Here in the UK, seven out of 10 cats get to experience an indoor-outdoor lifestyle, according to the PDSA’s latest PAWs survey. But the number of cats confined to the house now stands at 28%, up from 15% since 2015.
A 2021 study into cat ownership trends points towards safety fears as the main reason for us keeping our cats indoors, chiefly road traffic accidents.
There are plenty of practical steps you can take to keep your kitten safe as they start to explore the big wide world – and it starts long before you open that door for them for the first time.
How old does my kitten need to be to go outside?
In practical terms, the age at which your kitten can go out is defined by when they have their vaccinations, neutering and microchip sorted.
It’s really important to keep your kitten indoors until at least a week after their second set of vaccinations, which they usually have at 12 weeks old. So your kitten will be at least three to four months before you should even consider letting them out.
If they’re going to be an outdoor cat, ask your vet to make sure their vaccinations include protection against FeLV, the feline leukaemia virus. It’s not always included as standard but outdoor cats are more at risk.
And while you’re at the vets, don’t forget about microchipping. Cats in the UK need to be microchipped by law from June 2024 but even before then, we can’t recommend strongly enough that you have your cat microchipped, especially if you plan to let them outdoors.
Outdoor cats should be neutered before going out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your kitten’s too young – female cats can become pregnant at just four months old. Cat rescue centres are full of unwanted kittens that are a result of unneutered cats being allowed to roam.
Finally, when your kitten’s outside they’re exposed to parasites like fleas, ticks and worms. So while you’re attending all those kitten appointments, ask your vet to recommend a good parasite prevention regime.
You can also order your kitten’s flea, tick and worm medication to be conveniently delivered to your door.
But my kitten is desperate to go outside!
If your kitten’s watching the birds and crying at the windows, you might feel that letting them out is the kind thing to do.
You need to keep in mind that you are responsible for their health and safety. If they haven’t yet finished their vaccinations or been neutered, you’re being far kinder to them by giving them a safe, indoor environment.
With injections and a microchip taken care of, you can start thinking about letting your kitten go outside from about four or five months old.
Just remember this is still very young and it’s ok to wait longer. If you (or your kitten) are feeling nervous about the new freedom, there’s no harm in keeping them indoors a few months longer with plenty to entertain them in the house.
Take the time to build them up slowly with supervised outdoor excursions until you feel they’re mature enough to keep themself safe.
Can kittens go in the garden before injections?
It’s not a good idea.
Even if you have a secure garden and supervise your kitten carefully, there’s a risk.
Other cats may pass through your garden and your kitten doesn’t need to be in direct contact with them to contract an illness.
Feline parvovirus, for example, can survive in the environment for months and your kitten could pick it up without coming face to face with another cat.
How old do kittens have to be to go outside unsupervised?
This is another big landmark – letting them out while you’re not around to watch them.
Even if you’re happy to let your kitten out from about five or six months old, it’s best to start with short, supervised trips to the garden together. You might not feel ready to leave them out totally unsupervised for a few more months yet.
Your kitten will probably stay close to home until they’re seven or eight months old anyway. When they’re closer to a year old you can give them a bit more freedom and perhaps a catflap so they can come and go as they please.
Can all breeds of cats go outside?
Some cat breeds have health or physical traits that make them more suited to life indoors, or restricted to a catio.
For example, sphynx cats are sensitive to both sun and cold so shouldn’t go outdoors.
Some valuable breeds like Ragdolls, Siamese or Persian cats also tend to be kept indoors as owners may be worried about theft.
It’s not a hard and fast rule though – lots of these cats from these breeds happily lead indoor-outdoor lives with the right environment.
Will my kitten run away if they go outside?
This is a really common fear for owners and while there’s always a risk with outdoor cats, they do tend to have a very strong homing instinct.
Some things you can do to make sure your pet always finds their way back home are:
Microchip them and register the details
Make mealtimes regular and create an audible ‘cue’, like banging a fork on a dish
Get a cat flap to make sure they always have a way of getting back into your home
Preparing your kitten for outdoor adventures
Don’t even think about opening the back door or unlocking that cat flap until you’ve taken these steps to get your cat ready for that big first step outside:
Familiarise them with outdoor smells and sounds
Begin by introducing your kitten to the sounds and smells of the outdoors. You can do this by keeping windows open with safety nets or screens, so that they can experience different sensory stimuli from the safety of indoors.
Try a harness and lead
Cats aren’t big fans of strolls around the block, but by getting your kitten used to a harness and lead you’ll be able to stop them from bolting on those exciting first few trips out. Start with short sessions indoors, gradually increasing the duration as your kitten gets comfortable.
Consider a catio
If budget and space allow, you could create a safe, enclosed outdoor space like a catio, or even surround your garden with cat-proof fencing. If your kitten’s happy enough getting their outdoor kicks close to home, this might even become a permanent solution for keeping your cat safe outdoors.
ID and tracking
Even if your kitten’s microchipped, you might want to consider putting a collar on them with a small ID tag. Just remember to choose a ‘breakaway’ style collar as cats can get them caught on things like branches, which can be dangerous if the collar doesn’t open easily.
You can even get smallGPS trackers for your cat’s collar. Just make sure you don’t spend more money on it than you’re prepared to lose if your kitten comes home without their collar on.
Take your time
If your kitten seems anxious or fearful when they first go out, it’s too early. Bring them back inside and try again in a few weeks or months.
Recall training for cats
In the early months while your kitten’s indoors, it’s a really good idea to train them to come when called. You can do this by using the same cue when you feed them or give them treats or a toy, whether that’s your voice or a sound you make with an object.
Kitten insurance and outdoor cats
Finding kitten insurance for a cat that goes outside isn’t any different to an indoor-only cat. At ManyPets we don’t ask if your cat goes outdoors when you get a quote for your kitten so it won’t affect the price you pay.
Cats that go outdoors are at a slightly higher risk of being injured due to the hazards they might encounter outside, like other animals and traffic. That means it’s really important to choose the right pet insurance policy before you let your cat out.
Our Complete policy has up to £15,000 vet fee cover a year and comes with lost and stolen cover as standard to help if your kitten doesn’t return when they should.
You can also add lost or stolen cover to our other policies and it’s well worth considering if your kitten has access to the outdoors.