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Keeping your cat indoors

This article refers to Hamilton, ON bylaws as they relate to keeping cats indoors. Other cities also have rules about keeping cats indoors.

From City of Hamilton Animal Services

City By-Laws

The City of Hamilton has a cat at large bylaw which does NOT allow cats to roam off the property of the owner unrestrained. If your cat is observed at large (off your property) then you may receive a warning and/or a fine under the Cat at Large bylaw and if your cat is brought into the shelter, you will be required to pay impound and board fees as well as any vet bills incurred while in our care before the cat goes home.

Besides the possibility of receiving a fine, or the inconvenience of having to come pay and claim your cat from the shelter there are many other issues created by cats allowed to roam.

Outdoor Risks

  • the risk of illness/injury to your beloved feline friends if you allow them outdoors unsupervised 
  • exposure to parasites and contagious disease
  • injury or death by vehicles on busy roadways
  • exposure to extreme weather
  • ingesting poison or toxic items
  • fighting with other cats, wildlife or even neighborhood dogs
  • We frequently see posts for “stolen” cats on social media which sadly does happen occasionally, however there are many pet owners who would rather believe their beloved pet was catnapped because it is far easier to blame some nefarious neighbor than entertaining the idea that the cat would be home if not for their decision to let him roam.
  • Plain and simple, if the cat is let out intentionally then there is a good chance it may not return and you may never know what happened to him so it is important to weigh the risks/rewards beforehand so you are prepared.


Getting Outside Unintentionally

Sometimes a cat being outside isn’t intentional and finding a terrified indoor cat who accidentally managed to get outside is no easy task for frantic owners, but when you add all the outdoor cats to the equation this task becomes impossible. Indoor cats who haver never been outside are not equipped or able to take on the neighborhood cats, nor are they street savvy or comfortable enough to come out of hiding and find their way home. Please be mindful that when a cat is genuinely lost and an owner is frantically trying to find him, your cat is adding to the problem either by adding “background noise” during the search, or by scaring the cat into hiding where he will not come out as long as the “neighborhood cats” are out. At the very least, when you are aware of a lost house cat in your area, please keep your cat inside while they attempt to find the lost pet. Your cat will live if kept inside and it’s the least you can do for the neighbors who have tolerated your roaming cat.

You Let Your Cat Outside

If you are someone who regularly and intentionally allows their cat to go outside unsupervised then here are some tips/facts

1) Spay/Neuter – If you choose to ignore all the other health risks associated with being outdoors, this is the one that is NOT negotiable. There is no excuse for unfixed cats to be let out to roam. Period. No explanation needed, it is inexcusable and irresponsible.

2) If your cat loves the fresh air and being outside so much then enjoy it with him! Your cat can still watch the neighborhood activity and listen to the birds and get some fresh air outside while leashed or enclosed and under your supervision. A “catio” enclosure or enclosed window perch is a great way to safely contain your cat while he enjoys the fresh air and offers protection to and from other animals in the area.

3) Your neighbors may not like your cat. This is an important one and there are not many outdoor cat owners who are aware that the people around them do NOT appreciate their cat being outside. While it may cut down on your litterbox chores, your cat being outside all day means he’s likely urinating/defecating in the neighbor’s garden, or on their patio, or even in a child’s sandbox. Unfortunately, your cat is likely not the only using the neighborhood as a litterbox but if your neighbor finally identifies your cat as the culprit (and yes, it does happen) You may have Animal Services at your door with a ticket for cat at large and for not picking up after your pet. Please remember if/when this happens, the only one to blame is yourself not the neighbor who is tired of cleaning up after your cat.

4) What’s good for the goose—If you are confronted by a fed up neighbor and find yourself saying something along the lines of “there’s lots of cats in the area, why am I the one being blamed?” please stop and imagine for a second. There are lots of dogs in the city too, so does that mean every dog owner should be allowed open their door and let their dog roam everyday? What if all the dogs chose your property to defecate on, destroyed your patio furniture and killed squirrels on your lawn daily? What if the owner told you “Everyone else is doing it, how do you know its my dog?”. There is no difference: a nuisance animal is a nuisance animal so if you wouldn’t want the neighbor’s dog leaving a mess on your lawn each morning, then don’t expect them to be ok with your cats doing this.

5) That’s my cat! While cats in Hamilton are not required to be licensed, they should be wearing ID if they are owned whether it’s a tag with your phone number, a microchip, or other identification tag. If your cat goes outside without any identification, don’t get upset when a good Samaritan brings him to the shelter! Always be sure to use breakaway collars to avoid injury in the event the collar is snagged.

6) You are responsible for your cat. If your cat shows up injured and needing medical care it can get pricey so if you will not keep the cat inside, then make sure you are prepared to pay for everything from an infected cut, to life threatening injuries.  Alternately, you may also be held liable for any damages your cat causes should they injure/attack a person or another animal and/or damages while off your property so if you do not intend to take responsibility for the cat’s behavior then keep him inside.

Cats Do Not Need to Be Outdoors

Cats are domesticated animals who do not need to be outside provided they have everything they need inside the home. Food, water, treats, toys that are stimulating and activities to keep them entertained are much more appropriate (and cost effective) ways to keep your cat healthy than exposing them to the outside world. If you have ever been in a vet clinic, shelter, or pet store who has a resident or “office cat” then you already know this.

Undoubtedly a pet store has more foot traffic coming in/out throughout the day than your house does but the “store cat” doesn’t bolt outside every time someone opens the door because they have attention, food, treats and all the toys they need to be satisfied. In fact, even with screaming children or strange dogs coming in/out, these cats still aren’t gone with the wind so perhaps with a little effort and attention you can turn your “house cat” into a “homebody” where he is safe and healthy for years to come.

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