The debate as to whether to let cats roam freely outside or not is hotly debated, with strong views both for and against. It is of course a decision that all cat owners have to make, not just Bengal owners, though we think Bengal cats have some unique characteristics which need to be considered as part of the decision-making process.
What are the reasons in favour of letting your cat go outside?
Cats are free-spirited and agile creatures who need space to run and hunt and do what comes naturally to them. They’re independent and intelligent and can look after themselves. They’re not human slaves like dogs, and are not meant to be cooped up inside a home all day. They will get bored. When Bengals get bored, this can lead to behavioural problems such as aggression, naughtiness or inappropriate spraying.
Sounds reasonable… so why should you not let your cat do all that?
On average, cats who are left to roam freely outdoors live much fewer years than indoor kitties. There’s two main reasons for that (1) Road traffic accidents and (2) Fighting with or being attacked by other cats or even wild animals. Although cats are intelligent, there are many hazards outside that a little furry member of the family should not be exposed to. On top of these risks, there is an additional one with Bengals and other pedigree cats: the risk of theft. There are unfortunately unscrupulous humans out there who are quick to take advantage if they see an opportunity to take a valuable or beautiful cat.
There’s also potentially the issue of your neighbours… A lot of cats don’t like to use their own back garden as a toilet, and may decide to use your neighbours’ prized flower beds instead. Most people, perhaps understandably, don’t like this, and a minority will take their own cruel actions by deliberately harming or poisoning cats that do this
What you need to know about Bengals in particular
When you’re making your decision, you need to be aware of the fact that Bengals are a lot more adventurous than many other cats and are also a lot more confident or, some might say, nosey! They will wander much further than most domestic cats so their territory will be much larger, and it may include things like roads or other hazards that you may think are too far away to be an issue.
As well as that, Bengals don’t understand the meaning of “private property” and think that any open door is an invitation to go in and take a look around! This could be a shed, garage or outbuilding or even someone’s house! So depending on whose property it is, and whether or not they’re noticed, there is the risk of either getting trapped inside or annoying your neighbours when they’re constantly finding your cat in their house!
We’re speaking from experience here… at the top of this article you can see we live in a very rural area – that’s the view from the bottom of our garden. What you can’t see is that there’s a busy road, though it’s quite some distance away and none of our non-Bengal cats have ever wandered that far… but Lula did! Also both Spot and Lula were consistently in and out of our neighbour’s house during warmer weather when doors and windows were left open – we know they would never harm them, but they didn’t like it and it was an inconvenience to them.
So what should you decide?
At the end of the day, only you can make the decision yourself and each individual will have their own unique circumstances to take into account based on the personality of your cat and the area where you live. If you live near a main road or some other hazards, we would say you perhaps shouldn’t let your cat roam free… if you live in a very rural area, you may wish to let them.
Things to consider if you decide to let your cat free roam
Don’t let them roam until they’re old enough – at least 6 months
Make sure they’re neutered – males are less likely to get in fights and will not add to the growing population of unwanted cats and females of course won’t get pregnant and add to the same population.
Ensure they are fully vaccinated.
Get them microchipped – some people also put collars on their cats, though we personally don’t like them – we’ve heard lots of cases of them getting caught in branches etc and strangling cats, even some of the so-called “quick release” ones.
We advise that cats are kept in during the hours of darkness – they’re more likely to get into difficulties if allowed outside at night (greater risk of road accidents and fights with other animals).
If you want to install a cat flap, get one that reads your cats’ microchips. Cats don’t need to wear a collar for these and they will prevent the problem of neighbourhood felines coming into your house and all the resulting problems with territory marking and stress to your own cats that can bring.
The alternatives to free roaming
There are of course other ways of letting your cat go outside without giving them the complete freedom of the great outdoors – building an outdoor enclosure, cat proofing your garden, or harness-training them and letting them take you for a walk! We cover all of these topics in other articles in our advice pages!