Outdoor cats: What you should know

Outdoor cats: What you should know

Cats that can move freely outside and do what they feel like lead a fulfilled life. They arrive at home balanced and content. There they enjoy the comfort of their "own four walls", the peace and security of a cosy bed and the caresses of their owner. Having eaten their fill, they will soon be ready for their next adventure. If you would like to offer a home to a free-roaming cat, you will find everything you need to know here about these cats that live primarily outdoors.

Keeping outdoor cats - what do I have to consider?

You have two options when it comes to keeping cats: Your kitty becomes a house cat and lives primarily in your flat or you allow her independent outdoor access. So-called "free roamers", i.e. cats that are allowed to roam around outside to their heart's content, can live out their urge to explore, but are also exposed to more dangers than their indoor counterparts. We show you what you need to be aware of if you want to keep an outdoor cat.

  • Not all cats are suitable for outdoor life: chronically ill animals, cats with disabilities or cats with allergies are better kept indoors, where you can take better care of them according to their needs and ensure that they stay healthy.
  • Life expectancy: How old do outdoor cats live? On average, outdoor cats live a little shorter than indoor cats, which can live over 15 years on average.
  • Habitat: Not all environments are equally suitable for keeping outdoor cats. A flat on the ground floor or a house with access to the garden is optimal. If a cat flap may be installed, the cat can even go in and out independently. Most outdoor cats appreciate a quiet and, in winter, warm place to sleep in the flat or in the house. In rented flats, you should check beforehand whether the landlord and the other tenants have any objections (e.g. allergies) to a free-roaming cat - for the good of the neighbourhood and your cat. By the way, moving is particularly stressful for free-roaming cats, so free-roaming cats are especially good to keep if they are allowed to stay in one place for the rest of their lives.
  • Nutrition: What and how often should I feed my outdoor cat? Since many outdoor cats are often out and about all day, they need more energy than cats kept exclusively indoors. The cat food should therefore be healthy and rich in energy and nutrients to provide your four-legged friend with enough energy and nutrients for his forays. Special supplementary or mineral food is a good idea here. You can fill the cat bowls with dry or wet food or home-cooked food, and he won't refuse you treats either.

    It is also important that your pet drinks enough: Therefore, there should always be enough clean drinking water available. For feeding, it is advisable to have fixed times when your four-legged friend returns home and can eat in peace. In addition, your dog will occasionally catch a mouse or bird in the wild and possibly eat it. Therefore, it may happen that a mouse is proudly laid at your feet or that indigestible or spurned remains of its prey can be found in the garden.
  • Employment of free roamers: Outdoor cats can hunt outside, play with other cats, romp around and explore new areas. They are therefore far less dependent on their owners to keep them busy than indoor cats. However, if you want to bond with your cat despite being away for hours at a time, you should plan regular cuddles and strokes. This can be combined perfectly with grooming: Gentle brushing will help your garden tiger to relax and enjoy your attention to the full.
  • Buying a free-roaming cat: If you want to buy an outdoor cat, you can ask the local animal shelter if they are currently looking for a new home for outdoor cats. If, on the other hand, you are specifically looking for a pedigree cat that you can keep outside, breeds such as Maine Coon or Bengal cats are suitable.
  • Once a free-roamer, always a free-roamer: You should be aware that a free-roaming cat will find it difficult to endure a possible ban on going out with house arrest - be it only temporarily for recovery or during the breeding and nesting season, when birds raise their young undisturbed in the garden. If she has to be kept indoors temporarily, make sure she has enough variety. It is even more difficult if the cat suddenly has to be kept indoors permanently, e.g. because of a move. If the cat is not used to being kept indoors, it will be difficult to re-train it and it will continue to demand outdoor access. Therefore, carefully consider whether you can give your cat permanent outdoor access.
  • Chipping your cat: Your outdoor cat should definitely be chipped, in many regions this is even obligatory. The microchip is very small and is attached under the skin. The animal can be clearly identified by the chip, which is a decisive advantage especially in the case of runaway cats.

What dangers are free-rangers exposed to?

Basically, the "free roamer" lives somewhat more dangerously than the pure "house cat", as he moves around in traffic, on fields and meadows at all times of the day and night. Life as a free roamer therefore involves a number of risks, some of which can, however, be reduced.

