No matter how careful you are, even indoor cats will end up outside at some point. Is it safe for them to be outside? Many cat owners are concerned about the dangers of letting their cat sleep outside, but many cats do so unharmed every night. Cats are intelligent and resourceful creatures, and their natural instincts will protect most cats.
Whether indoor, outdoor, or both, here’s what you need to know about leaving your cat outdoors at night. We turned to one of our Certified Cat Behaviorists at Cat-World.com, Katenna Jones to get the skinny on where your cats sleep outside and whether or not you should allow them to do so.
Where do my outside cats go at night and where do they sleep?
Cats love to roam and climb, alone or with other cats. Cats that spend the night outdoors are probably having the time of their lives, hunting and mating with abandon. However, your cat isn’t really a nocturnal creature. Since cats are most active at dawn and dusk, your cat will eventually be ready to sleep. Where will they sleep outside?
Most cats will find a small private place to sleep that is close to food and water resources. They will look for a place in which they feel safe from predators and the weather.
Expert Katenna Jones chimes in, saying cats sleep “Anywhere where they can feel safe. Many cats will go high, but most will go low into or under something that feels safe and familiar like an enclosed space where they are protected on as many sides as possible (EX from behind, above, both sides, etc.), a spot that is free of moisture, draft, and noises, such as rattling or vibrating. essentially a dry, warm, quiet space, Likely “cat sized” to retain body heat (cats like warmth). And away from predators or potential physical threats, such as wild animals, dogs, other cats, etc.”
6 examples of places where cats sleep outside
Our Certified Cat Behaviorist, Janet Cutler, who holds a Ph.D. in animal behavior, provided 6 examples of popular locations that cats may chose to sleep outside:
1. Sleeping in a box (or other similar shaped items with 5 sides covered). Cats often like to sleep in boxes, especially ones that are not too much bigger than the cat.
2. Around and under cars. It’s not uncommon to find an outdoor cat sleeping under a car, in the wheel well, or in very cold weather you might find one on the hood of a car that had recently been running.
3. Inside open buildings. Any open and safe building, especially ones that house other animals that don’t pose a risk to cats, can be popular sleeping areas. Barns often have a supply of straw or hay that provide a warm spot for sleeping.
4. On chairs, benches, or other seating areas. Many cats like to sleep outside on seats and against the back of the chair or bench.
5. Under furniture, buildings, or other items.
6. Sleeping in the sun. Many cats will bask in the sun, especially when temperatures are cooler and they feel relatively secure.
Do outdoor cats sleep in the same place every night?
If your cat likes to sleep outdoors and does so as often as they can manage it, they probably have a dedicated place to sleep outdoors at night. It is probably somewhere small and well-hidden from predators (and household members and pets), and is close to home where their food and water can be found.
According to cat behaviorist Katenna, “Once a cat finds a place that has proven to be safe repeatedly – they will likely return to that spot repeatedly. If the cat is reliant on an outdoor safe space for a period of time they will prefer a spot that is near fresh water and a food source, such as trash where the trash itself may be the food source or small birds/rodents are likely to be hanging out.”
How do cats set up their sleeping area?
Have you ever noticed that before your cat lays down to sleep they knead and pat the blankets beneath them and circle before laying down? The reason for this is that their natural instincts want them to prepare their sleeping space. Before cats were domesticated they always slept outdoors, and today’s cats have the same behaviors.
Your cat will move twigs, prickly underbrush, and debris from their chosen sleeping area, then pat down the grass with their paws, kneading it to make it the perfect soft cushion on which to rest.
Does my cat like sleeping outside?
Some cats prefer to find a private outdoor sleeping area when there are other pets in the home that they find troublesome during sleeping hours. Cats may also suddenly want to sleep outside if you have a newborn in the home, or if you have rambunctious visitors making the home less peaceful and quiet than usual.
Your cat might try to sleep outside to see what it is like, and then never sleep outside again. Or, they could sleep outside and have a wonderful experience and decide that’s where they want to sleep from now on. How your cat will react to sleeping outside and whether or not they really like it may not be apparent.
Will my indoor cat be alright sleeping outside at night?
You really don’t need to worry too much if your cat sleeps outside, even if they are an indoor cat. A cat unfamiliar with the outdoors is at more risk than an indoor/outdoor cat, but most cats will be able to stay safe and close to home.
Katenna further explains, “If a house cat were to get out they would likely stay near the home rather than wander far away from safety and resources.” As such, they will be able to stay safe and will be ready to come inside at the first sign of life in the house in the morning.
What dangers do cats face outdoors overnight?
There are some dangers that your cat might face by staying out overnight, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t allow them to do it. For the most part, your cat is only going to be facing dangers of predators, like stray dogs or violent racoons, or dangers from the weather and the elements.
As long as you make sure that your cat has a safe place to hide from predators and stay dry and warm, there really is no reason they can’t spend the night outside.
What are some precautions I can take to make sure my cat is safe when sleeping outside?
There are several things you can do to keep your cat safe if it becomes clear that they would prefer to sleep outside. You can set up an outdoor area for them that is completely enclosed to keep them safe. Installing a cat door so that your cat can get back inside for safety or warmth even though you’re asleep is also a good idea.
Ultimately, indoor cats should be kept indoors as much as possible.
Can my cat stay outside when its cold?
Cats are fairly well insulated by their own fur, but they can still get sick if left in the wrong outdoor environment. Your cat shouldn’t stay outside if it gets below freezing. If you have to, lock your cat doors and keep a close eye on doors as people enter and exit the home to keep them indoors where it is warm.
Just as important as being warm is being dry. If your cat is determined to sleep outdoors, make sure they have a dry place in which to do so. You don’t want them getting sick because they got cold and wet and couldn’t get back inside.
At what age can my cat spend the night outside?
No cat should be left outside unsupervised before 6 months of age. Cats should be kept strictly indoors until they have been fixed and fully vaccinated, about 4-6 months of age. Once you do let your cat wander outside alone, you should give it some time before you allow them to stay out overnight.
What can I do to encourage my cats to sleep at home?
If you’re really worried about your cats, or if you live in a rural area where predators are more prevalent, you might want to keep your cat sleeping inside at home. There are some ways that you can encourage your cat to change their sleeping habits and use a cat bed or other sleeping area that you set up for them.
Make sure that the area is in a small, quiet, private place that allows for easy access to food, water, and litterbox. However, you should not put their sleeping area in the same place as their litterbox, as they will not want to sleep where they defecate. Use a cat bed and some of their favorite toys to lure them to the new sleeping area.
You can also create a bedtime routine surrounding the new area. Use scheduled nighttime treats (just a few, in moderation) to lure them to the bed and help keep them there as the house shuts down for the night.