Letting your tiny Tiger out into the big, bad world is never a decision that is taken lightly. Many owners can find the prospect daunting. As long as they are old enough, have been vaccinated, are up to date with their parasite prevention and have been neutered, there is really nothing stopping them. If you haven’t already read it, this blog provides some great information on letting your kitten outside for the first time >
Before embarking on this journey, do make sure that the garden has been kitten-proofed. Also ensure there are no toxins such as lily flowers, anti-freeze or rat bait. It’s also essential that the kitten has had enough time to get used to their home. Most suggest that a minimum settling in period of four weeks before they are allowed outside is sufficient. For youngsters, it is generally agreed that they are mature enough to navigate the great outdoors once they are between five and six months old.
The Cat Flap
Some choose to simply open the back door whenever their cat requests. Although, many owners don’t have the time to do this and find cat flaps are a far better solution. In fact, flaps that cats have control over are thought to be a lot better for them, reducing stress and anxiety levels. However, while we may assume that kittens are born knowing how to use their flap, this is often far from true and they can actually find it a challenge.
Not every cat flap is made equal. If purchasing one for the first time, consider which would work best for you. Microchip cat flaps can read chips and will only let your own cat in or out (keeping the village stray on the other side of the door!). Magnetic ones will open when a magnet is attached to the cat’s collar. A bog-standard cat flap opens when pushed. Microchip cat flaps are preferred by most. This is especially because there is no chance of them losing the chip as it is under their skin.
How to get started?
A word of caution: Don’t be tempted to simply force your kitten though the flap by pushing or dragging them. This can cause them to become fearful of the flap.
To get your kitty used to the idea of a flap, have it left open and encourage your cat over with treats. Gradually move the treats so that they are closer to the flap and then even on the flap. Once your kitten is happy with this, you should go outside and place a treat on the other side. Encourage your little one to come to both you and the tasty bribe. This process may take several days and it’s vital to use high value treats such as chicken, white fish or turkey. Be sure to repeat the training the other way around, showing your cat how to come inside. After this, go again but with the flap closed.
When training, try to ensure it is a pleasant day. Also, make sure there is limited noise outside so that they do not become overwhelmed once in the garden. This type of reward-based training works best when a cat is hungry. Therefore, consider doing it before meal times for the best cooperation.
Some clever clogs understand the flap almost instantly while others need the training process repeated a few times. It’s fine to leave the flap propped open for a few days with treats on both sides. Be sure to watch out for any unwelcome visitors.
If your kitten or cat seems particularly unsure of the cat flap, it may be that they dislike the unfamiliar smell. Try using a piece of cotton wool, gently swabbing around their cheeks and whiskers and transferring the scent to the flap. For some, this is just the encouragement that they need to start venturing out.
Top Tip: It’s important to try and get cats used to coming to you when called (‘recall’). For most, calling their name while shaking their favourite box of treats is a good enough incentive, and they’ll come running. Repeat this regularly so they associate you calling with something good happening and will start to come every time.