Even though I have argued for the necessity of keeping cats and kittens indoors as a routine, there are circumstances where a cat can safely spend time outside the home. Getting out can be fun for everyone, especially if the kitten takes trips on a regular basis and becomes comfortable with strange sights, sounds, and people. Almost every kitten can be harness- and leash-trained at eight to twelve weeks of age (or even older), and will walk on a leash attached to the harness much as a dog would. Cats should not be walked on a leash attached to a collar (rather than a harness) because of the possibility of choking, harm to the trachea at the front of the neck, or escape when the collar slips off the cat’s neck during any struggle.
With your kitten safely attached to you, you can walk outside in areas where other animals are not likely to visit. Cats on a leash are in danger, just as small dogs are when they encounter big dogs or other cats during the walk. When strange cats and dogs meet each other face to face, aggressive behavior may ignite between them without warning.
In my opinion, there is no harm in allowing your leashed cat to spend time in the grass and smelling the flowers in your garden, or to explore safe areas around the neighborhood. Many of my clients will even take their cats, on harness and leash, to pet stores that allow pets inside.
My clients often ask whether these trips to the outdoors will make the indoor cat long to roam free outdoors. Some worry that the ordinarily happy house cat will develop the desire to dash through an open door the first chance that presents itself. I have never heard of such a change in a cat’s previous contentment with indoor life. I believe this is because trips outdoors in the security of the owner’s presence are perceived very differently in the cat’s mind than the insecurity of being outdoors alone. As long as the indoor cat does not spend time outside by itself, it is quite unlikely to become comfortable with being outdoors without having its favorite people nearby.
A note of caution: If you like to have a collar on your kitten’s neck to carry identification tags in the case of accidental escape from the house, be sure to use a “break-away” or “safety-type” collar. This kind of collar is specially designed so that it will give way and allow the cat to free itself if the collar becomes hooked or tangled in a fence or other object while on the cat. This will prevent the tragedy of finding a cat strangled by its collar. When purchasing such a collar, test it to see whether it opens easily, but not so easily that your pet will pop it open in everyday wear.
The idea is to have fun and enjoy your new kitten. Once your kitten has been weaned and taken from the security of living with its mom, you become the sole source of protection for the little one. By all means, allow your kitten to grow emotionally and become well socialized through a wide variety of encounters with the world, inside and outside the home. Never forget, though, that you and you alone are responsible for your kitten’s physical safety.