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I got a 6 months male who has been used to freely wander outside in the countryside.

I'm wondering about letting him go outside. I live at the second floor and share a balcony with my neighbor (a entrance balcony, which means that the cat could go out if someone opens the entry door). That seems dangerous for him.

I wanna point out that he's very happy cat, always playing, cuddling with me, etc. But he's also quite fierce and rash.

The thing is, he often meows at the door like he's genuinely hurt and I can't stand it, I want it to stop. It makes me feel so bad and I work from home.

I'm thinking about just letting him go, even if I live in a big city. Could that be that bad of an idea? Or could there be another way to distract him from going outside? Could castration help?

  • If you have an answer, please add it as an answer rather than a comment. This discussion in comments is now for the most part covered in all the answers, so these comments will be deleted now – Harry V. Sep 18 at 14:43

11 Answers 11

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If I were in your shoes, I would not let the cat go outside. It is just my personal opinion based on safety, though - and I'm saying this as a person who thinks that indoor cats are indeed missing an important, but non-essential aspect of their lives. Also, I tend to get deeply bonded with all the pets I'm taking care for, maybe too much, or maybe not - thus my opinion is naturally biased towards sacrificing their freedom for safety in such dilemmas.

My main concern is the fact that indoor cats, on average, have a lifespan of around 16 years - while outdoor cats of only around 4 years (please see the references included at the footnote for sources). I will paraphrase what a wise person once said, in your context: a child denied of going for a meal in a fast-food restaurant, and given broccoli instead, would also act like it is genuinely hurt, trying to make the parents feel bad, sometimes also making them not being able to stand it and give up - but this is actually bad for the child itself, and so is in my consideration letting your cat outside in this situation.

I think it is okay and even preferred to let your cat outside if you are living in a village, especially if there are no wild predators like coyotes, etc. where you live - but city presents just too much potential hazards in my opinion. High density of traffic, high density of people (and not all people like cats!), dog owners deliberately unleashing their aggressive dogs to attack cats for fun - of course, all of these hazards are also existing in a village scenario - but it's just that in the city they are much more likely to happen.

Ultimately, it is your cat and your choice - but also your responsibility, thus I am happy and glad you have asked this question let us help you in your considerations. Please take note that I don't intend to mean that letting your cat outdoors is the worst idea possible; I generally think this dilemma is too complicated and multidimensional to be able to be easily summarized and answered by a single, best-solution approach. It depends on what does the owner value the most, and it naturally varies from person to person. If the owner shares the safety-number-1-priority-attitude with me, my answer might be convincing and useful. If not, the owner could decide to not agree with me and let the cat go outside - and that's fine, but it's preferred that it is a conscious decision, made after taking all the related hazards into consideration. Getting to see and analyze a point of view from a safety-oriented person, like me, is what could be regarded as getting informed about these hazards.


References:

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Harry V. Sep 18 at 14:30
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    My cat is 14 years old and goes out every day. I would think it cruel to stop her. – Michael Harvey Sep 19 at 9:58
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Buy a cat harness and take him out on supervised walks on a leash.

cat on a harness, from Wikipedia

Cat harnesses are a simple, affordable method for a cat owner to take their cat outdoors and let them explore in a safe, supervised fashion, and also minimize the risk that they'll kill innocent wild animals.

Just put it on him periodically around the house to get him used to it, then attach a leash and take him for a walk around the block and down to the local park.

