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Letting Your Kitten Outside For The First Time

When and how to let your kitten explore outside

Kittens are lively little things and you may be looking forward to them using up some of that energy by going off on big adventures outdoors.

Depending upon where you live, you might choose to let your kitten out only under supervision or, if you live close to a busy road, you may decide on balance that your kitten isn’t going to go outdoors after all.

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How old does a kitten need to be to go outside?

If you’re planning to supervise your kitten at all times when they go outside, then, if you really wanted to, you could take them out once they’ve had all their vaccinations and microchip. However, if there’s any chance of your kitten getting away from you, or if you would like them to go out unsupervised, they need to be older and bigger, ideally at least six months old. By this time, they will also have been neutered.

What sort of preparations can you make before letting your kitten outside?

Cats often venture further than their own garden, but it is a great idea to make sure yours is as safe for them as possible. Cover ponds, pipes and gaps between buildings. Lock away any garden chemicals and make sure that nothing can fall off shelves in your shed, should your kitten try to climb up onto them.

Garages can also be full of hazards for cats – make sure there are no open containers of oil or antifreeze, which is particularly dangerous as it smells and tastes attractive to pets.

Your kitten will need to be able to get in and out of your home unassisted, so you may need to get a cat flap fitted to your door. You can buy cat flaps that only open for cats whose microchip numbers have been programmed into them, which prevents other cats from gaining access.

If you can’t have or don’t want a cat flap, then you’ll need to work out another way for your kitten to get in and out, for instance through a small window, if you can do this without compromising your home security. Teach your kitten how to use the cat flap before they need to get in or out by themselves.

You may live somewhere very quiet and feel that your kitten could be safe to come and go as they please, day and night. If, on the other hand, there are other cats in the area, or if you live close to a road, even a residential street, you may be better off making sure your kitten comes indoors at dusk.

Cats tend to be particularly active at night and, although this is a good time for them to explore and to hunt (both natural cat behaviour), being out alone at night puts them at greater risk of being involved in a collision with a vehicle or getting into a fight with another cat.

Cats and kittens venturing out unsupervised should be wearing a microchip. A grain-of-rice sized device that is inserted under the skin over the shoulders, a microchip is a permanent means of identifying your kitten or cat. Even if you plan to put a collar and tag on your kitten when they go outdoors, collars can (and should) ping off if they get caught on anything.

Sadly, cats can be involved in collisions with vehicles and they often climb inside delivery vans to explore, then get shut in and taken inadvertently to an area they don’t know and from where they can’t find their way home.

If someone finds an injured or lost cat, it’s quick and simple to have their microchip scanned and their family contacted.

Microchips can be placed at or after the time of primary vaccination or during neutering, when the kitten is under general anaesthesia and doesn’t know anything about it. Your vet team can help you to decide the best time for your kitten’s microchip to be placed.

Read more about microchipping your kitten

The earliest your kitten’s vaccination course will be complete is at about 12 weeks and,
depending on the vaccine, there may be a short wait after this while your kitten’s immune system processes it. Your vet team will be able to tell you how long it should take for your kitten to be fully protected.

It’s important that your kitten is vaccinated because, while some serious infectious diseases can be passed on directly from cat to cat, others can be spread in the environment.

Even unvaccinated cats who don’t go out of the home can become infected if visitors have been in contact with a cat with, for instance, cat flu and bring in viral particles on their clothes.

Read more about vaccinating your kitten

Chat to your vet about the best age to neuter your kitten. Normally, they would need to be around four months or older and many vets may prefer them to be over a minimum

It’s important that kittens have been neutered before they’re allowed out without supervision because female kittens can get pregnant at about four months of age.

Male kittens will soon develop the overwhelming desire to wander, which puts them at risk of getting hit by cars, injured from fighting with other cats and becoming infected with serious diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), for which there is no vaccine in the UK, no cure and which can, in turn, be passed on to other cats in the household.

Read more about neutering your kitten

Read more about letting your kitten outside

It’s a big, wide world, and a kitten trying to establish themselves out there faces a few
challenges. The greatest threats to their wellbeing are traffic and other cats and, to a lesser degree, other animals and people. You’ll have an idea of how busy your own street is, but cats can and do explore further afield than their own garden, so it’s worth thinking about how safe it will be to let them out on their own.

