Caring for an Outdoor Cat?

Veterinarian shares safety and healthcare tips for the mighty outside cat

Even the most independent and resourceful outdoor cats can benefit from added protection and routine healthcare. For advice on caring for our outside cats, we turned to Oklahoma State University's Assistant Clinical Professor with the College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Peakheart. “Overall, outdoor cats and barn cats need more protection than indoor cats. Outdoor cats are at a greater risk for dying young, getting diseases and internal parasites and experiencing dangers from outside,” Dr. Peakheart said.

For healthy outdoor cats, there are several special considerations to keep in mind.

Housing and Safety

Offer outdoor cats a safe, warm place to sleep, such as an insulated or heated cat house, which is perfect for keeping outdoor cats in winter months cozy. Also, to keep them safe, make sure they have a perch or lofty area constructed, so they can swiftly climb above any potential predators. While some may enjoy the occasional catch of a mouse or other prey, ensure they have plenty of food and fresh water. A heated water bowl is a helpful addition as temperatures dip, offering outdoor cats a reliable, ice-free water source. 

Not to be overlooked is the importance of spaying and neutering. Sources report that one un-spayed female cat and her offspring can produce more than 60,000 kittens in their lifetime. Spaying and neutering will help control the number of cats on your property, as well as the infamous stereotype of the Tomcat, as “Spaying and neutering will help prevent barn cats from roaming away and fighting,” said Dr. Peakheart. She also shared that, “Having an ID tag is very important, if they get lost or picked up [by the city pound or animal welfare], and so is microchipping.”

For example, one Oklahoma barn cat was well-regarded for her mole-hunting expertise. She was a staple to the farm --- a prized barn cat. Unbeknownst to the family who cared for her, she was caught fishing in the next-door neighbor’s koi pond and was quickly transported far away from the property to not be seen again. With an identification tag or a microchip, her chances of reuniting with her family would have been much greater. Without proper identification, some 90% of lost pets do not return home, reports HomeAgain.

Health and Wellness

Outdoor cats especially are at higher risk for diseases, heartworms and intestinal parasites. “If cat food is left out, you can attract other animals, such as raccoons or other predators that can spread diseases like rabies and even internal parasites,” said Dr. Peakheart. All cats should receive the following core cat vaccines, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The recommended cat vaccines include:

  • Rabies virus
  • Feline panleukopenia virus (feline distemper)
  • Feline herpesvirus-1
  • Calicivirus
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLv)
  • Prioritize preventive care, if at all possible, considering outdoor cats’ proximity to wildlife and exposure to parasites, fleas and ticks. For instance, Baylisascaris procyonis is a roundworm found in the small intestine of raccoons; its larvae can infect cats, other domesticated animals and even humans, consequentially damaging the central nervous system, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Because of such risks, outdoor cats especially require protection against intestinal worms, including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms.

    Additionally, “Heartworm disease is something indoor and outdoor cats need prevention of,” Dr. Peakheart said. Protection against heartworm disease is as important for cats as it is for dogs, even though a common myth is that only dogs need protection. Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease affects a number of mammals, with some 75% of cats diagnosed with heartworms being outdoor cats.

    Another well-known preventive measure for all cats (and dogs) is flea and tick control. “It is important to prevent cats from getting those to keep them healthy,” said Dr. Peakheart.

    Continue reading For Dr. Peakheart’s top eight tips for safe, healthy barn cats.

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