Just stay inside where you're safe kitties!
June 29, 2013 6:30 PM   Subscribe

How can we keep our cats safe when they sneak out the door?

When we adopted our awesome cats, Día and Noche, we didn't realize that they had been indoor/outdoor for their entire lives. They are wonderful, funny, affectionate companions and we adore them. They also want to go outside and will slip out if you aren't very careful.

I'm coming to realize that they are going to escape occasionally. They've already slid past people. They basically go outside and sit on the patio. If I can't keep them in 100% of the time, how can they be safer outside? Invisible fence? We have a large yard, fenced (but cats are clever). The alley behind our house and the street in front are both very low traffic.

I hate the idea of the cats going outside. My cats have always been 100% indoor (my husband has always had indoor/outdoor cats and is more relaxed). However, I also hate the idea of losing my mind on some unsuspecting houseguest if a cat slips by them.

For what its worth - cats are microchipped, neutered and have their claws. Neighbors leave their cats out and it's not a problem with the neighbors.

tl;dr - not a question about whether we should keep the cats indoors. A question about how to keep them safe if they escape.
posted by 26.2 to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do they have collars and tags? They need 'em even if they are 100% indoor.
posted by nanook at 6:44 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get them each a breakaway collar that has a tag with your info on it and never leave them out overnight. You might want to leave a fresh bowl of water out too, so that they don't drink from any antifreeze puddles. Keep their vaccinations up to date and de-worm them regularly.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 6:49 PM on June 29, 2013

Add a regular anti-parasite medication. De-fleaing your cats makes everybody cry.
posted by florencetnoa at 7:01 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

To add further peace of mind to the above great suggestions, both tags and collars come in extra reflective versions which increase your cat's visibility (especially if Noche is a black kitty like his name implies).

You might also think about making sure there is a hiding place for them near the house on the patio, so that if something scares them there, they will be more likely to hide nearby rather than run away. I'm thinking something as simple as a chair or a bush or a potted plant that makes a safe-feeling place.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:11 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Make the door area inhospitable. When you come in, slam the door a couple of times and stomp your feet. Do this a few times and they'll stay away from the door for a while. Eventually, you have to do it again for a while, but the lasting efficacy and frequency of tune ups depends on the cats.
posted by janey47 at 7:12 PM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

A long time ago, in college, when I had a pair of bolters, we kept a large piece of cardboard (think one of those trifold presentation foamboard things from office supply) by the front door and just used it to bulldoze the cats back when people came and went. It wasn't perfect, but after a while they'd hang back if we even picked it up.

If they are highly food motivated, you could try training them by tossing some Pounces or whatever away from the door whenever it opens.

Or, you try training them to be courtyard gatitos. Knowing your house, you have a better than average chance of pulling it off because both your front and back yards are basically perfect cat habitats. It's all about motivating them to stay close, if they can be satisfied with some dirt to sprawl in and the occasional bug to chase. I would treat the hell out of them for staying on the patio and for staying near you when you're outside, and then try to train for recall (decide on one noise - a whistle or tongue-click probably - and both of you treat them for coming when called).

The chips are good, and you want breakaway collars with your address and phone numbers (I don't think people send cats home all that much, but at the very least if they went walkabout and hung out at a neighbor's house, they'd know they had a permanent home). It seems very nearly impossible to live in our open-door climate and keep cats in the house all the time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:37 PM on June 29, 2013

You said they sit on the patio when they go outside. If they don't go anywhere else, they are safe, no? From what you've written here, the kitties are fine but it's you that needs help adjusting to happy, normal cats who like to sit outside on the patio occasionally. They are microchipped, have good collars and can protect themselves if need be? Have a cup of tea and chill. Let your cats be happy cats, sitting on the patio occasionally.
posted by goo at 7:56 PM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

My cat also regularly tries to escape; fortunately for us, she has a tendency to loudly announce herself while walking past us out the door. We've always managed to catch her, but this is the main reason she wears a brightly colored collar and tags despite being a microchipped, indoor-only cat. The last thing I want is for someone to mistake her for one of the feral cats in our neighborhood.
posted by anderjen at 8:17 PM on June 29, 2013

We keep a little spray bottle outside the door. If we notice they're getting close or looking wily, we spray them (or just near them), and that usually keeps them in check for at least a few weeks.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:00 PM on June 29, 2013

Keep their rabies shots up-to-date. (Do this anyway -- my cats had TWO run-ins in two years with bats that fell down our chimney, one of which came five days after a county-wide alert for a rabid bat that had bit a child three miles from our house. It was SUCH a relief not to have to worry about having our cats quarantined or "destroyed" because they were up to date.)

