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Will My Cat Come Back If I Let It Outside? (Safe?)

If you are interested in getting your indoor cat to start going outside you may be wondering if it will come back if you let it out…

Will my cat come back if I let it outside?

Your cat will come back if you let it outside. But, you need to train it to do so. Start slowly making sure you are with it initially so it knows where you are and keep the door open so it knows its way back in. Then gradually build up to letting it out independently.

So, now you know. But, what if you have a kitten, will that come back? Do cats prefer to be outside? How can you safely transition your indoor cat to an outdoor one? Keep reading for these answers, and so much more…

Will my kitten come back if I let him outside?

Will my cat come back if I let it outside?

A cat outside.

Kittens will also come back if they are let outside. However, they are not recommended to be let out until they are neutered. This is typically from 4 months old. Also, you need to be with them at first to allow them to get used to being outside. And, ideally don’t leave them outside without you until they are at least 6 months old.

There is some variation with those timescales because each cat is slightly different but this is a general guideline.

Do cats prefer to be outdoors?

Some cats prefer to be outdoors, whilst otherwise prefer to be indoors. There is no one-size-fits-all with this. It largely depends on the cat’s personality and how the owner has trained them. Often cat owners prefer to keep them indoors to keep them safe.

But, many cats enjoy being outside and do so quite safely with no issues. It mainly depends on the owner’s preference.

Can indoor cats get enough exercise?

Indoor cats can get good exercise if they are offered enough toys and equipment to do so. This includes cat trees (click here to see my best one), toy balls (Click here to see the reviews, on Amazon #Ad), etc.

These are basic but it allows your cat to run around, climb and be generally be more active than just sleeping and eating all day. There is no doubt that an outdoor cat will have much more opportunity to exercise, but there is still no reason for an indoor cat to miss out.

What is the best way to identify your cat outdoors?

When your cat is outside the simplest way to identify your cat is to use a cat collar and ID tag. But, these days many cats are also microchipped as an additional way to make sure their cat can be identified.

The collar and ID tag are old methods but are still good even if your cat is chipped. Why? Well, it’s obvious and quick for a finder to know the cat is lost just by glancing at the collar.

Can you change your indoor cat to an outdoor cat?

Yes, you can make an indoor cat and an outdoor cat. But, you need to do this gradually (more on this later). And make sure that you give them suitable access and an incentive to return every day.

Now that you know it’s possible, let me explain, step-by-step, also how you can feed your cat outdoors (Click here for my best outdoor feeders), how long until you should even start this transition, and much more…

How to make your cat an outdoor cat?

Before you start (Pre-requisites)

Before you even open the door and put your cat outside they must be supervised before you even think about letting her go free.

This can be as simple as just going outside with her and making sure that they don’t make silly mistakes.

Checking with your Vet

It’s a good idea to consult your vet to let them know that you’re planning to convert your cat to an outdoor cat. The reason for this is he may have some very good advice on how to avoid common diseases and parasites. These can be really simple things that you can do that you could completely overlook.

Giving it time

If you have just recently adopted a cat or picked up a cat from a local friend, etc. It is a good idea not to immediately try to transition them to an outdoor cat. Regardless if they had the experience of being outdoors or not before.

She needs to get used to her new environment first. Before you allow her to run free. If you do not do this, there is a good chance she will never get familiar with your house.

And, a chance she won’t come back, are you with me? She will be far more likely to want to return to her original house, rather than yours.

Other Recommendations (Before you start)

Start with short trips outdoors at first. I will give you some advice about how you can gradually do this. It’s a good idea to do things slowly and one step at a time.

Start with really short trips outside to get your cat familiar, before taking the big step into allowing them to go out unsupervised but, more on this later.

Steps to taking your cat outside.

Cat waiting to poop until owner appears.

Cat waiting to poop until owner appears.

In this section, I will give you some step-by-step tips to transition your cat to an outdoor cat.

01. Go outside with her

The first thing to do is gently open the door (Click here if you see another random cat there). Then step outside, ideally in a back garden or enclosed space, rather than a busy public road, are you with me?

Then allow her to gradually come out at her own pace. And, when she is ready, she will meet you there. The door is deliberately left open because it gives her the option to go back inside if she feels uncomfortable, that make sense?

Once she is outside for a little while, making sure that she is not wandering too far, stroll around gently. You can call her back if she starts to stray a bit too much.

02. Building up the length of time (with treats)

Once she is familiar with going outside you need to gradually build up the length of time that she is allowed outside. One of the best tricks for this is to use treats that she really enjoys.

You will use these as ways to get her back inside when you feel that she has had enough time. So, if she starts to wander too far, you can simply call or coax her with these treats.

03. Training her to come when she called.

Another important step is getting her to start coming to you on demand.  You must master this skill. Why? Because it’s your only way to feel comfortable with letting her out unaccompanied.

The way to do this is to use treats again. But, you need to be careful about how you call her. The trick is to vary what you are calling her for, let me explain.

Instead of calling her and then taking her inside every time, instead, you need to vary it. So, sometimes you call her and simply give her a treat, just for responding. Then, other times you will call her in. Are you with me?

04. Unaccompanied time.

Once you feel confident about her going outside and have gradually increased the duration. Then you are at the stage when you need to consider letting her out unaccompanied.

