Thanks to the creation of cat litter in the mid-1940’s, more and more cats are becoming indoor-only pets. As such, they are leading longer lives. The average indoor cat lives to be 15-20 years old. In contrast, outdoor cats usually live only a few. The safest ways to allow your cat to enjoy some time outdoors are to walk him on a harness and/or provide him with a screened-in enclosure or fenced-in yard topped with cat-proof netting.
Harness training, like many things, is easiest taught during kittenhood. However, some older cats can acclimate to it. Choose a figure 8- or H-type harness and make sure it fits well. (If you can barely get your finger between the cat and the harness, the fit is fine.) Put the harness on for a few minutes at a time at first. Right before mealtime is good because the cat will associate it with something positive. Repeat several times a day. When the cat begins to ignore the harness, let him drag a leash around for a few more short sessions. You must be present to make sure it doesn’t catch on anything. The next step is to pick up the leash and follow the cat around the house. The idea is for the cat to get used to a person following him around without feeling tightness on the leash. That comes in the next step.
When your cat is comfortable taking light direction from the leash, you are ready to proceed to a quiet area outdoors. Remember to keep sessions short, frequent, and upbeat. Little food rewards often come in handy. If you are leaving your property for walks, keep your eyes peeled for any off-leash dogs, in-line skaters or bicyclists that could put your feline in danger or just give him a scare. Outdoor enclosures can be made in all shapes and sizes. Chicken wire and wire hardware cloth are preferable to ordinary window screening because they are more durable. The best-loved enclosures usually feature climbing and resting furniture inside. It is safest to use an outdoor enclosure and traditional fencing with cat-proof netting on top of it when you are home and either outdoors with your cat or checking on him frequently. Pet theft only takes a few moments. It doesn’t matter whether it’s by pesky neighborhood kids or an organized group rounding up animals to sell to laboratories. The resulting heartache is the same. A microchip, tattoo or identification tag just might be the very thing to reunite you with your feline when precautions fail.
Provided by ASPCA Companion Animal Services