I have heard of people opening the door and luring the cat out during pouring rain, on the theory they go out, get soaked, and it puts them off escape, but I have not tried it.

If they're just going out on the patio, I think you protect against common diseases with shots, see the vet yearly, and otherwise hope for the best. They're not running into the street. As they get older they'll probably escape less.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:03 PM on June 29, 2013

I whistle a distinctive pattern before I feed my cats every night. Now they come running as soon as they hear the whistle.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:04 PM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

It might make you feel better to check the fence to make sure that there are no medium or bigger holes or gaps that they could get through.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:10 PM on June 29, 2013

"If they don't go anywhere else, they are safe, no? From what you've written here, the kitties are fine but it's you that needs help adjusting to happy, normal cats who like to sit outside on the patio occasionally."

That's assuming that when the cats get out, they will stay on the patio indefinitely. Cats tend to wander and get in trouble. There are many fine reasons why people decide to make their cats indoors-only, including the fact that indoor cats live a lot longer than indoor/outdoor cats.

We used to buy collars for our cat that had little blinking lights on them. We'd let him play in our enclosed backyard, and the idea was that if he got out, the lights would keep him safer in traffic and we could find him more easily. In practice the collars were an expensive, poorly-made nuisance, and I don't think they helped us find him once. (He hasn't gotten out for a couple of years, now. He's gotten older, and he's not so crazed to go out anymore.)

There are little GPS deals you can put on pets now, so if they get out you can track them down with a phone app. I haven't tried those, but it's worth a Googling.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:11 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I did something similar to qxntpqbbbqxl, but with a squeak-toy. It was very helpful when I was living in an apartment with a courtyard and the cats occasionally got to venture into the Big Room.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:47 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding a million times reflective collars and tags and making some distinctive only related to nom sound whenever you feed them and purposely going out with them and doing it at the patio table.

They will make the connection between the sound and the nom (which isn't but should be the name of William Faulkner's novel), and if they ever do decide to explore, it's much more likely they'll return to where they get fed.

...but of course, without pictures, it's hard to tell what they'll do.
posted by kinetic at 5:14 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our latest kitty was a bit of a runner, but also an addict to whiskas temptation treats; the last time she ran out and went somewhere inaccessible, all I had to do was shake a bag of treats by the door and she came running for them. I give my kitties treats a couple of times a week and always shake the bag first so they know the sound of it... might help!
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:02 PM on June 30, 2013

Is it possible to screen off the patio or a portion of it so you can let them out there to lounge about? One of our cats used to bolt, but since we screened in our front porch a few years ago, she hasn't made a single break for the outside-proper.

Granted, I had a cat when my family was living in Florida that would occasionally tear holes in the pool enclosure to get out, so it's not a guarantee (though metal screening instead of nylon would have helped), but sometimes a bit of quasi-outdoor time is enough to keep them content. I know other people who put their flight-prone cats on leash runs outside every now and then, and apart from the occasional slipped harness, it seems to have yielded generally positive effects.

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posted by wreckingball at 6:24 PM on June 30, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all. Great ideas. Admittedly I'm overprotective. I'm looking at locator collars, id tags, and repairing a bit of downed fence.

The kitties will probably be just fine...I"m the panicky one.

Oh, and photos Día and Noche.
posted by 26.2 at 11:47 PM on June 30, 2013

Do you have screen doors? When we had a runner, ours functioned as a sort of cat lock. You'd open the inside door to go out, visually locate said potential escapee and use a foot if necessary to block him from running while you opened the screen door.
posted by jvilter at 6:39 AM on July 2, 2013

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