When can kittens go outside for the first time?

Cats by their very nature are curious creatures, driven by a predatory instinct that influences so much of their behavior.

Rambling, running, climbing; exploring the great outdoors allows our felines to hone their natural abilities while giving them all the space in the world to release all that pent up energy. 

A cat who spends their days roaming the neighborhood is going to be burning a far greater number of calories than one who whiles away the hours lying on the sofa. The mental stimulation it brings will also stop them from becoming bored or stressed.

Despite all the obvious advantages to time spent outdoors, letting a kitten taste fresh air for the first time can be a daunting experience for any pet parent, which is why we’ve put together your very own “When Can Kittens Go Outside” guide.

Why do kittens have to wait until they go outside?

Kittens are so small and so vulnerable that even the thought of letting them out “into the wild” can be a terrifying prospect for a loving pet parent. And for good reason. 

Busy roads, foxes, poisons, even other cats; every time our felines set foot outside, they’re entering into a big wide world full of potential hazards. 

And while the aforementioned benefits do outweigh the risks, we need to do everything in our power to make their first forays into the unknown as safe and secure as we possibly can. 

Before you even think about installing a cat flap your kitten should be vaccinated and neutered. Kittens are old enough to take their first course of vaccinations at around nine weeks, followed by a booster at three months old. Once your kitten is fully vaccinated it’s time to get them neutered. The age to neuter can vary depending on size and breed, but we would recommend four month onwards. 

At this stage you can start thinking about opening up the back door and letting them run free in the yard or garden, fully supervised. Unsupervised outdoor time shouldn’t be considered until they’re at least six months old.

How to keep your kitten safe on their first time outside

  • Make sure your garden is kitten-proof with a border or fence. We don't want our little explorers wandering too far afield on their first day out. While it's highly unlikely they're going to suddenly just up and run away, their innate curiosity could see them escape through any gaps in the fencing or gate. Until you're ready to let them travel a little farther, you will want to make the yard or garden they're playing in as secure as possible.
  • Remove any dangerous plants. Lilies, azaleas, daffodils, chrysanthemums; there's a whole host of common garden plants that are poisonous to cats if ingested. Take your eye off an inquisitive little kitten for one second and you could find them face down in one of these plants, which is why it's best to remove any potentially harmful vegetation from your garden before giving them free rein. If you think your kitten may have eaten a poisonous plant – symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation – contact your vet immediately.
  • Keep the garage off limits. Garages and sheds are full of various items that could prove extremely dangerous to kittens, or adult cats for that matter, from power tools and paints to a range of hazardous chemicals. Try to keep the door closed at all times. We know this may not always be possible, especially as your cat is allowed out for longer unsupervised periods, so make the space as pet-proof as possible, locking away all harmful substances, and removing any large items from high up places that could fall on an unsuspecting feline.
  • Choose a quiet time. Noisy neighborhood children, barking dogs, rush hour traffic; everyday sights and sounds to us, but to a timid kitten taking their first tentative steps outside, possible sensory overload. Check the weather forecast beforehand as well. While cats will eventually become used to all weathers, we want a dry, calm and pleasant day for those first trips out.
  • Stay with them at all times. We're not the only ones who are going to be extremely nervous about this whole experience. Your kitten's first journey outdoors is a hugely momentous occasion, but one that can be extremely frightening, too. Don't leave their side. Use toys and treats to distract them, and leave the door to the house open so they know there's a way back inside and to safety.

What would happen if I let my kitten outside too early?

There can be a temptation to let your kitten venture outside the minute they appear comfortable on their own four feet. No matter how coordinated or confident they seem though, there are still too many risks attached to life outdoors. 

If they haven’t been vaccinated, they can be exposed to serious diseases. If they haven’t been neutered, they could end up straying far from home with no idea how to get back. 

These medical procedures are necessary to protect our felines, and they should not be setting foot outside until they’ve been administered. 

Even then we need to take things slow, providing them with ample time to adapt to their surroundings. Too much too soon could leave them overwhelmed and scared. And one bad experience could result in negative associations being formed, meaning increased levels of anxiety every time they even think they might be going outside. 

Gradually escort them further from the house each time you go out. As their confidence grows, their dependence on you will wane, and it won’t be long before they’re exploring the entire neighborhood solo.

Should I get my kitten microchipped?

Nothing can really prepare you for the uncertainty and worry that comes with letting a feline outside by themselves for the first time. 

Microchipping your kitten does offer some peace of mind though. 

This can be done at around eight weeks of age after their first vaccination appointment, and gives them the best chance of being identified and returned if they do ever end up lost. 

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