Behaviourist's corner

How to introduce kittens to outside

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While many cats live healthy, happy lives as indoor pets, there are also benefits to letting your kitten outdoors. Allowing your kitten to explore outside for the first time can be daunting, so we asked a behaviourist, a vet and another cat owner to share the practical ways that they helped their own kittens to stay secure while out and about.

Should your kitten be allowed to wander?

Cats make wonderful house pets and, as long as they have enough stimulation, can live long and healthy lives without ever venturing outside. On the other hand, there are also benefits to letting your kitten outdoors: it allows them to practice their natural instincts to hunt and explore, encourages exercise and mental stimulation, and can reduce stress. But there are risks associated with the outdoors, too: other cats, poisonous plants and busy roads all make for a potentially hazardous environment.

So, to make sure your pet is as safe as possible, we asked three cat owners to share their advice for keeping your cat healthy and happy while exploring. Here’s what they recommend:

1. Pick a quiet day

‘I foster many kittens for a local charity and, when they’re ready to start exploring, I’ll use my tried-and-tested technique to keep them safe: I pick a day with little or no activity going on in the house so they won’t get spooked,’ says Maureen Wheeler, a volunteer at cat charity, CatCuddles. ‘When the kitten I ended up adopting, Ferdinand, was ready, I left the back door open before feeding time in the morning and let him explore in his own time. I allowed him to investigate for a few minutes while I was nearby, and then I brought him back indoors and rewarded him with a treat and some breakfast. I repeated this over a few days until both Ferdinand and I had built up confidence with his outside adventures.’ Maureen also ensures that her kittens are microchipped, neutered and at least four months old before they are allowed out. Restricting access to the front is also a must. ‘I never, ever let my cats out the front,’ she adds. ‘I make it impossible for them to get access to that area by making sure any sideways are secure and blocked. And if the roads are particularly busy, I’ll keep them indoors until things are quieter.’

2. Check your garden

‘Most cats cope pretty well with the general garden environment,’ says Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner. ‘Generally, what is safe enough for children is safe enough for cats. But make sure to carry out common sense checks around your garden for sharp edges, such as rusty nails, especially in areas that might be tempting to squeeze into. Kittens are very inquisitive and can fit through the tiniest of spaces, so make sure to keep an eye out for those areas you might not otherwise check.’

3. Train your kitten to recognise its name

‘As soon as I bring a new kitten into my home, I’ll call her name whenever I feed her so it’s never long before she associates it with food,’ explains behaviourist Inga MacKellar. ‘I also make sure to call her name every now and then during the day and, when she comes, I’ll give her a special treat like a small piece of chicken or fish. That way, my kitten learns her name and that good things are likely to happen when I call. So, she’s more likely to respond to me when I call her in an outdoor setting.’

Inga also recommends supervising your kitten for the first few months of exploring, and using fishing-rod cat toys in the garden. ‘If my kitten starts to do something that’s potentially dangerous or something I’m worried about, I’ll flick the toy in front of her to distract her from what she was doing – rather than grabbing her, which could give her a fright. As kittens can be so easily distracted, this is a great technique to help keep them safe.’

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