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    @akostadinov What? What does "humiliating" mean for a non-human? Is this a serious point? – Kevin Arlin Sep 17 at 0:11
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    I ocasionally do this with my cat, but it's worth noting that if the goal is to stop the cat yowling at the door this may be counter-productive. Every time I take my cat for a walk he gets especially insistent about going outside again for up to a week. Of course if you take him for a walk every other day this may be less of a consideration. – Turksarama Sep 17 at 1:30
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    @akostadinov I just don't know that a cat understands being on a leash at such a deep emotional level. I'm sure they find it annoying to be controlled, but they find it much more depressing not to be able to go out. And I think the argument from "cats kill many birds" is on its own compelling to say you shouldn't let your cat roam freely. – Kevin Arlin Sep 17 at 15:33
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    @akostadinov There is a huge difference between "animals have feelings" (which is indisputably true) and "animals have the same feelings as humans and for the same reasons" (which is indisputably false). If your cat seems unhappy when going on supervised walks then don't do them, but for many it is a great compromise – Kevin Wells Sep 17 at 15:57
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    As a warning to those who want to try this but haven't done it yet, don't expect cat walks to be like dog walks. Dogs like to go on guided and structured walks with a person as they would with a pack, cats not so much. Cats in my experience will not follow your lead and will not follow any kind of obvious path like a side walk. Cat walks are really just following your cat around the neighborhood with a leash to make sure they don't get away – Kevin Wells Sep 17 at 16:00
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It is not necessarily a bad idea if you take the necessary precautions.

A cat who used to wander freely outside knows the dangers and pitfalls of the outside. However, you need to take some precautions.

  • Have your cat carry an easy break collar with your phone number on it.
  • Have your cat microchipped.
  • Have your cat vaccinated. Some people don't vaccinate their indoor cats, yet this is not a good idea. It is especially a bad idea to let an unvaccinated cat to wander around.
  • Supervise the first few outings of your cat. Some cats just freak out as soon as they get out.

There are some region-specific concerns.

  • Does your city have a population of stray cats? Male stray cats tend to attack other male cats and a 6 month old cat cannot defend himself against aggressive mature males. If this is the case, wait for your cat to be at least 1.5 years old.
  • Is your balcony easily accessible from outside as well? He will need a refuge in case he gets stressed.
  • Most important point: How is the foot and vehicle traffic in your region? Cats who are not used to human traffic can be spooked by them and dash to the street. Too many cats die this way.

One last comment: Cats do not always know what is best for them. They are curious by nature and get upset when they cannot explore as they want. So, if your house is in part of the city with active traffic and if the city has many stray cats, don't cave in to your cat's demands. His psychology will change as he grows and after he is neutered and he might stop being insistent.

Some addendum after the answers and comments:

  • What is good or bad for the cat? Is not letting the cat out equivalent of keeping your children indoors indefinitely or forcing them to eat broccoli?

    • This depends on your neighbourhood a lot. Here in Cambridge, a city of 120000 population all cats go in and out as they will. Every household has a cat flap. Under these circumstances, you should let your cat go out. If you live in somewhere resembling central London, it is definitely a bad, potentially fatal idea.
    • However, if you don't let your cat out even if you leave in a small city with little traffic, your cat will be more prone to depression and obesity. To prevent this, you have to play with them more, much more than someone who lets his cat go out.
  • What about dogs?

    • The biggest threat to your cat is still other cats. If your cat is female, they might try to copulate with her by force. Normally being spayed helps a female cat, but not always. If your cat is male, he will be attacked due to territorial reasons.
    • Dogs rarely constitute a threat to cats, unless the owner maliciously raised the dog to attack cats. As a rule of thumb, a cat can defend himself against dogs that are upto three times the weight of the cat. Even the larger dogs would be deterred by the agility of the cats, unless they are taught to attack regardless. If your neighbourhood has a high number of stray dogs, they might corner and hunt the cat in packs, but if this is not the case, you shouldn't be too concerned about dogs.
  • What about cats killing birds and rodents?

    • It is true that cats are the main predator of birds and rodents in cities. However, there are other ways to protect the wildlife. The best way is to add bells to your cat's collar. If your cat is extra crafty, add more bells. My cat hunted seven mice and two birds that I have seen myself in four months after I adopted him, yet after I put two bells, he hadn't hunted himself at all, at least he didn't show me.

