Is kitty in danger?
October 17, 2011 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Is it okay to let our cat sit outside our window?

I have a 5 month old kitten. He is an indoor cat, and will be for the foreseeable future. He has all his claws, and is neutered/up to date on shots.

We live on the second and top floor of an apartment. Our windows have no screens. (Don't ask me.) Our cat loves to sit and stare out our living room window. Outside, there is a tall bush at approximately sill height to the left, and a slanted porch roof about 4 feet down to the right, with a 3 foot gap between porch and bush (where you can see to the ground.)

There is a wide sill outside our window, and twice when we left our window open more than a crack the kitty slithered out and sat on the sill. He looked so happy there and wasn't moving much. However, I'm afraid he will eventually fall/jump and hurt himself, or use the bush to climb down and go exploring/get lost.

My instinct says to keep the window shut, but my heart wants to see my kitty happy. Which one should I listen to?
posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would put the odds at about 95% that someday he will be feeling brave and want to explore, and he'll jump out the window onto one of the inviting looking surfaces below. Whether he will return safely from such an adventure depends largely on the nature of your neighborhood and the personality of your cat. In other words, if you don't want to risk him going outside, don't give him access to the outside.

If you want to leave the window open, I'd get one of these, make sure it's well-secured, and use it religiously.
posted by decathecting at 9:16 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

My brother's cat fell out of a window from a high second floor and didn't survive. I've seen cats miscalculate things lots of times--mine are very interested in the windows but since then I've been careful never to let my cats near a window without a screen.
posted by marimeko at 9:20 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen to your instinct. Your cat will be happy looking out the closed window and so much more happy than if he jumps somewhere he can't come back from. If you feel the closed window doesn't offer enough entertainment, get a bird feeder put up in the spring.
posted by HMSSM at 9:22 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be careful even with a screen. My cat pushed the screen out and made a hole in it, too.
posted by maurreen at 9:30 PM on October 17, 2011

My brother's cat fell out of a window from a high second floor and didn't survive.

And *I* have had cats jump from second stories and, while not obviously injured when they returned, disappeared for days while I searched and worried.

One of these cats was one I would let out with me on the 2nd floor balcony while I smoked out there. "He won't jump," I thought. The first few times, I was right. Then, once, he went for it and it took me hours to wrangle him back.

There was no un-doing that moment. From then on, he was barred from the balcony but if I wasn't hyper-vigilant, he'd tear out onto the balcony and IMMEDIATELY jump down before I had a chance to react.

So...both your concerns (hurt, lost) are very real, if he does jump down it's gonna be harder to stop him from doing so in the future, and don't let him do this.
posted by mreleganza at 9:35 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I grew up with indoor cats. My mom was a crazy cat lady. I've got two indoor/outdoor cats who are so much happier and nicer to be around than any cat I had as a child.

I'm not saying all cats need to explore the wild, or anything like that. Indoor cats can be happy cats too. But they are the happiest if they have chosen to be indoor cats. I think you cat is telling you that he wants to look around out there. He might be telling you that he's the kind of cat who likes to get out once in a while.

Having indoor/outdoor kitties is risky, and a bit more expensive vet wise. I got my cats vaccinated for kitty HIV and kitty leukemia. I've got to keep up on all their shots and heart-worm treatments. And I've had two vet bills in the last three years for my boy cat who thinks he's tough and gets scratches and bites. That never happens to his sister, though. I have recently acquired a yard and they mostly don't leave it. It's a hassle letting them in and out when they want though. Some nights they just can't decide.

tl/dr - you're cat might be telling you that he doesn't want to be indoors all the time. Having and indoor outdoor kitty is fine, but can be annoying, and cats can be healthy that way. I don't think it's healthy to keep a cat inside who clearly doesn't like being indoors 24/7.
posted by dchrssyr at 9:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Can you get him a cat window enclosure? My cat misjudges jumps all the time, and it's only that she's never been higher than about 2m off the ground that has protected her from injury. She was even worse at this when she was a kitten.

Alternatively, you could get him used to a leash and harness and take him outside to lie in the sun and explore a patch of grass now and again.
posted by lollusc at 10:03 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you decide to go for a windowbox, this one looks good if it ever becomes available again. Or maybe you can buy it elsewhere?
posted by lollusc at 10:10 PM on October 17, 2011

Erm, are you OK having an indoor/outdoor cat? What is your neighborhood like?

Look. I have a crazee cat. I've written about her many many times here. She utterly refused to stay indoors. She is 6 years old now and in much better shape physically than our 3 year old cat who prefers the indoor model.