If you have any concerns about her not coming back or not responding to you forget it, give it more time. Don’t feel pressured.

If this is the case, continue taking your time and following the above steps until you feel comfortable.

The importance of reliable access.

Once you get to the point where your cat is ready to roam free outside unaccompanied. It is important to prepare your house for this.

The best way to go about this is to have a cat flap (Click here to see why I feel this is the best cat flap). This will allow her free access to come and go. Also, it will free up your time. Because you will not have to be there to let her in all the time.

You can get some clever cat flaps nowadays that will allow access to your cat only. It does this by making use of the microchip embedded in her skin (Click here to see if you still need a collar for these chipped cats). Also, having internal cat doors (Click here for the best ones) helps her freedom as well.

How long before you can let a cat go outside?

If you have a new cat, as mentioned earlier, it is important not to allow her outside for at least 6-months.

When she is young, she is more susceptible to other diseases. Or, even being attacked by rival cats in your area.

How far will a cat roam from home?

Once your cat starts to become comfortable and go outside you may start to get anxious and wonder how far she may travel away from home. In reality, there is no real perfect way to know this, because every case is different.

For example, Some cats are timid than others. Meaning, they may only run within a very small distance of their house, like within the bounds of your garden.

Then you will have the complete opposite end of the spectrum where you will have a very confident cat and will actually go as far as it can until it gets hungry.

It is expected that cats can travel any distance up to 85 m (on average). But, this is quite a rough guide. Every cat will be slightly different. This is why some cat owners use GPS trackers to keep an eye on her when she is out of the house (Click here to see why this one is popular).

Been away for a few hours?

If you have noticed that your cat has been missing for only a few hours then it’s probably too early to panic. Not a good idea to get over-excited and assume she has run away.

However, if this extends to 18 to 24-hours, then this is a bigger concern. Especially if it is out of character for your cat.

Remember, at that length of time you have not fed her for hours. Therefore she is either stuck somewhere and can’t find her way back or maybe something worse because food is often a big reason for cats to return home.

How long do outdoor cats live?

Could there be an effect on a cat’s life expectancy if she lives outside? This section will explore this in more detail.

The reality is, there is an impact on your cat’s life expectancy if she becomes an outdoor cat.  This is because she will experience a lot more hazards outside of the house.

To put this into perspective, an outdoor cat (what about their litter? click here) is expected to live anywhere from two to five years, according to this site, whereas an indoor cat can be expected to live up to 17 years.

These are only averages, obviously, there will be different durations for every cat.

Is there any way to control your cat while it is outside?

If you are worried about your cat being outside, you may wonder if there’s any way that you can help to control her when she is outside.

In reality, the only way to do this is to use a cat harness (Click here to see why I am weirdly impressed with this cat harness). This device is excellent for training cats.

Another cool use for these cat harnesses (Click here to see why I rated this one) is in the early stages when you are training her to go outside. Or if you have an older cat, who is currently a dedicated indoor cat, that you wish to allow outside for some fresh air, but do not want to fully transition her to an outdoor cat (What about Birman cats? Click here), are you with me?

What is the best time to let your cat outside?

Earlier I mentioned that food is quite a good incentive for your cat to come home, right? And I also mentioned it’s a good way to control her while she is out of sight.

One tactic that you can adopt is to train her to have a scheduled mealtime. Ideally, this is done before allowing her out unaccompanied.

This is a good way to keep her safe (Click here to see how to keep her from your wires & surge protector) and avoid dangerous times of the day. The best time to allow her outside is in the mornings rather than late at night.


Late at night, or in poor poorly lit conditions, increases the chances of road accidents due to reduced light. Therefore, you can adjust her feeding times around this.

Basically, you can adjust her feeding times, so that she is likely to return before the dangerous times in the day, are you with me? Also, if these feeding times are not ideal, you can consider using an automatic cat feeder that is not easy to tamper with (Click here to see why I feel this is best).

What are the risks of letting your cat outside?

To be honest, there is a long list of risks, but before I list a few, don’t let this deter you from letting your cat out forever, you just need to understand these risks:

  • Road accidents
  • Poisoning (Such as unintended rat poising)
  • Injury
  • Other aggressive cats
  • etc.

The best way to increase the chances of you getting your cat back if she disappears is by having a collar with your address or microchipped.

What are the advantages of letting your cat outside?

One of the best things about letting your cat outside (click here if its scared to do this), putting all the risks aside, is the following:

  • More sociable
  • Exercise
  • Use her natural hunting instincts
  • Better behavior
  • Reduce the chances of her spraying
  • etc.

Sociability, Exercise & Hunting

Your cat will have better social interaction with other cats. It will allow her to use her natural instinctual hunting skills. Such as hunting for rodents or other small animals.

Behaviour & Spraying reduction

There is also a good chance that it will reduce the chances of her urinating in your house (Click here to see why your cat’s peeing in your house all of a sudden). And improve her behavior (such as clawing up your furniture).

This is because, while she is outside (Should dogs be allowed out too? Click here), she will get an opportunity to use some of her territory marking outside of your house, rather than bringing the problem indoors.

Lindsey Browlingdon