7

My guess is that this is a non-starter, but... Is it possible and humane to get a cat and make it a completely outdoor cat from scratch (as it were)? By giving it somewhere in the back garden to go when it's cold, feeding it and taking it to the vet, etc., just...all outside? (In central England, in a village or town, not a large town or city.)

The background is that we cannot have cats (or dogs or any other furred creature, or birds, or...) in the house, due to my major allergy to them. My son has a more mild allergy, but loves dogs and cats. He adores a neighbourhood cat who comes around regularly (we know who his family is). He pets him and talks to him etc., then washes his hands afterward, and really gets something from that and from the cat coming around. But we'll likely be moving house in the next year or so and he's already sad about leaving this cat behind. He has fish, but...he's more of a hands-on pet person, and specifically really wants a dog or cat. (Well, and a snake, but that's been vetoed by his mother!)

So after we move I was thinking whether it would be possible to get our own outdoor cat. But I worry that it may be impractical, inhumane, or otherwise inadvisable. I don't want to do anything that would be putting the cat in harm's way or similar.

(I'm not looking for alternative pet suggestions, but thanks.)

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    I suspect that there will be a neighborhood cat at the new place you move to, and it should be possible to make friends with it as well. Here is a related post about moving outdoor cats it will give you some info. In short I don't think trying to make an indoor cat, become an outdoor cat is a good idea, but supporting an existing outdoor cat or moving a new one in would be much preferred. – James Jenkins Apr 29 at 12:39
  • @JamesJenkins - That's what I'm hoping for. :-) The above would just be a fallback if that doesn't happen (if it's even feasible). Fingers crossed! Thanks for the linked info. – T.J. Crowder Apr 29 at 13:01
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    You don't get to have an outdoor cat. Outdoor cats {even more so than indoor(/outdoor) cats} get to have you. 'There will be cats', +1. I've never met a cat who didn't want to come home with me, and that's why I have a second one now, which I made the mistake of feeding after rescuing from a boarded-up house, realizing that I am now responsible for it. - If you feed a wild animal, it no longer is and should be treated as such. – Mazura May 1 at 1:29
  • We had someone move in to a share house years ago that was massively allergic to cats, and had great success with immunotherapy treatment. This could be an option for you. If I recall correctly, the process took around six months. – toxicantidote May 1 at 2:23
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This will be an unpopular answer, but here goes.

We had a small farm as a young family, partly because I am an animal lover, and partly to teach my children the true cost of their food (and I'm not referring to money; I'm referring to captive and lost lives.)

Once while awaiting pickup of a grain order, the man in front of us heard my kids talking about wanting a cat. He turned to us and said he had kittens whose mother had been killed, that they were "just about weaned" and we were welcome to them. Wen we got to is place, there was a box of kittens with ears still flat against their heads and eyes unopened. Knowing their likely fate, we went home with a box of very young kittens. For a few weeks, my husband and I fed these babies with syringes around the clock, stimulated them to urinate and defecate (oh, joy!), and watched them grow. But they stayed in our garage. In fact, they had a great life in our garage! They were the friendliest cats I've ever known, a joy to be around.

We became known as softies, and eventually took in 13 kittens. They all lived in the garage, had litter boxes and everything an indoor cat has, including a lot of human interaction. My only regret about their being outdoor cats was their predatory drive. Cats are destructive animals.

My feeling is that given the right protection, outdoor cats are better than no cats at all. True, their life spans are shorter (one of our first - and best loved - cats lived nine years, though), but quality trumps quantity in my mind (that goes for myself, too.) My cats spent most of their time in the garage, but had the freedom to wander in the garden and the barnyard as much as they wanted to.

So I say, for your son's sake, go for it. But I'd give them shelter in the garage, not leave them to the elements.

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9

My family has good experiences with adopting young feral cats, but admittedly we kept them in the house for a few weeks to make them associate our house with their new home.

Compared to getting an in-house cat, there are several differences to this approach.

  1. You need a place to lock it up for a few days or weeks to get it used to living with you. A tool shed or something similar would be good, but the cat must not find a hole to squeeze through an run away. You must provide food, water and a litter box in this place and start socializing with your cat in there, too.
  2. Kittens of a feral cat learn hunting from their mothers. Even if the kitten was separated from mom too young to have ever hunted a mouse on their own, they will remember and hunt too, as they get older. Expect a loving gift of a half-chewed mouse or bird on your door mat.
  3. You need to offer a warm shelter during winter. Cats have fur, but their ears and faces are roughly as sensitive to low temperatures as humans are. A big carton or box filled with fluffy blankets or insulated with styrofoam on the outside is sufficient.
  4. Due to living outside and hunting rodents, your cat will get parasites and gut worms. Save dates at regular intervals in your phone to remind you to freshen up all vaccines, dewormer and flea treatments, even if you don't see any evidence of parasites on your cat.
  5. If your cat ever seriously scratches or bites you (maybe in a panic or for whatever reason), you must get the wound treated by a doctor. See this related question for more details. I was witness of how a small, but deep cat scratch resulted in such a severe inflammation that tissue from the hand had to be removed.

Apart from that, I see no arguments against having an outdoor-only cat. Make sure it was properly socialized with humans at a young age or it will always stay somewhat shy. If socialized properly it will trust you soon enough and - depending on its individual character - be a cuddly friend or a nice play partner.


Another solution would be a hypoallergenic cat breed (that doesn't cause allergies). Keep in mind, though, that these breeds produce less of the particles that cause allergies, but they still produce more than 0. So if you have bad reactions to very brief contact with normal cats, these breeds will still cause a reaction in you.