Long story short, if your neighbourhood is relatively safe for you to let your cat outside, you should definitely do it. It is better for not just for obesity, but also against mental health problems your cat might develop.

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    Thanks for that answer. I think I might go for the second option. – qleguennec Sep 16 at 7:37
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    I would add one more point to precautions: neuter your cat. This will often reduce wanderlust, but at least they won't bring in suprise litter. – Mandemon Sep 16 at 10:48
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    @Mandemon not only will it prevent the cat from causing you problems, it will prevent them from causing wide ranging harm. An increase in stray/feral cats strains the shelter system, leads to more cats being put down, and can greatly reduce wild animal populations like birds. – Kevin Wells Sep 17 at 15:54
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    @KevinWells I always assume everyone neuters their cat unless they are in a farm. The stench and aggression are unbearable. – C.Koca Sep 17 at 16:13
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The previous answers are great, and I agree that there are many dangers for the safety of outdoor cats.

Here is another reason I would not let my own cat roam freely outdoors: Domesticated cats are considered by many ecologists to be super-predators -- i.e., they kill many birds, many more than they eat, seemingly just for sport. Here's just one link to an article about it: https://www.aaas.org/are-domestic-cats-backyard-superpredators

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    Thank you so much for mentioning this. As a cat lover and a wild bird lover, this needs to be said. I have difficulty reconciling the two because of the unnecessary devastation house cats bring to the wild bird population. Unnecessary because they do not eat the birds they kill, as you said, it's just for sport. :'( – Josh Sep 17 at 15:28
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    I always keep my cats inside, but I stayed for a weekend with a suburban family that didn't. In the three days I was there, I personally saw their cute little calico, "Cali", kill 2 small bunnies, 2 birds (a robin and a chickadee-looking one), 1 mouse, and countless insects, including cool ones like butterflies and fireflies. – dandavis Sep 18 at 8:41
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    This is the only correct answer. Cats are an ecological menace and belong indoors anywhere where they are an invasive species (ie: almost everywhere). They are one of the most significant stressors of endangered small mammal and bird wildlife in the world. I love cats, but they cannot be left outdoors alone. We have one neighbour on our entire street that has one cat that they leave outdoors and that single cat rakes in a shocking number of kills up and down the street. I'm always finding shredded native birds and dead rabbits. Don't be that person. – J... Sep 18 at 15:46
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    I think "killing for sport" is a misnomer, cats kill excessively because they are driven by instinct to take prey any time they can, even if they aren't hungry at the moment enough to eat it. It is definitely not "just for fun". All the more reason to keep cats inside, as their excessive hunting is a biological imperative, not a character flaw, and can not be trained out or otherwise effectively discouraged. – Meg Sep 18 at 18:56
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    @Meg -- Yes, it's a misnomer all right. I hesitated to put that in there, but then settled on qualifying it with "seemingly". I guess I should have left it out. – Will Bain Sep 19 at 15:44
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Letting your cat wander outside unsupervised is dangerous to his health. Never letting him outside will reduce his quality of life, perhaps drastically. Luckily, these aren't your only options. Your best bet is a third option: let your cat outside in a supervised or controlled fashion.

You have several options to let your cat explore outside relatively safely. Which ones are feasible for you will depend on your living situation and cat, but hopefully at least one will work:

  • Put your cat on a leash. You may have to try a few different harnesses to find one your cat tolerates. Once he realizes that wearing it means going outside, he'll likely accept it.

  • Let your cat outside without a leash but while closely supervised. I do this with my own cat. However I live on a road with minimal traffic, she knows to run towards the house if anything scary happens, and she doesn't run off. Your cat's temperament may or may not allow this option.

  • Let your cat "outside" in an enclosed space. This could be a screened in porch, a cat run, or even a fenced yard if your cat doesn't climb. If you can't set up a cat run where you live, perhaps you could take your cat to a park or friend's home and set it up there.

