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My 2 year old in-door house cat has shown an interest in hanging out outside, in my fenced-in backyard. While nervous, I do want to allow him to sniff around there so I am inclined to allow him to explore. While there is no real threat of him running away, I am concerned about the strays that frequent my yard. I share a wall of the fence with my neighbors, who put out food bowls for strays in the area. This means that the strays are often in my yard. While I am not concerned from an aggression perspective (if I were to let my cat out, I would be with him the whole time), I am concerned about disease/infection. Is there any risk to my cat catching something (ie fleas, ticks, etc...) from being in the same places that the strays have been recently/often?

Edit: cat is neutered.

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    If it is an intact male , he will go significant distance looking for females and challange other males. Nov 1 '21 at 19:46
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    @blacksmith37 he has been neutered.
    – Runeaway3
    Nov 1 '21 at 20:40
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    Just a little experience from some friends: Teach your cat a command (like you would a dog) that means he will get a treat inside your house. That gives you some control over him and lets you avoid dangerous situations before they arise. Since cats have a very strong mind of their own, you must reward him with a treat 100% of times you call the command, otherwise he will simply ignore you. It's a great way to recall your cat in the evening / night when you can't see him and want him to go inside.
    – Elmy
    Nov 2 '21 at 5:24
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If stray or neighborhood cats are getting into your yard, your cat will be able to get out of it, and make no mistake--your cat is faster and more agile than you. You will not be able to stop him from leaving the yard if something catches his attention or frightens him. Outdoor cats face a number of risks, including diseases and parasites, poisoned prey, competing predators/wildlife, prey that fights back, motor vehicles, and cruel humans--and these risks apply to your cat immediately once you allow it to roam freely even in your yard, because your fence does nothing to keep him in.

For the safety of your cat and your own peace of mind, consider other options to simply roaming free. The least expensive and simplest option is to get a harness and leash and leash train your cat. It will take a little time for him to get used to it, but you'll be able to walk with him while he's outside and keep him safe in case of something spooking him, other animals in your yard, or something of interest on the other side of the fence, as well as protecting your local wildlife from him. Pros of this option include that it's inexpensive and allows for a wider ranging exploration of the yard; cons include the time it will take to train your cat to wear the harness and a risk of slipping out of it if not adjusted properly.

A higher investment is to construct a "catio," an outdoor enclosure designed for cats to give them some fresh air and safe outdoor time. These are typically a screened porch-type structure, equipped with various perches and "caves" for additional enrichment. These can be custom-built or purchased ready to assemble. A properly constructed catio will prevent the cat from escaping, and in turn, prevent any other animals from entering and harming your cat, or from becoming your cat's prey, reducing the risk of injury and illness. Pros of this option include a lower need to monitor the cat as closely and no training (the cat will figure it out instantly), and cons include the cost and setup involved.

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    The investment for a relatively large catio isn't as high as one might suspect, especially if put into perspective with what it may prevent. We've build one with 60m² (~645 sq. ft) and the whole project came to around €700, that is with high-quality materials bought where convenient and not specifically at best price. In my personal opinion, the peace of mind alone is worth every single cent.
    – bgse
    Nov 3 '21 at 1:24
  • @bgse True, they can be built affordably, but they're still a higher cost than a harness and leash, where a good set of those will cost me about $30. :)
    – Allison C
    Nov 3 '21 at 15:01
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There definitely is a risk of catching parasites, but these can typically be dealt with fairly easily (e.g. ticks and fleas), or with little to moderate effort at least (e.g. Giardia). Even so, parasites are always a risk for outdoor cats, regardless of contact with other cats in the area.

The more pressing concern should be communicable diseases, especially those where treatment isn't possible.

Some are transmitted primarily in fights and during sexual contact ("unfriendly" diseases) such as FIV and risk can be lowered by neutering, others are communicable by normal social interaction ("friendly" diseases) such as FeLV and should be vaccinated against.

I would suggest to consult with your vet what the vaccination recommendations are in your area, and make sure that all the shots are up to date before letting your cat outside.

Keep in mind that it only takes a little scare, and a cat with limited outdoor access might become a full outdoor cat for a couple of weeks until it finds its way back home, so when considering vaccinations, we should always keep in mind the worst case and prepare for that.

Edit: As @Allison C points out in comments and their answer, parasites and disease are not the only things to worry about when making the indoor / outdoor decision.

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    A little scare may also, unfortunately, turn a cat with limited outdoor access into an outdoor cat for the rest of its (now drastically shortened) life. Disease transmission is far from the "worst case."
    – Allison C
    Nov 2 '21 at 13:38
  • @AllisonC Worst case regarding what vaccinations are considered necessary was what I meant, of course there are more immediate dangers than disease.
    – bgse
    Nov 3 '21 at 1:09

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