My crazy cat was on the second floor, but had a window she could go out that led to a roof, that lead to a lower ledge, that lead to freedom.

I'm wondering if you might be able to make a secure walkway from the window to that roof you mentioned, and what that lower roof leads to. Can you cat get up and down safely with a walkway assist? I've seen ladders for cats, can you attach one to that porch roof?

Otherwise, get a screen.

At the risk of starting a nasty argument about indoor/outdoor cats... yes, in my 35 years of experience of cat ownership, they are happier with access to the outdoors.

Where I live we have coyotes that eat cats for breakfast. This is what keeps me from moving farther up the hill where the wild things are. I have that one crazee cat to think of!

posted by jbenben at 10:17 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even the most timid of cats will eventually get curious. I had an elderly cat that figured out how to climb up to the roof from our second-story balcony. I figured no harm could come of it, he's not going to jump off the roof...right? There was no way for him to get down, so I figured it would be fine.

One day I was washing the dishes when I saw him go falling past the kitchen window. I ran outside and managed to grab him while he was still stunned from the fall or he would likely have run off into the woods. Luckily he did survive with only a scrape or two.

So now I don't make assumptions about what they'll do. No cats on balconies, windows closed, etc. It's not just that I don't want them getting outside, though right now I don't have any that do go out. It's more that if they go out I want them to at least start with some supervision and have access to the outdoors safely, so they have time to scope things out and know how to get back home again. In my experience cats that "escape" to the outside tend to freak out and hide and it can be hard to catch them again in that state.
posted by ZeroDivides at 10:39 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Outside, there is a tall bush at approximately sill height to the left, and a slanted porch roof about 4 feet down to the right, with a 3 foot gap between porch and bush (where you can see to the ground.)

That's practically a cat highway to the ground and he will definitely try it sooner rather than later. If you want your cat to stay inside, unfortunately he has to stay inside.

I bet at least part of what he likes about being on the outside of the window is access to smells and the wind. So if you can (safely!) open a window a crack to let that in then he'll probably enjoy it a lot.
posted by shelleycat at 12:10 AM on October 18, 2011

I wouldn't risk it.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:26 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chiming in with the don't risk it crowd. I had a kitten who did just this from the third story. I went to fish him out once, spooked him, and he fell. He survived, but the image of him falling plagues me still.

So, I guess that would be the question to ask yourself: Do I want to be haunted forever by the image of this soft, friendly kitten that I love so dearly writhing in terror as he plummets toward the hard, waiting ground?

Let your answer guide you.
posted by vecchio at 1:22 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I like the idea of an indoor/outdoor cat just fine, it's just that bit about going from indoor to indoor/outdoor just completely unknowable. Like, toss the dice unknowable, until it unfolds.

If he's allowed out, he's going to learn about cars, and dogs, maybe racoons. By which I mean, one way or the other, he's going to learn about cars, dogs, racoons hint hint. Probably he'll learn just fine. Probably.

I'm not a gambler but I've been in casinos, I love to watch the dealers as they lay out the cards, fast as lightning, then without a word they look the player dead in the eye: Your call. It's an interesting social moment, an event maybe; it is to me.

Life is looking you dead in the eye: Your call.

posted by dancestoblue at 1:22 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Up until 4 weeks ago we were a happy family of me, 3 kids and our indoor kitty who loved to sit by the window (and on our stomachs).

She broke through the screen, ran off, and we are now a pretty upset family still searching for her.

If you were to ask me or my kids, it's never worth the risk.
posted by kinetic at 3:05 AM on October 18, 2011

It's unlikely your cat will fall and die or be injured with that handy path to the ground available.

It's likely (most likely a certainty) that kitty will use that path to the ground.

If you have a cat-friendly area, get him used to going outside on your terms - i.e., the harness and leash for short time periods.

If not, don't give him access to the outdoors.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:01 AM on October 18, 2011

Five months old? If you think he'll be happier going outside, and if you have the patience, leash-train him. It'll take a lot of patience, but it's doable.

A screenless window sounds like an invitation to trouble. Even if he jumps out and comes right back up to the door, or never jumps at all, every time you see the open window, and can't immediately see the cat, you're going to be like oh shit.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:08 AM on October 18, 2011

My cat fell off the (far away from any trees to jump to -- she was just visiting the neighbours) third floor balcony once. She was stunned, but uninjured. I happened to be outside, so I saw it happen and scooped her up before she could explore. My aunt's cat pushed out the screen from the window and jumped into the nearby tree, then climbed down (into my uncle's arms, as he happened to see it).