I would strongly suggest you find one of these compromises that works for both you and your cat. My own kitty didn't go outside until she was over ten years old, and the improvement in her happiness and temperament has been incredible since I started taking her out. It really does enrich their lives considerably.

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I have grown to grudgingly accept that cats will be cats.

As your cat has been used to freely wandering outside in the countryside, I think you should be considering this fact the most.

He has experienced the outdoors, and knows the existence of 'outside'. I don't think it is really possible to undo this. The cat may forever yearn for what is out there. They are explorers, after all. You may adversely affect your outdoor cat's mental health by restricting him to inside-only, and he will likely take advantage of any opportunity to escape.

My subjective opinion here is that it borders on cruel to deny an outdoor cat access to the wider world. Especially if is he is an 'Entire Tom', with balls intact.

In a real urban area it is very likely to be in you and your cat's best interests to restrict, even deny, his access to outside. As a responsible pet owner you must of course do what you think is best for your cat.

Neutering will be essential. If he is not castrated, he will roam, and he will get into trouble! He may disappear for weeks at a time, and come back for a meal before disappearing again...

A neutered cat is not driven to roam, and is much less likely to get himself into trouble. Although he will look at you angrily from time to time.

In my case, I exist 'in partnership' with my cat. I provide him love, food and shelter, in the same way I provided his mother and grandmother love, food and shelter. In return he provides me with scratches, hairballs and cat-poop.

He comes and goes as he pleases, and if I lose him to the wider world I will be distraught, but I grudgingly accept this as a fact of life.

Cats are cats! This fundamental fact really means he should have access to outside.

Though if you choose to keep him indoors, please do one thing. Get a plant pot and sow some grass-seed and keep it by the window. He will need to chew on a blade of grass once in a while, to help with an upset stomach, especially if he is a long-haired cat.

Absolutely have him micro-chipped, and don't bother with a collar. If you must, use a safety-collar designed to break away under pressure. By using one of these collars you more-or-less guarantee that your cat will soon return without a collar.

All the best to you and your cat.

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C.Koca gives some good advice about collar and stuff. But I support that pets are not toys. They have their own personality and lessons to learn in life. If their faith is to die early (unlikely for a cat anyway), so be it.

You don't lock-up your children at home because of all the dangers?

Also I would recommend letting him out early rather than later. As a young cat he will learn a lot of things. Others will not kill him. He will learn to run away from aggressors.

I'm telling you from experience. My cat as teenager managed to run away a few times and we let him go in and out of our apartment as he wished. He certainly had good and bad days. I think he was a happy cat.

I always cringe when I see fully-indoors cats. They look immature to and dependent to me. YMMV

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    While our relationships with pets and children can be similar in many ways, we should not base our treatment of pets on how we would treat a child – Kevin Wells Sep 17 at 16:02
  • @KevinWells, there are principles in life that are universal. – akostadinov Sep 17 at 19:02
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    Typically, when parents take their children outside, they accompany them, to keep them from getting into situations where they could endanger their lives. Cats are not so easily corralled, and there are a multitude of dangers in an urban environment that would teach them no lesson other than how to die. – Zibbobz Sep 18 at 12:34
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    @akostadinov There are, but this isn't one of them. If I had a pet snail (I don't) I wouldn't let them roam free outside because they would dry out and die. Different animals need different care – Kevin Wells Sep 18 at 15:51
  • @KevinWells, depends on your goal. Whether your goal is to have something alive at home for your own entertainment or do the best for an animal. Unfortunately some lessons can only be learned on your own. I guess you have seen in your own life that some things you need to go through, otherwise you can't mature. And btw we are talking about a cat which is a highly skilled survivor and a naturally independent creature. My answer is in such context. My comparison with human children was because both need to learn to take care of themselves. Not because they need same care. – akostadinov Sep 18 at 22:06
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Cats do love the outdoors, but letting one run free in an urban environment could be more dangerous to them than any good it might do.

But there are alternative ways to let your cat experience some of its outdoor cravings.

