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How To Introduce Your Cat To The Outside World (Without Panicking)

How To Introduce Your Cat To The Outside World (Without Panicking)

Cats love exploring and hunting outdoors. But you may wonder, will my cat come back if I let him outside? It’s a good question and one that we answer in this article. 

Keep reading to learn how to transition cats from indoors to outdoors and the benefits. Let’s dig in.

Will My Cat Come Back If I Let Him Outside?

So you want to introduce your cat to the outdoors. We’ll get into the benefits and risks of this. But first, let’s answer the question, will my cat come back if I let him outside? 

Cats will typically come back to what’s familiar to them and where their food is. However, training will help teach them to return to your house. But, of course, there are instances of cats not making it back because they were harmed or lost. 

So, let’s dig deeper into the pros and cons of outdoor cats and how you can train yours to live indoors and outdoors. 

What Are the Benefits of Letting Your Cat Outside?

Most cats like to explore, and introducing them to the outdoors can increase their exercise and help them practice their natural instincts, such as hunting. They also experience new smells and sounds outside, which can help stimulate them mentally. Particularly if everyone in your household is at work or school all day, allowing your cat to stay busy outside may prevent boredom indoors.

But keep in mind, not all cats need to go outside to be happy. Some are perfectly content hanging out with you inside, playing with toys, and lounging around. In fact, we’ve personally had many cats who, when given the choice, prefer indoors. We’ve had to force them to go outside to get some exercise.

Pro Tip: If you’re thinking of letting your cat outdoors because it’s missing the litter box, read this.

What Risks Does Your Cat Face Outdoors?

The biggest threat to an outdoor cat is fleas, ticks, predators, and cars. Preventing pesky bites is easy with anti-flea and tick applications. But you have less control over predators or your fur baby getting struck by a moving vehicle. 

In addition, outdoor cats are more susceptible to diseases. So vaccinations and regular vet check-ups are important to prevent your fur baby from getting feline leukemia or ingesting pesticides it may run into in a nearby field. 

One of our biggest concerns for outdoor cats is being hit by a car. If you live near a busy, high-speed road, you may be extra nervous about letting your beloved feline outside. While cats may generally avoid loud, busy areas, the smells of food, other cats, or pure curiosity may lure them across roads. Whether you live in a rural or urban setting may drastically influence your decision to let your cat outside.

Suggested Reading: Learn more about the life of an indoor-outdoor cat.

How Do I Train My Cat to Be an Indoor-Outdoor Cat?

Training your cat to be indoors and outdoors is possible, but it requires a strategy. The key is to start slow. Let’s take a closer look at some methods.

Start By Letting Your Cat Outside for Short Periods

Slowly introduce your cat to the outside world. Ultimately, your goal is to ensure your cat comes back if you let him outside. So, start by letting it out for short periods. We also recommend going outdoors with it to observe its behaviors and letting it know you’re there if needed.

If It Will Allow It, Try Walking Your Cat On A Cat Harness

Walking your cat to help establish its territory boundaries can be a great way to introduce it to your backyard and the outdoors while keeping it safely restrained beside you. However, unless you start cat harness training when they are young, most cats reject the harness vehemently. Adding a harness suddenly at this time may freak them out more than going outside, so only do one thing at a time.

Provide Food Indoors on a Regular Schedule

Keep your cat’s food and water in the same place at the same time every day. Knowing that it can rely on its food source will help your cat come back if you let him outside. We also recommend keeping water outdoors in a designated spot. 

outdoor cat with collar
Put a collar and identification tag on your cat whenever it’s outdoors.

Implement a Routine and a Curfew

Routine is everything when training pets. So, implement one from the beginning. For example, use the same door to let your cat out. And do it around the same time every day. Your cat will likely also want to come inside at a particular time. Try to keep the routine so that it becomes a habit, and if your cat doesn’t show up one day, you’ll know something might be wrong.

We also recommend implementing a kitty curfew. Nighttime is often the most dangerous time for cats to be roaming, as other nocturnal wildlife becomes more active. So keeping your cat indoors once they’ve come home for dinner is an excellent way to keep them safe. Our families have implemented a 7:00 PM curfew for our indoor-outdoor cats with very successful results.

Cat Behavior Tip: Ever wonder what happens if cats are left in a dark house? Find out here.

Put a Collar and Tag on Your Cat

We highly recommend putting a collar with an identification tag on your outdoor cat. And we strongly suggest microchipping your cat so it can be identified if it gets lost and shows up at a shelter or vet office. As much as you implement a routine, there may be circumstances that lead to your pet getting lost or picked up mistakenly by a stranger who thinks it’s a stray. Having a collar is a clear indication that your cat has a home and is not in need of another.

two cats in a tree
Cats need their claws to run up trees when in danger.

