The sun is shining, the grass is green and you might be thinking about letting Fluffy out to enjoy these warm days. Some people even think it's cruel to keep a cat indoors, believing it's against their nature, and cats are wild creatures who deserve the freedom to roam outdoors. But it's important to recognize the dangers of letting your indoor feline friend outdoors. Free-roaming cats, let out by their well-intended caretakers, can fall victim to a number of fates.

No matter where a cat lives, on a farm in the country or an apartment in the city, being struck by an automobile is a very real threat. Oftentimes this kills the cat immediately, but think of the misfortune of the cat who is struck by a car and can no longer move and is unable to make his way home. He will die either from his injuries or starvation along the side of the road.

 

While it's true cats are descended from their wild brethren, the domesticated cat of today is far removed fromthe lion on the Savannah. Unlike the lion, domesticated cats are not at the top of the food chain. In the northeast U.S., many predators consider cats a tasty meal. Coyotes, foxes, eagles, hawks and free-roaming dogs are just a few animals that prey on cats.

In addition to the threat of wild predators, cats can fall victim to inhospitable humans as well. In rural areas cats may be thought of as nuisances and are shot or poisoned. In populated areas, cats and other small animals are often snatched up to be used as "bait" for dog-fighting rings. In addition to being used as bait, stray cats are picked up to be sold to laboratories for research.

There are also threats caretakers may not be able to see. When left outside, cats can be exposed to a number of life-threatening diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, distemper, and rabies. Cats may also catch any number of parasites while roaming outdoors, such as fleas, ticks and worms. These afflictions can be transferred to other pets and can ultimately shorten the life of your cat.

Animals who don't suffer an untimely death end up as strays. Cats do not have the innate homing instincts many people believe they do. They can become confused in a neighbor's yard, or cross a street and become disoriented. These cats are picked up by kind passersby who call shelters and rescues such as Animal Rescue, Inc. to see if they can take them. At least 90 percent of ARI's cat population was considered "stray" on admission forms. We know some of these cats may have had homes and had simply gotten lost along their way when chasing a bird or dodging another animal.

Don't let your cat suffer these fates. Keep your cat indoors and secure her with a "break-away" collar with an ID tag. Having your cat microchipped will also increase her chance of making it home if she's lost. Be sure to spay or neuter your cat (and other outdoor strays!) to reduce the tendency to escape outdoors - not to mention reduce cat overpopulation.

We all know cats can be very persistent when they want something. So, what can you do if Fluffy sits diligently by the door waiting for an unsuspecting person to open it so she can slip out? There are a few things a concerned caretaker can do to deter Fluffy from wanting to go outside.

One method is to keep a squirt bottle or water gun close by. When you see Fluffy slyly approach the door and lay in wait, just give her a quick squirt. It will surely send her flying, away from the door, and if done whenever Fluffy approaches the door, she will quickly learn to stay away from the area. If Fluffy is unfazed, add a dash of vinegar to the water - she'll hate the smell and taste. You can also keep a can of coins near the door and shake them when someone enters or exits the door as well as when Fluffy approaches the door. She'll be startled and associate the loud noise with the door.

However, the two aforementioned methods could potentially teach her to just not approach the door while the person responsible for squirting her or shaking the can is near! Remember to be discreet!

A few cat deterrent products are available for purchase as well. One is a "scat mat" which can be placed by the door. The mat gives off a tiny jolt of static electricity, quickly teaching the cat to stay away from the door. Another product is Ssscat! by Multivet. This product can be placed by the door and has a motion sensor that will detect Fluffy upon approach. A warning beep sounds off first, and then a scentless, non-toxic spray is emitted to startle her.

The benefit of the two commercial products is that they are effective even when a person is not around, so instead of learning to hone their ninja-like skills of door darting, cats will learn to completely stay away from the door.

We love our cats like family. They don't realize the potential fates that may await them on the other side of that door, but we do. With that knowledge, it is our responsibility to keep them as safe from harm as possible and not letting them outdoors greatly reduces their chances of getting seriously injured or killed. Indoor only cats live longer and healthier lives than their indoor-outdoor or outdoor only counterparts.

But what can you do to give your home an outdoorsy feel?

Grow cat nip or cat grass inside! Keep it in heavy pots so your cat can't knock them over. She'll be able to get a taste of the outdoors without any actual risk!

Build a secure window enclosure. Curious Kitty can safely sit and watch the outside world while basking in the warm sun. Here's a neat one you can build out of an air conditioning casing! You can also purchase or build an outdoor cat enclosure. They're easy to find at pet supply stores or online, or, if you're handy, build one of your own. Not so handy?

Purchase a cat harness and take Kitty for a walk around the yard. However, before you take Kitty outside, get her used to wearing the harness around the house, take her out into the garage or enclosed porch, and see how she reacts. Once comfortable, take her for supervised walks around your yard. Never ever leave Kitty outside unattended!

Make the indoors fun -- take 15 minutes to play with her every day. Buy a laser pointer, wand toy, and a couple of jingle balls and start to play! Two of the cheapest forms of kitty entertainment are cardboard boxes and paper bags (be sure to remove the handles, so she doesn't end up wearing the bag)!

If you only have one cat, consider adopting a companion. Many cats love to play, cuddle and be social with other cats. Kitty's attention will surely be diverted from the outdoors by adding another cat companion to your home. Use these handy tips to keep your cats happy, healthy, and safe and give yourself peace of mind knowing you're doing the right thing for your feline friends.