Opening a window with a screen on it is one simple thing you could do - even just letting them breathe in and see the outdoors could be very therapeutic for them. Be sure they have enough space to get comfortable on the window sill.

Or if that doesn't seem like enough, there are window boxes you can purchase to let your cat be even further outside while still being safe - though they can be quite expensive, and potentially difficult to install on a second floor apartment.


You might also want to figure out why your cat is meowing loudly at the door. It might not have anything to do with wanting to get outside - rather, cats are territorial, and it may be agitated at people it smells or hears outside your door (or wishing it could play with them) in which case, it may simply need a companion to keep it company.

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Someone suggested using a shock-collar. I think it is worth saying why this is a bad idea.

First of all there is the question of cruelty that others have mentioned but I'll mention some practical reasons.

  1. If you are anywhere near a road, the cat may simply run into the road through fright at the first shock. Thus it may get run over on the first test.

  2. The cat has to know where home is and all the routes back there before you can tell it where not to go. For this to happen you will need to let the cat out for a couple of weeks without the collar before it knows the neighbourhood. Once you do this the cat is going to crave being outside even more.

  3. You may end up training the cat to stay away from home because it will associate the shocks with being near home.

  4. If you use a hand-operated collar then, unless you have done a course and know the difference between; Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, Negative Punishment you will probably use the collar in exactly the wrong way. Even being completely versed in the theory is not enough.

Example

If you gave someone an advanced theory course on how to ride a bicycle but no practice, they would fall off just as often as someone who doesn't have the theory. When you fall off a bike, you only hurt yourself and your motivation is what makes you get back on. If instead your parent was standing by watching you try to ride, and giving you shocks when s/he thought you were doing it wrong, then (a) you will hate your parent and (b) you will probably never learn or just get off the bike and run.

I have a lot of experience with training dogs and some experience training cats (yes it is possible) and I know that one bad experience will set the training back sometimes by months and cause the animal to stop trusting you. NOTE A couple of typical "punishments" that owners give their cats are (a) putting them in a box to go to the vet and (b) forcing them to take pills. Of course from the owner's point of view, they are caring for the animal. From the cat's point of view the owner is simply being cruel for no reason. Getting an animal to trust the owner following doing these things in the wrong way can take a lot of time and effort. Witness questions on this subject here and all over the internet.

Summary

Training by punishment removes trust between pet and owner and, unless you understand precisely what you are doing and have practised it (say on a volunteer human) to get the timing right, you may merely train the animal to run away. If you simply buy a collar and get started, it would be like buying a powerful motorbike and heading for the centre of town without training, i.e. disastrous.

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NO!

Been there done that with tame and feral cats.

My experience is that the feral cat will end up badly.

The tame cat would do well if you were in a house. I suspect that living in an apartment would make it unworkable, but I have not had that situtation yet.

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  • Hi, welcome to Pets, nice to see you here with us ^.^ – lila Sep 18 at 18:58
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I think letting your cat go out is a good practice, but it could get you and your cat in trouble also.

If we talk about the mental health of the cat, then you should take him with you so that he may enjoy the open atmosphere and grow himself according to the environment.

If we talk about the safety of your cat, and other animals around in the environment, it's not good practice. If you're about to take your cat outside, make sure your cat is under your control, and you've trained his behavior.

However, you can use a cat harness if you're going out, and if you're not willing to use a harness, there are many training collars or shock collars available in the market, which will help you to control your cat with remote control.

If you have any further question, feel free to reply :)

Love for pets!

Have a nice day.

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    Downvote for shock collars. Poor thing will be getting hurt without even understanding why. – nick012000 Sep 17 at 3:45
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    Shock collars aren't really an option when living in an urban environment - you have to install sensors outside buried in the ground for them to work. – Zibbobz Sep 17 at 14:13
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    I can't reconcile your suggestion to support a cats mental health while also supporting the use of shock collars – Kevin Wells Sep 17 at 16:04

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