You may have noticed already whether there are many cats in your immediate
neighbourhood. Cats don’t recognise property boundaries in the same way we do. (This can lead to neighbourly disputes when cats decide that their favourite toileting area is a
neighbour’s vegetable garden!) They’re designed to be solitary hunters and not to share
resources with other cats.

They have a ‘den’, which is the place in which they feel most secure, for instance, your home. Outside of this, they have their own immediate territory, which they will defend from other cats. They then have a more extensive range, where they may roam and hunt. Sometimes, ranges and territories overlap and, if there are enough resources, some cats find ways to ‘time-share’, so that they can avoid conflict.

The existence of territories can cause problems for cats who are new to an area that is
already ‘owned’ by other cats. If cats already consider your garden to be their territory, your kitten could have some difficulty in claiming it for their own and not having to travel two gardens away to use an ‘unclaimed toilet’.

If you can try to help your kitten to establish themselves in your garden, by accompanying them for the first few weeks when they go outside, they can start to build their own scent there and in doing so, deter other cats from entering. Complex scents are left by cats when they go to the toilet, rub their faces against things and scratch with their feet. These scents are like messages for other cats and let them know exactly who is around, and when.

You may live somewhere very quiet and feel that your kitten could be safe to come and go as they please, day and night. If, on the other hand, there are other cats in the area, or if you live close to a road, even a residential street, you may be better off making sure your kitten comes indoors at dusk.

Cats tend to be particularly active at night and, although this is a good time for them to explore and to hunt (both natural cat behaviour), being out alone at night puts them at greater risk of being involved in a collision with a vehicle or getting into a fight with another cat.

Practice teaching your cat to come to you when you call. You can start this while they’re still very young, by tapping their food bowl and calling their name at feed times.

Once you begin to let them out under supervision, you may need to offer a little treat to get them to come back to you, but try it once they’ve had some time to play and for the novelty of being outdoors to wear off a bit. Later, once they’re going out on their own, you could call them in and use feed time as a good incentive to come in!

There are arguments for and against cats wearing collars. The biggest benefit is that, if you choose a reflective collar, your kitten will be much more visible to motorists. You can attach an identity tag to a collar so that other people can see that your kitten has an owner if they don’t recognise them.

Many cat owners also like to use collars with a little bell attached to try to prevent their cats from hunting wildlife. Although some people worry that wearing bells could annoy cats and that they might learn to move carefully so as not to sound them, a study commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) found that successful hunting was reduced by one-third to a half in cats wearing bells or ultrasonic 'peeping' devices on their collars.

The downside of wearing a collar is that cats can get them caught on things, leading sadly to them being injured or worse. Also, cats occasionally get their own legs through their collar, which can cause severe injuries.

Once your kitten has a microchip, there is probably little need for a collar. If you do decide to buy a reflective one to increase visibility, choose one that has a break-away fastener. This means that, if your kitten gets their collar caught on anything, it should snap open and release them.

When you think the time is right, open the door to the garden and encourage your kitten to take a few steps outside with you. Some kittens will already be eager to find out all about what’s on the other side of the back door and won’t need any encouragement!

Let your kitten explore for a little while and then either carry them back indoors or call them and have a reward ready – a tasty treat or a favourite toy, such as a fishing toy.

Kittens will often startle at sudden noises, such as a barking dog in a nearby garden or a
passing car, so make sure you stay close to them and prop their cat flap open or, better still, keep the door open for now, so that they can run to safety if they need to. They’ll come back out once they feel safe again.

Gradually increase the time you allow your kitten to spend outdoors, exploring and
familiarising themselves with the garden and establishing their own scent. It might take a few weeks before you feel that your kitten is ready to go outside on their own. If you’re well prepared and if you can support them on their first few outdoor adventures, they should be able to make the most of their freedom!

Expert top tip

We asked Tammy Miles, Senior Registered Veterinary Nurse at Vets4Pets Leeds Birstall, for her top tips on letting a kitten outside for the first time:

"Not all kittens are adventurous enough to want to go outside and may be too timid to want to venture out. If your kitten does seem very intrigued in the outside world then it is strongly advised to have them neutered first as both males and females are more likely to roam further away when unneutered."

"Once fully recovered, it is recommended to use a harness and lead and allow them to explore the great outdoors under your direct supervision first before letting them roam free."


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