by Kelley Bollen, MS, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC)
We all know how nice it is to get outside on a beautiful sunny day. There’s just nothing better than taking a nice walk in the park - breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sunshine on your face, smelling the scent of the pine trees and watching the squirrels play and scurry among the leaf litter. Well, your pet cat has the same desire to experience the wonders of the outdoors as you do.
Unfortunately, many cat owners don’t give their cats the opportunity to spend time outside for fear that they will get hit by a car, be killed by a neighborhood dog or get lost and never return. While I certainly understand the dangers of the outdoor world for cats, allowing outdoor time is one of the most enriching things you can do for your cat and there are ways that you can do it safely.
As an animal behaviorist, I understand the needs of animals. I have been consulting with pet owners for almost twenty years and I can tell you that many of the behavioral issues that I am called in to help with are exacerbated by a lack of mental and physical stimulation. Every single behavior plan that I create for my clients, regardless of the presenting behavioral issue or the species of animal, involves stimulating the pet’s brain through opportunities to experience the outdoor world.
The wonders of the outdoor world are many. Cats who are given the opportunity to spend time outside are stimulated by all of the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. This exposure provides much needed mental stimulation that indoor-only cats miss out on. Knowing this, it’s obvious how stimulating the smells of the outdoor world are for cats.
Let’s start by considering a cat’s olfactory sense. While most people know that dogs have an amazing sense of smell, very few people understand how important this system is for cats. Olfaction is a cat’s most powerful and important sense. A cat gathers a lot of information about their environment through their sense of smell. Additionally, they use this system to find prey and even to identify social partners.
A cat’s auditory sense is also quite amazing. Cats can even hear sound in the ultrasonic range that humans have no perception of. Some sounds, like bird songs, are extra interesting to cats. The sounds that birds make are ‘biologically significant’ to cats. This means that they pique a cat’s interest automatically - instinctually.
Lastly, when we consider a cat’s visual sense, imagine all of the interesting things they can watch when outside. Cats cannot only see in the dark but they have motion-sensitive vision so the tiniest of motions can stimulate a cat’s interest.
I have many cat-owning clients who can attest to the benefit of their cat having safe outdoor access. One particular case that comes to mind was a cat who had sprayed in the house so often that the owners needed to replace not only the carpeting but also the subflooring under it. Once we were able to give their cat outdoor access he stopped spraying in the house.
I also work with animal shelters across the country. My work in this field involves teaching the shelter staff how to reduce the stress of captivity and how to provide enrichment (mental and physical stimulation) to keep the cats behaviorally healthy during their shelter stay. Access to the outside environment goes a long way to accomplish both of these things. Allowing cats to have free time outside not only reduces the stress of living in a small cage but the outdoor environment provides considerably more enrichment for the cats than anything that could be given to them inside their cage.
Simply stated, the benefits to cats of having the opportunity to spend time outdoors cannot be overstated. The outdoor environment is full of things that stimulate their interest and all of their senses. And nothing is better than taking a nice catnap in the warmth of the sunshine while breathing in the fresh air.
The methods for which to provide safe outdoor space are many. Whether you choose specialty cat fencing, an outdoor cat enclosure, or just a small portable tent-like enclosure. The more space the better but any kind of outdoor space however small or infrequent is better than none at all.
Kelley Bollen, MS, CABC
Certified Animal Behavior Consultant
Kelley is a nationally recognized and respected Animal Behaviorist who holds a Master’s Degree in Animal Behavior. She is a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC) and has worked with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, Humane Network, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and many more. Kelley has also worked with and consulted with countless rescue / shelter organizations and individual pet owners.
Kelley resides in beautiful Reno, Nevada with her six cats and two mini goats.
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Disclaimer: Kelly Bollen is a customer of Purrfect Fence. The unbiased information expressed in this article is based on her decades of expertise in animal behavior and is consistent with the consulting and training she provides to shelters, rescues, and individual pet owners allover the world.