's the balance we chose to strike between letting the cats have free reign but also being safety conscious). I know of people whose cats have been killed by snakes so it's a big factor where I live. If you're not in a high-snake area, YMMV.

(b) We trained the cats to come in at night by not feeding them their evening meal until a certain time, at which point we shut the door behind them. Since dusk and night is when they would do the most damage to the local wildlife and would also be in the most danger themselves, this is a way of making them far safer while still letting them be outdoors for a lot of the day. They are extremely well trained and have only missed one night (when it was pouring rain and they clearly got trapped somewhere). It also significantly helps with our anxiety about their safety. The cats seem to not be bothered at all being inside at night, turning into giant cute lap pillows at this time.
posted by forza at 12:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perspective of a dog owner who loves cats too. I have two large dogs in NYC. I pay a lot more than I would like to in order to have a yard for them- because I cannot let them roam or run around off leash. My backyard fence is over 6' high. The neighborhood is full of feral and house cats that roam through the backyards. The dogs are no deterrent to the cats- in fact my neighbor's cats love to sit on the fence tops and tease the dogs just out of reach. When the dogs are inside, the cats come into the yard and spray. I have seen the cats jump into the yard before WHILE the dogs are outside, and then jump back out- as a game. My dogs caught a stray once and luckily we were outside and freed it before it was hurt.

I am always afraid that my dogs will catch one of the neighbors cats someday. I spoke to my neighbors about it, but they seem unconcerned and suggested I watch the dogs more closely- because of course it is impossible for them to know where their kitties are at any given moment! It's frustrating because I feel like I do everything in my power to be a good pet owner and I know that if my dogs catch a cat in my yard that legally I would not be held responsible....but that does not change how bad I would feel if it happened. So instead of kicking back, and letting my dogs out at the end of a long work day- I am always vigilant and checking on things.

Since you are letting your kitten roam freely, be aware that your neighbors with the big scary dogs that are tied up are actually being responsible for their animals by keeping them confined to their personal property. If your kitten decides to engage them, that will be a big headache for your neighbors, and potentially deadly for your kitten if she slips up. Any other issues with your neighbors animals are going to be mostly your responsibility. It doesn't sound like anyone is letting their animals roam at will on your property, with the possible exception of the Burmese cat.
posted by catrae at 2:10 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of outdoor cats where I live, and one thing people do is put on a collar with a name and phone number. You'll have to be prepared for a lot of calls saying "uh, did your cat get outside accidentally?" -- I always call because there are a lot of indoor cats where I live, too, and I worry that one's gotten out.

The name/number marks the cat as "having a home". in at least two cases I've helped people find their cats that had (a) traveled way outside of their normal territory and frightened the owner by not showing up for several days and (b) had strolled into our apartment building and was meowing at everyone in the hallway.
posted by lillygog at 4:56 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the disease dangers are in Australia w/r/t cat-to-cat transfers, but here in the US, we have to worry about a myriad of things, including (but not limited to) feline leukemia, FIV (feline AIDS), respiratory diseases, fungal infections, and rabies. Make sure your kitty is vaccinated and watch out for tell-tale sickness signs like lethargy, severe sudden decrease in appetite or thirst, and changes in litterbox behavior (and get kitty to the vet ASAP if those things happen). You don't know if the neighbor cat is properly vaccinated and even if it is, you don't know if other random cats are.
posted by cooker girl at 6:18 AM on May 10, 2011

Best answer: When you get a cat flap, I'd thoroughly recommend this one, which works with the cat's microchip and will ensure that no other cats or critters can get through - so she will learn that home is safe for her and is off-limits to other animals.

I installed one of these after I had problems with a stray unneutered tomcat coming in through the old cat flap and peeing. The length of time the door stays open can be adjusted to account for your kitten (who is adorable) being chased, if that turns into an issue.
posted by essexjan at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2011

You could put the cat on a long leash. I heard stories of one cat who would to into a backyard on a leash that was staked to something. The cat still managed to kill lots of birds.
posted by massysett at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2011

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