Can I Let My Cat Go Outdoors Safely?

by Britt
Photo credit: xia jun /

As cat lovers and parents, we understand our kitties' curiosity and desire for the great outdoors. We’ll often find our two cats sitting by the window, entirely in a trance, as they watch the birds or just the leaves moving in the breeze. But the thought of letting them roam freely outside stirs up many worries about their safety – we don’t endorse the outdoor cat lifestyle.

Does this mean our cats are stuck indoors without ever having the chance to feel the grass under their paws? Not necessarily!

This article will delve into the exciting world of outdoor adventures for your cat while prioritizing their safety. Whether it's learning the art of leash and harness training, creating a cat paradise in the form of a catio, or exploring other safe containment options, you can rest assured that your indoor cat will enjoy the wonders of nature without compromising their well-being.

Do Indoor Cats Want to Be Outside?

It’s a question that we often hear as cat parents, especially having such an outdoor-focused lifestyle ourselves. Do our indoor cats want to be outside? Does keeping them indoors somehow take away from their quality of life? Would it be better to give them the freedom to explore the outdoors around us?

The truth is that you can give a cat an incredible and fulfilled life indoors. In fact, most experts recommend an indoor life for cats to keep them safe and extend their lifespan.

Of course, there are pros and cons to both indoor and outdoor lifestyles. Many indoor cats suffer from obesity and other unhealthy lifestyle challenges due to a lack of physical activity. They may also feel bored due to a lack of enrichment in their daily lives. Luckily, these are challenges that you can overcome.

If you have an indoor cat, there are a few key elements of their lives that you need to consider, including:

This isn’t to say that your indoor cat is never interested in exploring outside, especially if they spend much of their time watching wildlife through the window. Many indoor cats are curious about the sights and smells.

Is it Okay if I Let My Cat Outside?

While there are many outside cats worldwide, just opening the door and allowing your indoor cat to go outside isn’t recommended. There are many risks that they will face outdoors that your cat will face that can lead to injury, illness, or worse. This includes the following:

Cars and Roadways

To put it bluntly, your indoor cat does not understand the risk a roadway creates. They may walk or run across the road without giving it a second thought, even with an oncoming vehicle. Another big concern is the way that paved roads hold heat. Looking for a warm place to relax, many cats (and other wildlife) will gravitate to the warm asphalt only to be putting themselves in danger.


The circle of life is very real, and your cat will fall into that –both as the predator (hunting birds and rodents) and prey. Many natural predators can pose a threat to your cat, including coyotes, wolves, bears, eagles, owls, stray dogs, and more.

Parasites and Diseases

Research has found that cats who spend time outdoors are far more likely to pick up parasites or potentially life-threatening diseases. Not only does this mean an increased risk for their health and safety, but many of these diseases can be carried back home, exposing other pets. Examples of diseases they may encounter include feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), rabies, and bartonellosis—exactly which diseases your cat risks contracting will vary depending on your location.


There are many substances that, if ingested, can be dangerous or even life-threatening for your cat. Some examples include antifreeze and insecticides. In your home, you can ensure that dangerous substances are safely stored up and out of your cat’s reach or locked in an inaccessible cabinet. However, if your cat is wandering loose outdoors, you no longer have that control over what they are exposed to.

How Can I Let My Cat Enjoy Being Outdoors Safely?

With so many risks surrounding being outdoors, is there a way you can let your indoor cat enjoy being outside safely? The answer is yes! The secret to bringing your cat out while keeping them safe is only to allow them outdoors when they can be carefully monitored and to keep them safely contained. Luckily, there are many products that will allow your cat to enjoy the fresh air and the feel of the grass beneath their paws without putting them in a dangerous situation.

Catios and Pet Playpens

One of the best options for most cat parents is to purchase or create a catio where they can relax outdoors in a defined “safe space.” A catio is a cute and kitschy phrase given to a screened cat patio space. These structures are either built as a standalone space or attached to your home with free access for your cat to move in/out whenever they desire.

The more permanent catios are custom-built with wooden frames and mesh panels. These are designed to stand up to the elements for years to come, but they do come with a higher price point. Recognizing the need, many brands have developed metal wire alternatives that are still very secure but at a much more budget-friendly price point.

