We plan to bring our cat up to the cottage. How concerned should we be if he’s wandering about? I’m worried he will be attacked by some other animal.—Cat-Astrophizing
That’s certainly a danger. And it’s one of many. Outdoors—at the cottage, or anywhere—cats are exposed not only to wildlife predators (for example, coyotes or great horned owls) but also to parasites, diseases, traffic, and accidental poisoning, not to mention encounters with other cats, dogs, and cat-hating neighbours (it happens). “The list kind of goes on and on,” says Jeff Simmons, a vet with Peterborough Pet Hospital.
Then there’s the real possibility that your cat may run away or get lost. When cats are in an unfamiliar territory, their “natural tendency to know what’s what can get confused,” says Simmons. This is especially true with a high-strung kitty: “Does the cat get easily freaked out by dogs, people, or noises? As soon as you let that cat out, it’s the last time you’ll see it.”
“You automatically put your cat at risk by letting it out,” agrees Liz White, the director of the Animal Alliance of Canada. “We talk to so many people who lose their cats in cottage country.”
Don’t forget the mayhem that precious Mittens or Fluffy will unleash on wildlife. “Cats kill all sorts of small critters that are important,” says White. “They have real impacts on local bird populations. It’s really pretty cruel to allow them to go out and kill these animals.”
If you must let the cat out, Simmons recommends that you allow him a few cottage visits to acclimatize indoors first. You can also buy a product such as Feliway (a synthetic version of the feline facial pheromone that cats use to mark their territory; it comes as a spray and a plug-in) and use that in the cottage; this may make him feel more comfortable in the new surroundings. When it’s time to go outside, make sure your kitty has a collar with an i.d. and, better yet, a microchip. Outfitting him with a bell and a collar that lights up—so you can spot him in the dark—couldn’t hurt either.
Or, expose your pet to the wonders of cottage country on the end of a (supervised) leash, within the safety of a screened verandah, or from a specially designed open-air enclosure (you can build your own or buy one). Yes, that involves some work and a little coin, but “these are issues that you have to weigh,” says White. “You need to look at your cat as part of your family. If you have a cat, and you love that cat, and you want to spend the summer with that cat, the key is to protect him.”