Right now, my three cats are outside among the trees and flowers; digging up bugs, stalking birds and rolling in the grass; only in their imaginations, of course. In reality, they're snoozing on the patio furniture from within the enclosed safety of the screened-in porch.
They may dream of wild, outdoor adventures and long for a taste of feline freedom while gazing through the windows, but I know what dangers they can encounter outside, and it's not a risk I want to take.
However, my husband and I also care for a "recovering feral" cat, named Willow, who lives an outdoor life, and I know several loving cat owners who allow their feline companions to explore the great outdoors. If you care for a strictly outdoor or an indoor/outdoor cat, here are some helpful safety tips to keep in mind, particularly during the warmer months of the year.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The weather is warming up quickly and soon we'll be back into sweltering summer days where even the shade doesn't offer much relief. Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean and cool water, preferably out of the sun and in a quiet, safe spot where she'll feel comfortable resting.
Fleas and ticks can be a problem year-round in the south, but they tend to be more prevalent in the spring and summer. Keep your cat's treatment current and check her fur periodically for active fleas or flea droppings, which looks like dirt on the skin. If your chosen treatment doesn't seem to be working, consult your veterinarian for suggestions before switching or adding products which may cause irritation or dangerous reactions.
Insect stings and snake bites are not as prevalent as fleas and ticks, but they are more likely to happen this time of year. There’s not much you can do in the way of prevention if your cat is outside, but here are a few signs to look out for: If your cat is pawing at her face, chewing her foot or has swelling in any part of her body, she may have been bitten or stung. Many of these are minor and can be treated at home, but if you notice severe swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, disorientation, or seizures, an immediate trip to the vet is in order.
Cats are curious creatures and like to sniff all the new plants and flowers in bloom. Sniffing isnusually harmless, but sometimes a quick nibble is too tempting and depending on the plant, can have harmful or even lethal effects. Some toxic plants to look out for in our area include: Lilies, Azaleas, Tulips and Sago Palms. The ASPCA keeps a handy list of toxic and non-toxic plants online[i], just search for “ASPCA Poisonous Plants” to find it. And their Animal Poison Control Center is available 24/7 for questions at (888) 426-4435.
Identification can help your cat get back home quickly in case they wander too far. Consider a breakaway or quick-release collar with ID including your phone number and a reflective patch for nighttime wandering. There are even GPS trackers available that attach right to your cat’s collar.
Collars come off though, so microchips are a must - an easy, affordable means of identification that stays with your cat for her entire life – just be sure to keep the information up-to-date!
Vaccinations are an important part of overall health care and outdoor cats may need additional vaccinations to keep them healthy. Check with your veterinarian or the SPCA Veterinary Care Center for recommendations.
And last, but perhaps most importantly, get your cat spayed or neutered. Indoor, outdoor, owned or feral, the only way to humanely and sustainably combat the overwhelming abundance of homeless cats and kittens on the streets and in shelters is to prevent them from breeding. Low-cost and free options are available right here in our community; visit SpcaVetCare.org[ii] for more information or call the SPCA Veterinary Care Center at 803-648-6864 to schedule an appointment.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the Albrecht Center since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA Albrecht Center.