Don’t Declaw Your Cat

Declawing an outdoor cat will severely limit its ability to defend itself against predators. Cats need to be able to fight off another animal or run up a tree when they’re scared. Without claws, they have little chance of survival. 

There are ethical alternatives to declawing cats, such as regular nail trimming and using scratch pads when inside. Plus, the more time they are outside scratching trees and fence posts is less them they’ll be climbing on your furniture.

Outdoor cat health tip: Also make sure they are up to date on outdoor cat vaccines!

Keep an Eye on the Weather

It can be dangerous for a domesticated cat to be outdoors in inclement weather. So whether it’s rain, heavy winds, or snow, watch the forecast and plan to keep your cat indoors if there’s weather that could harm it. For example, if you live in a climate with ice and snow in the winter, you may want to transition your cat to being indoors most of the time during that season.

However, you will likely be surprised how often they ask to go outside despite the poor weather. As long as they have some good, sheltered hiding spots they are resilient, adaptable creatures that can stay warm and take care of themselves.

What Do I Do If My Cat Doesn’t Come Back Home?

Let’s get back to the lingering question, will my cat come back if I let him outside? There’s always a risk for outdoor cats. So, if your fur baby doesn’t show up when it typically does, there are some steps to take. 

cat walking on street
Remain calm if your cat doesn’t come home on time, and do a thorough search around your house and neighborhood.

Search Around Your House and Neighborhood

First, search around your house and neighborhood. Your cat may just be having too much fun and forgot to come home on time. For example, we know someone who couldn’t find their cat and it was simply playing with a neighbor. 

Another person was searching for hours for their cat. They went into the forest behind their house and discovered it was up in a tree and couldn’t get down. There are many reasons your cat might be late, but close to home.

Let People in the Community Know via Social Media

If you’ve searched your house and surrounding area but still can’t find your cat, let others in your community know it’s missing. Put out an alert on social media to help spread the word. Many neighborhoods have Facebook groups or NextDoor groups to notify each other of situations like lost pets quickly. If you have or create a Facebook business account, you can even put money towards advertising your lost pet to get your bulletin in front of more eyes in your town.

Call Local Shelters

Contact your local animal control and rescue shelters to see if they have your cat. Again, microchipping becomes vital because shelters will likely have already scanned for it when the cat was brought in. And if they don’t have your cat, you can ask them to keep an eye out. However, you’ll need to continue to check in, as some cats turn up weeks after their first reported missing date and shelters sometimes don’t remember all the lost cat calls.

Remain Calm, Cats Can Disappear for a While

Finally, remain calm. Cats can disappear for a while. Sometimes they wander further than usual or get caught up hunting rodents and need to remember where they are. Or perhaps they’re chasing after a mate.

Cats can return home after days, months, or even years. The Lost Pet Research Project reports cats going a distance of up to 20 miles in 21 days and 80 miles in 2.5 years. 

The bottom line is to remain hopeful if your cat disappears. First, thoroughly search your house, inform neighbors, and contact local shelters. Then, wait calmly and patiently while continuing to check your lost and found sources.

person holding cat outside
Cats have a homing instinct.

How Do Cats Know Where They Live?

Cats have an ability called a homing instinct. While no one knows for sure how it works, an experiment was done in 1954 to test if cats can find their way home. Cats were put in a large maze to see if they could escape it and return to their homes. Most cats in the experiment took the exit closest to where they lived. 

Some cats have a better sense of direction than others. But cats typically can find their way home instinctively. 

Ease Your Cat Into Exploring the Outside World

We hope you’re getting more comfortable with the question, will my cat come back if I let him outside? Easing your fur baby into exploring the outdoor world is vital. Of course, your cat will likely let you know if it’s not for him. But you may also be surprised at how much he likes the stimulation of all those new smells and items to chase. By following our steps to introducing your kitty to the outside world, you will hopefully have no reason to panic.

Do you let your cat outdoors? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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About Caitlin Morton, Petrics Co-Founder

Cait has had animals her whole life, from family cats and dogs as a child, to caring for the class reptiles over breaks, to getting her first horse at the age of 12. She swears she never would have gotten through her Business Management degree without the help of her late soul dog, Mocha. She's worked in animal shelters in roles from kennel staff, management, and as a board member for over a decade, and has a serious case of the animal welfare bug.
At house parties, she's that weird friend that makes friends with the host's dog or cat instead of with other people. Currently, Cait travels full-time by RV with her husband Tom and their rescue dog, Luna.
She started Petrics to share her passion for the wonderful world of pets with others.

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