3 Below-the-Radar Threats to Outdoor Cats: Overlooked Dangers

by | Jun 4, 2024

, 3 Below-the-Radar Threats to Outdoor Cats: Overlooked Dangers, The Comforted Kitty

There’s no doubt about it: Free-roaming outdoor cats face a variety of threats that indoor-only cats do not. 

Among other things, cars, wild animals, infectious diseases, toxic plants, and stray dogs are all common dangers cats face while outside. But there are also a few threats that tend to fly under the cat-owner radar.

We’ll try to make you aware of some of these little-known dangers – as well as the best ways to protect your cat from them – below. 

Outdoor Cat Threats Most Owners Don’t Recognize

, 3 Below-the-Radar Threats to Outdoor Cats: Overlooked Dangers, The Comforted Kitty

There are a variety of understandable reasons pet owners decide to allow their cats to explore the great outdoors, but it is important to understand the threats they’ll face while smelling the roses. In addition to the common threats most cat owners are familiar with, there are at least three other threats to consider. 

1. Theft

Many cat owners worry that their four-legged friend will simply wander off and get lost one day. 

That’s a valid concern, as approximately 15% of cat owners lose their pet over a five-year period, according to Lost Pet Research & Recovery. And of those cats who went missing, 64% had yet to be found four years later.

But sometimes, cats don’t disappear because they simply wander off. Sometimes, free-roaming cats disappear because they’ve been stolen.  

There aren’t any centralized records about the number of cats that are stolen each year in the United States, but UK police reports indicate that cat theft climbed by 40% from 2020 to 2021. 

More concerningly, according to Pettheft.org.uk, the relative proportion of stolen pets that were cats has climbed. In 2012, roughly 5% of reported pet thefts were for cats; by 2021, cats represented approximately 30% of all reported pet thefts. 

People steal cats for a variety of reasons, including by mistake – some cats are “stolen” by people who assumed the cat was a stray and simply want to give it a good home. Depending on the specifics of these cases, many probably fall under the “unfortunate mistake” category more than the criminal category. 

But some cats are certainly stolen by cold-blooded criminals, who typically do so to make a profit. And this becomes apparent when you consider that some of the most desired breeds – especially Bengal and Siamese cats – are often stolen more often than those that are not in as much demand. 

How to protect your cats from theft:

  • Tattoo or microchip your cat so that he can be positively identified by a vet or animal shelter. 
  • Make sure that your cat wears a collar and ID tag to prevent “accidental” cat theft. 
  • Consider confining your cat’s outdoor time to confined spaces, such as fenced backyards. 

2. Skinks

, 3 Below-the-Radar Threats to Outdoor Cats: Overlooked Dangers, The Comforted Kitty

Skinks are common, shiny-scaled lizards that are typically described as being harmless. And for the most part, that’s true – a skink is definitely not going to attack your cat.  

But your cat may try to attack a skink, and that can spell trouble. 

Strangely, some cats have displayed very unusual symptoms after consuming skinks (or even a portion of a skink, such as a shed tail). Some afflicted cats only seem to suffer mild stomach-related issues, but others display more troubling symptoms including a lack of coordination, foaming at the mouth, and – in rare cases – seizures. 

Now, there are several things we don’t yet understand about this phenomenon. 

Scientists have yet to identify any toxin present in the body of skinks that would cause these symptoms, and it appears that some cats consume or have direct contact with skinks without ever suffering ill effects. 

But this is definitely one of those better-safe-than-sorry scenarios. Even if your cat is unlikely to die from eating a skink, the temporary (and often disorienting) symptoms your kitty may suffer could put him at risk of other potential dangers, such as coyotes (and other larger animals) or cars. 

How to protect your cat from skinks:

  • Be sure your cat is well-fed to discourage hunger-motivated predatory behavior.
  • Provide lots of mental stimulation to your cat in the form of toys and playtime to reduce the chances that she’ll turn to local wildlife in pursuit of fun. 
  • Remove wood piles, rock formations, and similar items from the local outdoor environment, as skinks use these places to hide. 