I would bet money that, one day, your cat will escape. Try to put an enclosure on?
posted by jeather at 4:42 AM on October 18, 2011

If that cat wants to explore, let it explore. If it's nature is to explore then let it be. Trying to restrict it doesn't seem right.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:47 AM on October 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses! It seems like the consensus is to just keep the window shut, or crack it. I've been opening it just enough for him to get his little head out, but not his body, and he seems to like it. I'll also look into pet verandas.

I'm surprised at all the responses saying that indoor/outdoor cats are the happiest. For some reason I was under the impression from my vet that it was unsafe to lets cats outside. However, if it's common, I'd rather let him be an indoor/outdoor cat too. That being said, maybe we should wait until we move to a house with a yard and in a quieter area in about two years. Right now we live in a very urban area with busy streets and lots of stray cats, and I don't think it's safe for him.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 4:59 AM on October 18, 2011

I'd be wary about turning an indoor cat into an indoor/outdoor cat at the age of 2+. In that suburban area there are plenty of critters for kitty to tangle with, and one with zero outdoor experience will not learn easily at that age.
posted by beagle at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Outdoor cats may be happier, but they live shorter lives. Besides being killed by predators and cars, and bad jumps and fights with other cats, they can catch diseases from the other cats. Cats dying of FIV isn't pleasant. If you want your cat to be indoor/outdoor, that's fine, but you have to accept that it will be a more chaotic relationship. He'll disappear for days at a time every now and then, and probably come back with scrapes and bruises. I look at it like those "brother-in-law" kinds of dudes who like to drink and fight and sleep on people's couches. Possibly more fun, but also more drama.

One thing to make sure of with an outdoor cat is to make sure they have a collar that won't get them killed. Loose collars can get hung up on things, which means the cat can be in serious trouble. I've seen it happen, and it too isn't pleasant. We got a harness sort of collar for our one cat as a youth. She didn't like it at first, but it didn't get hung up on the fence either.

I suspect a cat raised as an only indoors cat is plenty happy.

I would get the kitty one of those window box things so they can enjoy the breeze and the warm sun, but

We had a cat that loved climbing up, but didn't love climbing back down again. He'd routinely climb up to a second floor window and sit on the sill. But when he looked back down, he'd realize that he couldn't jump back down. More than once, we would come home and find a very wet and annoyed cat waiting there for us to let him back in...
posted by gjc at 6:25 AM on October 18, 2011

Depending on where you live, it is unsafe for the cat *and* the natural wildlife to let the cat outdoors. Why can't you put screens in the windows? What keeps the bugs out?
posted by crankylex at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2011

I've been opening it just enough for him to get his little head out, but not his body, and he seems to like it.

Keep in mind that anything big enough to get his skull through is big enough to worm the rest through if he really wants. Even without worming and squirming he just needs to get his shoulders through, and a determined cat can push a window just that little bit more to do that. So opening it like this is fine as long as the window is tied or latched somehow so it doesn't open any more, and as long as it's not open enough for him to really get his head right out.

I have indoor/outdoor cats and I wouldn't have it any other way. But I don't live in a really urban environment like you're describing and I'm pretty controlling as to when they go out. Plenty of cats live happy lives inside too.
posted by shelleycat at 9:40 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please don't let your cat be indoor/outdoor based on notions of happiness. Outdoor cats live significantly shorter lives, and will be exposed to more diseases, fleas, ticks, predatory animals, and cars than a strictly indoor cat. My family would occasionally adopt strays, and I can almost guarantee you in an urban area, your kitten will be dead in a year or two. I would rather give my kitties a longer, healthier life than letting them come and go as they please.

Right now I trust my two cats not to tear through my window screens when I'm home in the evening, but the older one fell out of a 4th story window when she was a kitten (and survived, obviously). The surgery was a considerable cost to her owner at the time and has left her with a permanent injury that I can tell still aggravates her.

So save yourself and the kitty some grief, and supervise her window visits; in the future once you live in a quieter area, if she allows it, get a kitty harness (the safety ones) and take her out on the yard when there are no people/cars around.
posted by lychee at 9:53 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Indoor only cats live to be 14-16, on average.

Outdoor cats? 4 years.

Yes, I know, everyone's aunt's cat lived to 20 and brought home a mole every day. Your cat will live longer and be healthier inside. Stop with the windows now. Get a screen or a pet veranda. Ours are indoor only cats, and they don't even understand what the outside is, other than really random "TV" that sometimes shows birds.