For those looking for an easy-to-transport solution, many companies have produced easy-to-set-up structures, including those that look similar to the standard catio with a tall, rectangular catio structure.

Finally, an excellent solution for cat parents who want to bring their cats outdoors in a quick, temporary setup is the pet playpen. These pop-up-style structures offer a safe, contained space for your cat. Most allow you to zip out the bottom panel, leaving it open to the grass below for cats that enjoy being outdoors in the grass. They are predominantly mesh with a few fabric panel areas and a mesh top. We use one of these playpens for our cats when camping to keep them secure in the tent at night.

Pippen standing next to her playpen in the tent.

Pet Strollers

Do you have a cat that prefers being outdoors on the trails or traveling around the block on your daily walk? If so, one easy solution is to use a pet stroller. Like strollers for children, these products offer a safe space for your cat to relax and enjoy being outdoors. The big difference between a children’s stroller and a pet stroller is the use of mesh to fully enclose the space where your cat rests. This not only keeps your cat safely enclosed, but it also keeps the bugs away!

There are many different styles of pet strollers to choose from. Traditional pet strollers are very similar to children’s strollers, but for those that enjoy a more “off-road” experience hitting the trails, there are also pet stroller options with all-terrain tires.

Harness and Leash Training

Another great option for taking your cat outdoors safely. Harness and leash training isn’t an easy instant solution. Instead, this is something that you will need to commit to working up to with your kitty. This process starts with finding the best cat harness for your cat’s unique body shape and preferences. While some cats are secure and comfortable in a standard H-style harness, the same can’t be said for all. This design may allow some kitties to escape too easily while others may freeze up too uncomfortable to get out hiking.

We are huge supporters of the fact that there is no “one-size-fits-all” harness solution. We have two cats, and they each use a different style of harness when it’s time to go outdoors. Jinx wears a more traditional harness with a martingale-like twist with the PetSafe Come With Me Kitty Harness.

Pippen, on the other hand, easily slips out of the harness that we use for Jinx. We use a vest-style harness like the Travel Cat Harness to keep her safe outdoors. This is mainly due to her incredibly petite structure.

But your choice of harness is only the first step. There is no such thing as an escape-proof cat harness. Instead, you must pair a secure, comfortable harness with proper leash training. This ensures that you are focused on keeping the leash in the ideal direction while also encouraging your cat not to test whether they can pull free from their harness. Instead, they are empowered to focus on getting out and enjoying their experience outdoors.

Outdoor Travel and Your Cat: The Rise of the Adventure Cat

There has been a growing interest in cat parents and their adventurous kitties to get outdoors and explore nature. This includes outdoor travel plans like camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and more. In recent years, we have seen a growing number of cats getting out and taking on outdoor excursions alongside their owners.

When taking your cat for more adventurous travel plans, you may need to adjust your approach to better suit your needs. For example, a large wooden catio isn’t going to travel easily to a campsite or hiking trail. However, a leash or harness-trained cat can explore the surroundings safely and even go hiking like a dog would.

Taking your cat out on the trails, to a backcountry campsite, or into a more rustic camping experience, there are some additional risks to consider. This is a new and unknown situation for your cat, which can make the experience much more stressful or uncomfortable. When your cat is anxious or stressed, they are more likely to fight the harness and try to escape. This is why it is important to work up to your outdoor travel plans by introducing your tent or travel trailer at home before heading out on your next trip.

When first introducing your cat to your tent or trailer, give them time to check it out at their own pace. They may be nervous at first, and that’s okay! Offer plenty of rewards and praise as they check out the space, which will help create a positive association with being there. When you do eventually take your cat out to a campsite, their positive feelings towards the tent or trailer will kick off your trip with an upbeat feeling and less stress.

Final Thoughts: Letting Your Cat Be Outside Safely

If you’re interested in allowing your cat to explore the outdoors, there are many great options to allow them to enjoy the fresh air and outdoor experience without compromising their safety. Consider setting up a catio or pet playpen to create a safe and secure outdoor space for them to hang out.

If you’re set on allowing your cat to explore outdoors with more freedom, prioritize going through the process of harness and leash training. While more work is required upfront, this solution offers many long-term benefits. It’s a great way to allow your cat to explore their surroundings freely. It also makes it easier to include your cat in your outdoor travel plans.


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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