Your kitten’s first adventure into the garden is undoubtedly one of the most nerve-racking times for a cat parent. No matter how many times people tell you that cats are smart and have an exceptional sense of direction, cat parent fear is very likely to set in! Once you’ve run out of excuses for keeping them safely snuggled on your lap for all eternity (it’s quite cold, it rained yesterday, it’ll be dark in an hour, I just saw another cat three gardens away…), it’s time to take that brave step outside and let your favourite feline discover the big wide world beyond the back door.
Before you let your kitten take it’s first steps into the big outdoors, it is important for any new kitten to spend a few weeks inside so that they are as comfortable as possible in their new surroundings, and they know they’ve got a safe place to come home too. This also gives them a chance to grow into their paws and become a bit more adept at outdoor essentials such as climbing and jumping – before they try it out on a tree. We would suggest waiting until your furry friend is around 6 months old before you embark on this adventure. Make sure their vaccinations are up to date, and your now teenager has been micro-chipped and neutered before he tries to run away with the beautiful Burmese at Number 20. Neutering has proven to keep cats closer to home, and this will also prevent any unexpected litters from female felines.
When you feel they are ready for their new terrain, it’s best to start with small trips; head out into the garden with them so there’s some familiarity, and gradually increase the duration of each outing. You could even try using a harness for their very first taster and after a few voyages, let them roam free. For the more timid of felines, plenty of strokes will help them feel assured – well we all like a bit of attention don’t we! Before you let them out, knowing you can call them back will help calm your nerves. It’s useful to try and introduce recall at a young age, rewarding with treats or a meal when your kitties respond (a tap on a plate with a fork will send Frankie sprinting across several fences and through the back door at high speed. Dinner time!). Ideally, your kitten’s first time outside should be when they are hungry so they have a reason to not stray too far; this can be very helpful in the early days.
Every cat will be different in how they react to the great outdoors. But don’t fret, cats are usually very sensible creatures and cautiousness tends to prevail. Frankie was a slightly exception to the rule (bounding straight over the fence on his second outing and getting stuck next door), but he certainly learnt his lesson and stayed close to home for some time after that.
As their confidence grows, and if your home can cater for it, you may consider allowing access for your kitten via a cat flap. Depending on where you live and the environment your kitten is exploring, it could be wise to bring them back in at night so that they don’t unwittingly get locked out and end up camping out at a neighbouring garage, or get into any scraps with other cats who might be prowling the streets.
Once outside, there will be an infinite array of sights and sounds for them to discover and every cat will find fascination with different elements of the outdoors. You may find that your moggie becomes a master in fly chasing, obsessed by the springiness of fresh grass, or enjoys the simple pleasures in life sitting on the fence looking out over their kingdom. Whatever your feline’s preference, you’ll take great pleasure in seeing how much fun they have as an outdoor cat. Although not as much as you will when they return from a day of exploring for a nice long snooze on your lap, of course…