Additionally, and people do not think of this (and it is an edge case), but if your cat happens to get Vaccine Associated Sarcoma (which we've been dealing with since August), s/he will never be able to vaccinated for anything ever again. By definition, that cat cannot go outside. Neither of my cats, the one with the cancer or his littermate, will ever be vaccinated again, and if they had an outdoor habit, breaking them of it now would be way worse than just letting them be indoor-only cats.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:58 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a cat enclosure is the best compromise. Cats love these things, they're pretty easy to build (given the wide sill and a bunch of bungee cords you could probably manage to affix a small dog-crate to the window without a permanent installation), and they provide a taste of the outside without all the dangers.
posted by vorfeed at 10:44 AM on October 18, 2011

Yeah, the vet will try to scare you into making your cat an indoor cat. Where is the evidence that says a cat is happier and healthier being an indoor cat? In fact, indoor cats tend to have problems with weight because of overeating and lack of exercise. Indoor/outdoor cats get much more exercise and also have a larger territory -- which is a good thing for them. If you live in an urban area, your cat will face more dangers. But if you introduce him gradually to the outdoors, and at a young age, he will learn to be aware of them and keep himself safe. Cats are naturally wild animals. Animals don't naturally live indoors.

I live in an urban area, and I have plenty of neighbors whose cats go outside. We also have strays. I have never seen or heard them getting into fights. Generally, as long as you keep your cats shots up to date, he will face little risk from strays. We didn't do this with our cats when I lived in the suburbs with my parents. My cats stayed there when I moved to the city -- they got vaccinated once when young, got spayed/neutered, and haven't been to the vet since. They both love going outside, and have never had any issues. The elder cat is 11 and the younger is 3. The cat my dad had before I was born lived to be 18, and died of old age. I've never had a bad experience letting the cats outside.

As far as injuries/bugs: The one has mildly injured her back leg (she has a slight limp that reappears every once in a while) and the younger occasionally gets scrapes -- I'm pretty sure they're from bushes with thorns. They get fleas and ticks, and that's why they make flea and tick repellent. Basically, all the problems a child might have are the same one your cat might have. So unless you are naturally overprotective or worry excessively, and as long as you treat your cat well and with love, and if you are smart about it, don't worry about all the "OMG YOUR CAT WILL DIE" warnings.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:03 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the vet will try to scare you into making your cat an indoor cat. Where is the evidence that says a cat is happier and healthier being an indoor cat?

There's lots. Also it would be weird for vets to falsely incentivize people to keep cats indoors, since outdoor cats would presumably rack up more vet bills, being more prone to injury and disease.

Yes, OP, it's true that letting your cat be part-time outdoor cats is not a guarantee a bad end and a short life will befall him. But for all of DoubleLune's (and others) anecdata that amount to "my outdoor cats were fine!" I can tell you about my own or my friends, who did indeed get into TONS of fights, got seriously injured, vanished, or ended up with various feline diseases. My own indoor cats have been happy, playful, and loving. It's up to you which train of thought to believe, but it seems to me like one train of thought is based on intuition about what's "right" and anecdotes, and the other side by anecdotes, actual data and statistics from people in animal sciences.
posted by mreleganza at 1:53 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

mreleganza, I found a lot in that article that showed cats would be happier if let outdoors. All the bits about neurotic behaviors... I hadn't even heard that before. I also believe the lifespan statistic is skewed by irresponsible pet owners who allow their animal to wander for days. We always brought our cats in at night (except for the rare instances they wouldn't come). Obviously cats have different temperaments, and some may not follow the schedule you want them on, but there are plenty that will.

If I had a cat in the city, I would let him out during non-rush hour periods, and not at night. This mitigates the health risk while expanding on his happiness (or at least, the lack of neuroses).
posted by DoubleLune at 3:02 PM on October 18, 2011

I can't think of many things that are more irresponsible than letting a cat outdoors in an urban environment. Not only are you endangering your cats, but you are also endangering the wildlife in the area. Awesome fun times for cats include slaughtering songbirds and pissing on your neighbors belongings. One of my neighbors feels that it's cool to let their cats out because "that's what cats do" and one of them makes a hobby of using my other neighbors' grill as a litterbox and the other one spends most of his time lying in wait to attack the dogs in the neighborhood. You have no control over your pets once they are out of your sight, and just like it's not cool to let your dogs run wild, it's not cool to let your cats run wild either.
posted by crankylex at 9:07 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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