Although we would love every cat to live indoors, sleep at the foot of our bed, and enjoy the great outdoors from the safety of a window perch, some cats cannot or will not be constrained to indoor life. While these cats may lead a different lifestyle, they still deserve quality veterinary care. Here are five steps from Tamberly Animal Hospital, to help your barn or outdoor cat live their best and healthiest life.

#1: Bring your cat in for an annual physical examination

We realize that corralling your outdoor cat may be a challenge, but annual veterinary examinations are critical for ensuring your cat’s overall health. Although your cat may appear healthy, felines are masters at hiding pain and illness, and by the time they look sick, they could be in the late disease stage.

In addition to your cat’s routine examination, watch year-round for subtle changes in your cat’s behavior that may indicate illness:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hiding
  • Nasal or ocular discharge
  • Excessive vocalizing
  • Excessive grooming
  • Lack of grooming 
  • Bloody urine
  • Straining to urinate, which is a veterinary emergency

You may need to trap barn and feral cats to take them to the hospital. Trapping may sound cruel, but this method is painless, humane, and safe for transporting feral or semi-feral cats. Alley Cat Allies provides excellent information on their website for appropriate trap selection,  and safely trapping a cat. 

#2: Spay or neuter your outdoor cat

Spayed and neutered cats reduce unwanted litters and live longer, healthier lives. Neutered male cats are less likely to roam, fight, and spread disease, such as feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Spayed female cats do not have heat cycles, and will not attract scores of male cats. 

#3: Permanently identify your cat

An ear tattoo, ear tip, or microchip will identify your outdoor cat as spayed or neutered and vaccinated, should animal control pick them up, or they are taken to a shelter. Ensure your cat wears a breakaway-style collar, to prevent accidental choking, or becoming trapped. While microchipping is the gold standard of permanent identification, ear tattoos or tips, which are universally recognized indicators of a cat’s reproductive status, are clearly visible. Regardless of the method, permanent identification can prevent your cat from being wrongfully euthanized as a stray or unaltered cat. 

#3: Routinely vaccinate to protect your cat and community

Cats who live outdoors are at higher risk for disease, because they are exposed to unvaccinated cats and wildlife. Vaccinations protect your cat against debilitating and deadly diseases, and reduce disease transmission in the neighboring cat population.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease (i.e., a disease transmissible from infected animals to people) that is fatal in people after signs appear, and is a worldwide public health concern. Rabies is endemic in Georgia, mostly because of infected skunks and raccoons. Many counties, including Fulton County, have local ordinances that require dogs and cats to be registered and vaccinated. Annual rabies vaccination is critical for outdoor cats, because of their high exposure risk, and a 100 percent fatality rate if they are unvaccinated.

#4: Administer flea, tick, and heartworm preventives to your outdoor cat

External parasites can cause your cat significant irritation and spread deadly diseases.

  •  Fleas — Fleas cause anemia in kittens, tapeworm infection, and irritating allergic reactions. These wingless jumping insects can quickly infest the cat’s environment, and may travel indoors on your clothing, or other pets. 
  • Ticks — While cats appear resistant to Lyme disease, several other tick-borne illnesses can cause jaundice, fever, anemia, and joint, neurological, or respiratory issues.
  • Mosquitoes — These pests carry heartworms, and infect cats through biting and feeding. Heartworm-infected cats show signs that resemble asthma or respiratory disease, or may show no signs at all, but die suddenly. No treatment is available for feline heartworm disease.

Use prevention products clearly labeled for cats only. We recommend that you purchase preventives from our Tamberly Animal Hospital to ensure safety. Ask our veterinarian for recommendations based on your outdoor cat’s age, preferences, and health.

#5: Protect your outdoor cat from wild animals

The great outdoors can be a tough place to live. Cats may appear to be mighty hunters, but outdoor cats are vulnerable prey for coyotes, foxes, and hawks. Protect your cat, and other animals, by deterring wildlife.

  • Install motion-detecting lights
  • Never feed wildlife
  • Keep trash bins in the garage
  • Remove bird feeders
  • Harvest gardens frequently 
  • Feed your cat on the porch, in your garage, or in the barn
  • Maintain landscaping and trim trees, to minimize hiding or nesting areas
  • Do not hang a bell or tags on your cat’s collar, because predators can locate your cat from the noise

Scare coyotes away by shouting and waving your arms. Wave a flashlight to scare off birds of prey. Remove your cat from the area, if possible.

Outdoor cats deserve the same respect, protection, and loving care as their interior-dwelling cousins. With quality veterinary care at Tamberly Animal Hospital, your wild-at-heart feline can have the best of both worlds.