Having a new kitten around the house is just delightful! They are so playful, affectionate and fun! But sooner or later, your thoughts will turn to letting them spread their wings and start enjoying life outside. Before you can let them have the freedom of the outside world, there are a few things to consider first.
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How long have you had your kitten?
When you first get a new cat of any age, you must give them time to recognise your house as their home, before you let them outside. If they go outside too quickly and haven’t yet acclimatised to their new home, then they won’t feel much attachment to it and may not automatically want to come back.
Cats are strongly territorial animals. So they do get very attached to their home territory, but this takes time. Most experts advise waiting at least 2 weeks, but ideally 4-6 weeks before letting a new cat go outside.
Before being allowed outside, your cat should be microchipped. Microchipping is a minor procedure that can be performed by your vet (or the staff at the rehoming centre, if you rehomed your cat from a charity). A small chip (about the size of a grain of rice) is injected into the fatty area under the skin between your cat’s shoulder blades.
This chip contains a unique number. That number is registered on a database alongside all your cat’s information and your contact details. This means, that if your cat were to go missing (and be picked up as a stray) then a vet, the police or a charity could scan the microchip and use the unique number to reunite you with your cat.
Since every time your cat goes outside, there is a risk of him going missing or getting into mischief, it is important to make sure he is microchipped before heading out.
In the UK, microchipping your cat will soon become a legal requirement too.
You may think that your kitten is too young to worry about neutering – but think again! Cats are an extremely fertile species, and female cats can get pregnant from as young as 4 months of age! Cats can also get pregnant again within a few weeks of having a litter of kittens – they really are very reproductively efficient! So, it is important that kittens of both sexes are neutered before they go outside. Otherwise, you may well find yourself with unwanted kittens. Or your male cat may be contributing to the problem of overpopulation.
Entire (unneutered) male cats will also be more inclined to wander far away (increasing the chance of them getting lost) and get into fights with other cats (increasing the chance of them getting injured or picking up infectious diseases). Cats of both sexes can usually be neutered from 12 weeks of age. Although some vets prefer to wait until they are 6 months old.
Read more on neutering: Should I neuter my cat and what are the benefits?
All kittens should be vaccinated against cat flu (which is a combination of calici virus and herpes virus), feline enteritis and the feline leukaemia virus. This usually means having 2 injections, 3-4 weeks apart, starting when your kitten is 8-9 weeks old. Your cat should wait one week after having the second vaccine before going outside, to prevent them catching any of these life-threatening diseases, which are primarily caught from other cats.
When your kitten starts going outside, they will be much more likely to pick up parasites – what a lovely gift for them to bring home! Parasites can be external, like fleas, or internal, like worms.
If your cat brings fleas home to your house, then they will lay eggs which drop off the cat into the nooks and crannies of your home. This includes gaps in skirting boards/floorboards, buried in carpets and down the sides of soft furnishings. These eggs can lay dormant for a long time, and wait to hatch until the time is right, so once you have a flea infestation in your home it can be very difficult to get rid of. So it ismuch better to prevent this happening by ensuring your cat is properly flea treated before going outside.
Worms can also be nasty, and one particularly nasty worm that many cats carry (called Toxocara cati) can be passed on to humans. In rare cases, can cause serious disease, particularly in young children. So, it is very important to ensure that your cat is regularly wormed, particularly if your cat is handled by children.
The most effective flea and worm treatments will be the prescription-only treatments sold by your vets (a lot of the treatments available over the counter in petshops and supermarkets will be less effective). So find a good vet who you can talk to about an anti-parasite program for your cat. Remember, these treatments are not a one-off, they must be done regularly to be truly effective.
So…when can my kitten go outside?
Your kitten can go outside once they have been fully neutered, microchipped, neutered, flea and worm treated AND you have kept them inside for at least 4 weeks. In most cases, if you get your kitten at about 8-9 weeks, they will be ready to go out by about 13-14 weeks. However, if your kitten is quite timid you may want to wait until they are a bit older. This just allows them to build up their confidence.
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