Take kitty outside without creating a monster?
December 16, 2017 6:16 PM   Subscribe

I recently have welcomed into my home an adorable one year old cat. He is very interested in the outdoors. Is there a way to allow him to have limited access to the outdoors without creating a monster cat who is constantly howling to go outside? (which is what happened with a previous cat)

I'm not interested in allowing him unfettered access to the outdoors, simply because I've had two cats get hit by cars and die, plus it's terrible for local wildlife. But on the other hand, I think it's cruel to never let him experience the outdoors (speaking as an outdoorsy person myself). I also have an older cat who is uninterested in roaming and who sits on the porch with me on summer evenings, and it is a special bonding time for us.

New kitty, however, is your typical mischievous, high energy young cat who definitely has interest in roaming. He is neutered, but still has a crazy amount of curiosity and wanderlust and even when playing with him for 45 minutes+ every day he's still restless. Getting a second young cat to play with him is sadly not an option right now.

I've taken him out a couple of times on a leash and kitty holster (Velcro harness for cats that is difficult for them to slip out of). Each time he has gone absolutely bonkers after bringing him back inside, not calming down for the rest of the evening and making a beeline for the door whenever you so much as look at it.

My previous cat was also leash trained and sad to say was something of a monster--there was no watching a movie at our house or relaxing without her meowing and pawing at the door to go out. She was like that for the entirety of her life--even in old age she was a bear about wanting to go out for walks all the time, in all weather.

What other options might I consider? I thought about a tie-out, but we live in an area where there are frequently unleashed dogs. I thought about getting kitty fencing for the yard like the kind where it curves in at the top, but we rent and I don't know if my landlord would be keen on the idea (this is currently the most appealing option, though, since it would not require me to give up hours of my time standing outside with him).

I know you can also construct small "cat runs" out of like old wire bookshelves--this is currently the least attractive option as I think our landlord might be even less fond of this than actual full size cat fencing.

Does anyone else have experience with allowing your kitty measured access to the outdoors, without it becoming an excessive source of misery on your part and the cat's? Beyond suggestions for physical means of access, I'd also appreciate any cat psychology or "training" (hah) tips you might have.
posted by ThreeSocksToTheWind to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We built a 'catio' which is directly attached to an otherwise unused window and secured in place. Cats can come and go from the outside to inside, and it does seem to help with the desire to escape outside, but it has not solved it entirely for the 'runner' of our bunch. The other two do seem satisfied with fresh air and bird watching. There are some very sharp ones, varying from tiny to complex, so you have lots of options. A 'rabbit run' might be an option too (again, some look very sharp). As for training, well, my cats have me well trained...
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2017

"Clicker Training for Cats" has some training ideas for keeping cats from dashing through the door when you arrive home, and maybe other techniques too. It helps if the cat likes treats.

Some cats seem particularly driven to go outside to eat greens. Cat grass can help a _lot_ with this. An inexpensive way to keep a constant supply is to use bulk wheat from the co-op/healthy grocery store as seed.

I had some luck with my cats by making it a rule that they never exited/entered the door by walking out. Going outside required being picked up and carried by a human (while wearing a leash). They seemed to learn that this was the way it happened and were reasonably well-behaved about it.

I think some of them also just enjoy the smells and sounds of being outside. Trying to make that happen, a little, when they are inside might help. The air inside must seem stale to a sensitive cat...
posted by amtho at 6:47 PM on December 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

We’ve had four cats, all of whom are allowed outside after breakfast and come in late afternoon for dinner. This has worked fine for all, keeps them safe at night, and they’re inside during peak hunting hours (dusk/dawn). Definitely worth a try! I think the key is the food.

We had an older cat (8) and ended up with a very young kitten who became a foster fail. We (as per my previous ask) DID end up getting him a playmate and it helped a lot! Of course, we now have three cats and a toddler in a rental but... it really did help. They burn off a ton of energy playing chase-me games and wrestling, while older cat sits on a high shelf and gives them disapproving looks. Everyone wins.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:24 PM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

A friend's three cats enjoy time spent outside in one of these tents designed for kitties.
posted by carmicha at 8:25 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do not know the name of them but they make little window boxes that are designed to go in your window so that kitty can sit "outdoors", but there's little bars in place so they can't get out.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:28 PM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Similar to what amtho said, and something I've been pondering . . . the route to outdoors is in the cat carrier. Want to go outside? Get in the cat carrier and I'll take you out (perhaps with a cover over it so maybe kitty won't connect the front door so strongly with outside. Might have the added benefit of making it easier to catch kitty for vet visits. I have not tried this though. I think mine would become a howling machine almost immediately.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2017

Ours only gets to go outside when we’re away with her on a vacation (and also, only carried out then, on a harness, like amtho says). She does howl constantly to go back outside, but only for those few days or week until we’re all back home. We think she hasn’t figured out that there’s outside here, too. So, not sure if that’s a good compromise, or just the worst of both worlds, but it’s what we do.
posted by daisyace at 6:23 PM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know exactly where you're coming from. I have allowed my cat to go outdoors for about a year: when I lived in a bigger house on a quieter street near a stream, he'd spend hours all day and come back dirty. Then I moved to a smaller apartment on a busier street (with an outdoor entrance) and my cat goes out much less. He'll go out once or twice while I'm getting ready in the morning and then for a few minutes in the afternoon and evening. Fortunately, while he'll be extra playful when he wants to go out in the morning (but will stop if I don't get up) and wait by the door at night (um, not at midnight!) He's more wary of loud cars and sirens and runs in as soon as he sees a dog; at the old place, he'd stand or even sit in the middle of the street whereas now he never does. He waits or even meows outside the door when he wants to come in. In any case, same cat but different location so a very different experience, FWIW. I know there is a lot of risk involved -- a bolder neighborhood cat recently got hit crossing the street -- but it has been worth it in terms of improved quality of life for my cat. And for me, too, since he's gotten much better behaved since being able to go out when I allow. (Unfortunately, he always waits to come back in to pee or poop, oh my, whereas before he'd go almost exclusively outdoors.)

My neighbor, who's even more of a crazy lady than I am, has a fancy window box, she has the special cat fencing, and she has the wire tent contraption. She also spends a lot of time complaining about other cats getting into her backyard (it's nearly impossible to keep all critters out long term) and her cats don't seem very happy despite all the fancy contraptions. I have friends with a large garden who have a kitty door in the basement; their cat wears a special collar that allows their cat to go in and out without letting other critters in the house. They are very happy with it but acknowledged the batteries die faster than you'd think.

I wish you luck with this! It seems like so much depends on the cat, location, and more. It sounds like you're an experienced and wise cat owner and I hope you all can find something that works soon!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:14 PM on December 17, 2017

A window box could work if you're okay with the small space. I made one in an afternoon and it works well for the cats to get some fresh air and sunlight without supervision.
posted by homesickness at 8:52 PM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was a bit more ambitious. Our guys really like sitting by the window screen feeling the fresh air on their whiskers and smelling the outside smells, so we're hoping they'll like this.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:38 PM on January 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

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