3. Rodenticides

, 3 Below-the-Radar Threats to Outdoor Cats: Overlooked Dangers, The Comforted Kitty

If you’ve had an outdoor cat for any length of time, you’ve likely seen Harry McHunts-a-Lot leave a dead mouse or chipmunk on your porch. You can’t blame him – the hunting instincts and rodent-catching abilities of cats are part of the reason people started keeping them around in the first place! 

But while you may not hate the thought of your cat reducing the local rodent population one-by-one, this isn’t a completely hazard-free activity. Rodents can transmit a variety of parasites and infectious diseases to our purring friends. For that matter, large rodents fight back, which can cause your cat to suffer nasty wounds and infections. 

Rodents also present one more danger: They may have recently consumed rat poison. 

Sure, rat poison will kill most rodents, but that takes time. And while the recently poisoned rat is stumbling around, it may fall victim to your cat. After all, the poor rodent will probably look like an easy target to your cat.

Even if your cat doesn’t consume the rodent, he could very well end up with some of the poison in his system. And that is a major concern – rodent poison is one of the most toxic substances our cats could consume. Some may cause cats to suffer symptoms ranging from bloody diarrhea to internal bleeding to convulsions to cardiac collapse, depending on the exact poison ingested.

As with both of the other under-the-radar threats shared here, there aren’t any central databases that maintain this kind of data. So, we simply don’t know how often cats consume poisoned rodents and end up dying. However, we do know that rodent poisons can and do affect predators, including cats.   

How to protect your cat from rodenticides: 

  • Opt for non-poisonous forms of rodent control (such as pet-safe traps) in your own yard. 
  • Work to eliminate rodent-attracting items in the nearby outdoor environment, such as bird feeders and yard debris. 
  • Confine your cat indoors at night when rodents are more active. 

Alternative Ways to Allow Your Cat to Enjoy the Outdoor Environment

, 3 Below-the-Radar Threats to Outdoor Cats: Overlooked Dangers, The Comforted Kitty

As you can see, once your cat steps outside your home, he’s faced with a variety of threats. And while some owners are comfortable accepting these risks, others would rather avoid them.

The problem is that many cats love outdoor time. It even provides health benefits, including additional mental stimulation and the chance for more exercise. Plus, it’s just fun to go outside. 

So, how can cat moms and dads satisfy their cats’ desire for outside time while ensuring they enjoy a healthy life and minimize the risks it presents? There are a couple of pretty effective solutions:

  • Construct a “catio.” Catios come in numerous forms, but the idea behind them is all the same. Basically, you’ll make a wire patio which gives your cat some outdoor access, while still keeping him contained and safe from most threats. Some owners construct catios on porches, but you can also design them like a window perch.
  • Teach your cat to walk on a leash. Admittedly, some cats react poorly to leashes, but many can eventually learn to accept (or even enjoy) leashed walks with their humans. Just remember to introduce the leash to your cat gradually, use plenty of positive reinforcement, and start in an indoor environment. 
  • Purchase a pet carrier. There are a variety of pet carriers you can use to take your cat for “walks.” In fact, some retail establishments and public transportation providers will even allow you to bring your cat along when contained in this fashion. This won’t provide your cat with any real exercise, but it will give him some extra mental stimulation, which makes it well worth the effort.  

Additionally, if you have a cat who rarely strays from your side, you may find it possible to enjoy some outdoor activity time on your back porch. This isn’t as safe as the other alternatives described above, and it still presents a small risk of injury. But at least you can supervise your cat’s outdoor time this way.

***

Some cats manage to spend years enjoying outdoor life without suffering any major problems, but there are inherent risks to doing so, and letting our feline companions spend time outside is not a decision to take lightly.

Unfortunately, many owners hastily decide to do so when forced to travel out of town. 

Unwilling to come home to a house full of cat poop, they place a few bowls of food on the porch and let Fluffy go outside. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. 

This is a shame given that there’s such an easy alternative: You can simply hire a qualified cat sitter to come and care for your little fluffball on a daily basis while you’re gone. Doing so is not only affordable and easy to set up, but your cat will have a better time too! Instead of being alone during your vacation, your cat will enjoy human interaction at the hands of a trained cat-care professional. You can even meet your cat’s specific caretaker before you leave. 

Meet some of the cat-care professionals on our team and see who you think your cat would love most!

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