  • Traffic: If there is a lot of traffic in the area, you should not keep an outdoor cat. The risk of the animal being hit by a car or even fatally injured is too great. It is not easy to say when a road is far enough away: depending on the density of buildings, the surrounding landscape and the cat's impulse to move around (for example, cats ready to mate and males looking for a partner), cat territories are sometimes only several hundred square metres in size. In other cases, however, the active four-legged friends cover several kilometres on their forays.
  • Parasites: Free-rangers are more susceptible to parasites than house pets. The pests are brought in from outside through contact with other animals, when eating or simply when roaming around, e.g. in the tall grass where ticks can lurk. But there are some preventive measures against parasites such as fleas, mites, ticks or worms, such as worming several times a year or antiparasitics, which are also administered preventively. If you pay attention to good hygiene, clean cat beds and cat caves regularly and care for the coat sufficiently, you will recognise a parasite infestation in time and reduce the risk of parasites becoming established in the first place.
  • Diseases: Free-rangers are also more susceptible to diseases such as cat epidemic, cat cold or rabies. However, you should have your pet vaccinated against many diseases.
  • Conspecifics: Especially where several cats meet, turf wars can occur. There is a risk of injury here.
  • Feeding by third parties: If the cat is allowed to roam freely, cat owners naturally have little or no control over whether the animal is also being fed somewhere else - possibly with bad or incompatible food. You should therefore make sure that your velvet paw feels comfortable with you and also takes its regular meals at home.
  • Wild animals: Martens and foxes can be dangerous to cats. However, martens are nocturnal. A helpful measure is not to let your cat out at dusk and let it sleep inside.
  • Poisonous plants: Poisonous plants that can cause vomiting or diarrhoea in cats include ivy, begonias and oleander - all popular garden plants that you should avoid in your cat-friendly garden. Inexperienced kittens in particular should be gently introduced to outdoor access and prevented from nibbling on plants. Ideally, you should plant catnip and provide cat grass - your four-legged friend will thank you for it.

Do I have to neuter my outdoor cat?

In some municipalities, districts and federal states there is already a castration obligation for free-roaming cats, but even without such an obligation you should definitely decide in favour of castration as an animal lover. This is the only way to prevent the uncontrolled reproduction of cats. Because free-roaming cats easily find a partner who is willing to mate. If it is a stray cat, the offspring often have little chance of survival. Every owner should be aware of this responsibility and make his outdoor cat incapable of procreation.

Other advantages of castration

Also the Bundesverband Praktizierender Tierärzte e. V. in Deutschland clearly in favour of neutered animals on its website and points to other advantages, such as:

  • higher life expectancy
  • cats no longer go into heat
  • aggression is minimised
  • animals stray less and stay close to each other
  • risks for accidents, infections and diseases are reduced

How do you get a cat used to being outside?

When your new roommate moves in with you, you can gradually get him used to his new home and outdoor access. You should not rush things so that your pet feels safe and recognises its new home as such. You should plan for the following phases:

  1. Getting used to the flat / the house: First of all, your free-range cat must get used to its new home. This is the basis before the first outdoor visit can take place after a few weeks.
  2. Getting used to the garden: When your cat feels safe in its new home, you can take its first walk in the fresh air. An important prerequisite for this is that you have created a cat-safe garden. It is also advisable to use a cat harness for your cat's first walk in the fresh air. However, you should give her enough freedom to look around and explore at her own pace. Your four-legged friend may not be comfortable with the cat flap at first. Be careful here too and give him time to get used to it.
  3. Allow your cat to roam: After the first few times outdoors have been short and ended with a delicious meal at home, you can accompany your cat on her first forays into the neighbourhood. If you go home together and reward her with a treat or prepare one of her favourite foods again, she will gradually understand that returning home is worthwhile. Once she is familiar with her new surroundings, she can go out on her own. Don't be surprised if the first forays are long or if your pet is out for several days at a time. As they have to get to know their new territory and often hide, it can take some time for them to get to know it. However, after two or three days, go and look for it, it may have hidden in a garage and been accidentally locked in there.

What do I need for my outdoor cat?

To make your new pet feel at home, you should purchase the following cat equipment:

  • at least two cat bowls for eating and drinking
  • suitable food and cat snacks
  • a cat bed for sleeping and resting
  • a cat toilet
  • cat brushes and other cat care products
  • cat toys if you want to actively engage with your cat.

How does my free-range cat stay healthy?

To ensure that your active roommate stays healthy and you don't have to worry, you should take the following precautions and measures:

  • Vaccinations: You should have your outdoor cat vaccinated so that it is better protected against serious diseases. Ask your vet for advice on which vaccinations are necessary.
  • Worm regularly: Regular worming is a must for outdoor cats, at least four times a year. For example, a tablet is mixed with the food or a paste is administered directly.
  • Protection in winter: To keep your cat well protected during the cold season, you can regularly treat his paws with balm to prevent chapping. Extra energy-rich food is also a good measure so that your tiger does not have to freeze in winter.
  • Coat care: Regular and thorough coat care is a must, especially for free-roaming cats. This includes brushing as well as carefully checking for any parasites or injuries under the coat.

Flat cats advantages and disadvantages - our conclusion

Are you still deciding whether outdoor cats are the right way to keep them? We have summarised all the advantages and disadvantages for you:

Advantages of free-rangers:

  • less work for you as a cat owner, as the cat is on the move a lot
  • the animal is exercised, which minimises the risk of damaged furnishings
  • a lot of freedom for the animals and they can follow their natural hunting instinct
  • hardly any cat hair in the flat
  • free-roaming cats are less likely to suffer from obesity

Disadvantages of outdoor cats:

  • lower life expectancy than indoor cats, as they are exposed to more dangers
  • more susceptible to diseases, parasite infestation and injuries
  • less control over what the cat does, what it eats and where it stays
  • cat flaps cannot be installed everywhere without further ado, insulated cat hutches for outdoors are an alternative
  • cat could run away

Are you also part of the "outdoor team"? How did you accustom your velvet paw to life outside? What are your experiences with your independent darling? We look forward to your tips in the comments!

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