So, you’ve had your new kitten for a while now; they’ve explored the house, found their favourite place to sleep, shredded some toilet roll, and established themselves as the most important member of the family. What next? What age can kittens go outside?
Our pets are an extension of our family and while your kitten might think of itself as a fearless predator, the thought of giving that little ball of fluff access to the great outdoors can be pretty daunting for us owners, so what do we need to think about before letting a cat out for the first time?
When Should I Let My Kitten Outside?
There are a few things to bear in mind before letting kittens outside. The most important step is vaccinating your pet to protect them from catching diseases from other cats, depending on the vaccine this is usually around 13 – 14 weeks.
You also need to think about identification; most vets recommend that cats are microchipped, which can be done around 10 – 12 weeks, so roughly the same time as their vaccinations. The microchip is tiny and inserted under the skin so your kitten can be easily identified if they get lost.
It is also recommended that you have your kitten neutered; apart from stopping unwanted pregnancies in female kittens, it can stop male kittens wanting to go as far when they explore. These timings aren’t set in stone though, it’s important to remember that all cats are different, so they need to do things in their own time. Some kittens are really confident and raring to go, others are a bit more timid and before your new little friend goes exploring outside, they need to be confident around the house.
What Are The Benefits Of Letting My Kitten Outside?
As any cat owner will tell you, kittens have endless supplies of energy and it’s only natural for them to want to go outside and explore the world, after all they’ve been staring at it out of the window for months! It helps them to be more independent, expands their environment and stops them getting bored; your back garden is one big playground for a kitten and running, jumping and climbing outside will help to keep it active and healthy.
Kittens aren’t that different to us; they need exercise and mental stimulation to help reduce their stress levels, which is great for their overall health. Also, being outside helps them hone their natural hunting instincts; it might look like they’re just chasing a butterfly through the bushes in your back garden, but in their head, they’re fearlessly stalking their prey across the Serengeti.
What Are The Risks?
Your lovely garden might seem safe to you, but to a kitten it’s a different story. Ponds, gaps between buildings, holes in fences, poisonous plants, these are all things that can get a small, adventurous kitten into a lot of trouble.
Sheds and garages can also be really dangerous for kittens, as that’s where we tend to store chemicals such as insecticides, weedkiller and antifreeze. Remember that nosey kittens are experts at climbing onto shelves and knocking things off, so even if you think you’ve put them out of reach, your kitten might have other plans.
Cats are quite cautious so not likely to eat a flower or plant that they’re not familiar with, but they could brush against a flower and get pollen on their fur or paws, that they then lick.
Out of the garden, the biggest threat is traffic. Even older cats, who might be used to being around traffic, can be taken by surprise by a fast car. Throw in the possibility of attack by other animals, and the risk of disease, and suddenly the world seems a much scarier place.
How Can I Reduce Those Risks?
When thinking about when to let kittens outside, all it takes is a little planning to make sure that your kitten enjoys its first trip out into the big wide world. It’s a good idea to get your kitten used to being called and recognise its own name; you can use treats as a reward, then once you feel comfortable with this, you can let them outside.
Choose a quiet time, ideally just before a routine meal. Don’t carry them out, leave a door open and let them go out by themselves. Stay with them and let them explore and try to resist the urge to pick them up, as this might panic them. Don’t worry if they disappear for a little while, it might be worth having a few treats on hand for when they come back.
Even if your kitten has been microchipped, it’s a good idea to fit them with a collar, with your details on, in case they do wander off. This way, they can be quickly identified without needing a visit to the vet. Avoid any collar-related injuries by using a quick-release collar, that can come undone if it gets caught on anything.
Make sure sheds and garages are secure and try to familiarise yourself with garden plants and flowers that are toxic to cats.
If you live near a busy road, you could make sure that you only let your cat out at times of day when the roads are quieter, or you could make your garden enclosed with a high fence. You might also want to consider only letting your cat out during the day, to avoid any stand-offs with the local cat gang at night.
Having a cat flap means your kitten can go in and out when they want, and if you get one that lets you program in your cat’s microchip number, then you won’t get all the neighbourhood cats helping themselves to your cat’s dinner.
What If I’ve Just Moved Home?
One of the main things pet owners worry about when moving house is their pet wandering off and getting lost. In this case it’s a good idea to follow the same rules for letting your kitten out for the first time. Let them get used to the house first for a week or two, so that it feels like home and they feel secure. Then stay with them outside while they get themselves established in the new garden. Cats like to mark their territory with scent, this lets other cats in the area know exactly whose garden it is.
Should I Insure My Kitten?
Cats are adventurous and, despite having nine lives at their disposal, there’s always a chance they’ll get themselves into trouble; they’re also at risk of chronic illnesses, the same as we are. It’s always reassuring to know that if something does happen to them you have the support in place, particularly when it comes to vet bills, which can easily mount up, even for minor treatments. Insure your kitten sooner rather than later and you can relax a bit, knowing they’re protected.
Cats are very adaptable and are much tougher than they look. They are natural outdoor animals and love being outside. As owners, we can learn a lot about our pets, by watching them in an environment that’s as close to their natural habitat as possible; you only have to watch a cat crouch down low, ears twitching as it watches a bird it has no chance of catching, to picture its ancestors out hunting. Letting cats outside has huge benefits for everyone, because as we all know, if our pets are happy, we’re happy.
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