Maybe a combination of hypoallergenic outdoor-only cat would be the optimal solution for you.

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    I was an ER doctor, and the majority of cat bites that I treated were from indoor cats. There was no difference in infection rates; the only difference was worry over possible rabies exposure. – anongoodnurse Apr 30 at 5:17
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    We've also had outdoor cats adopting us - but we never tried to lock them up: used food & lots of patience instead. But the current one is the first who is allowed into the house due to a combination of old cat (she's 19 now) and young dog (who'd love to be the cat's friend, but the cat has a different point of view on that question). – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 1 at 9:42
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX In our case "adopting young feral cats" doesn't mean they they wandered around and decided to stay with us. We noticed a cat somewhere - most of the time in another village - having kittens and took one of them with us when they were old enough to be seperated. That's why we had to lock them up. If they started searching for mom they would probably have been lost and eventually starved. – Elmy May 1 at 12:33
  • @Elmy: I'd never take kittens from some other village: also free roaming cats here have owners. Anyways, we also once found 2 tiny kittens that someone had clearly put into the wood behind our grounds. Neither with them nor with kittens we got from a farm it was necessary to lock them up. They got food and (outdoors) shelter and grew up as free roaming cats (they all learned how to catch mice, the tiny ones with human help). Some moved away as adolescents - but that's IMHO to be expected since it is how (tom)cats cope with differences about territory and someone else being the bigger guy. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 4 at 18:04
4

Indoor cats live an average of 16 years, whereas outdoor cats live an average of 4 years. Therefore, it is unethical to take an indoor cat and try to make it an outdoor one. The same goes for feral kittens still young enough to be socialized as indoor pets. On the other hand, it's very difficult (and potentially dangerous) to socialize older feral cats.

The simplest option is to hope that your new home has its own stray (not feral) cats or your new neighbors already have outdoor cats like your current home. If there is a significant feral cat population and your son is old enough, he may enjoy volunteering with a shelter or TNR group since that will give him controlled, limited exposure to cats, plus it's a valuable learning experience and service to the community.

The other option is to look into hypoallergenic breeds of cat. These breeds won't be found at a shelter, regardless of what they say. Note that "hypo-" means "less", not "zero", so you will need to visit the breeder to check your reaction to a specific kitten before you commit to buying. Many folks with allergies report no reaction, and others report a mild enough reaction that it is manageable with OTC medications and/or simple precautions like washing hands frequently.

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  • Thanks. Unfortunately, as you say, "hypo" means "less" and I already have enough on my allergy plate. :-) Where do these stats come from? – T.J. Crowder Apr 29 at 17:05
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    @user149408 Access to indoors provides some protection against weather, but any cat that can roam freely is exposed to cars, disease, fights, other predators, poisons, etc. that will reduce their expected lifespan. – StephenS Apr 30 at 16:22
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    Then I have some serious doubts about the 4 years’ life expenctancy. The surroundings certainly play a role—e.g. cats living near a busy road have a higher risk of getting killed in an accident—but I know of several outdoor cats that lived until well into their teens and died of natural causes, with no indication of a link to their being outdoors. Personally, I would be more worried about the ethics of keeping a cat locked in for its entire life. – user149408 Apr 30 at 17:27
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    @user149408 pets.webmd.com/cats/features/… is one good read on the subject; the 4 year term is an average, of course, just like human life expectancy from birth in the middle ages being 33 but lots of 60 year olds back then - along with a lot of infant mortality. – Joe Apr 30 at 21:27
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    It's not unethical to allow a cat its freedom. A statistic can be used to justification a belief. Your belief is valid, but it's not a matter of ethics. One of my kids (& spouse) have 5 indoor only cats. I feel sorry for them (an opinion I keep to myself.) They're all overweight, they fight a lot, and they're unfriendly. My "barn cats" (actually garage cats) were fit, friendly, and I never saw any of them scrapping, which is remarkable now that I think of it. If there was tension in the garage, they could just leave and take a walk. In my opinion, a good life is better than a long one. – anongoodnurse May 1 at 18:05
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My aunt adopted a young stray cat a while back. Since she was away during the week for work reasons, keeping him in the house was not an option, so she kept him outside (house with a garden in a rural area). She had a garden shed where he could get in for shelter. Her partner built an electronically controlled feeding station (also in the shed): he wore a token around his neck which would activate the feeding station when he approached it (after an activation it would be locked for a certain period of time).

The cat was 5–6 years old when he disappeared (she suspects catnapping, as a few cats in the village disappeared that same summer). By that time my aunt was already retired and at home during the week, so there would not have been any more obstacles to letting him in.

So I think it is doable if you provide food and shelter outside the house, as well as regular vet care, and if the cat is used to being outdoors. Of course, they are subject to all the dangers of being outside, as with any domestic cat that is free to roam outdoors. Such is the price of freedom. On the other hand, if you adopt a young stray cat, he will most likely have a better life than he would otherwise.

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    "Catnapping" is unlikely. It's more likely the cat (and other cats nearby) were killed by a predator that came through. This story is a good lesson in how outdoor cats have much shorter lives than indoor ones. – Allison C Apr 30 at 14:34
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    @AllisonC - Cats die in all strange manners; we had an adolescent male go missing. We started searching our woods and found him under a fallen tree, injured but alive. He recovered, thankfully, but such is the price of freedom. If you were guaranteed 10 extra years of life, would you stay locked up in one house, maybe two, all of your life? I highly doubt that the need to provide for yourself is the only reason you ever leave your house. – anongoodnurse May 1 at 17:52

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