Reducing the risk of road traffic accidents
Photo by Everything is Permuted
Many people allow their cats freedom to go outside to enjoy natural behaviours such as hunting and territory patrolling. For some, it is important that their cats can have this freedom. For others the dangers of the environment are too great and they are kept indoors. Unfortunately, almost any place where people live requires travel links and roads. RTAs are a common cause of serious injury or death in cats, with Agria Pet Insurance in the UK citing them as the most common cause of injury to cats, and the top insurance claim when all claims are ranked by cost. iCatCare is focusing on this topic to learn more about how owners can reduce the risk of cats being in accidents on the road
What factors increase the risk of an RTA?
Studies, which have looked at data from veterinary clinics, found that the following factors can increase a cat’s risk of being hit by a car:
age – younger cats are more at risk, with this risk decreasing each year as the cat ages
living in areas with high levels of traffic
being unneutered – males especially will roam further, so are more likely to come into contact with a road
- time – the majority of accidents occur at night, and often very close to the cat’s home
Injuries caused by road traffic accidents can be severe and result in lengthy recovery time and costly veterinary fees. Examples of injuries caused by RTAs include a fractured or shattered pelvis, ruptured diaphragm, internal injuries or broken limbs (which in some cases may require amputation). Factors such as weight can also affect recovery, highlighting the importance of keeping your cat at a healthy weight.
What can we do to reduce the risk of our cat being in an accident on the road?
If a cat has outdoor access it is not possible to completely remove the risk of an RTA. In some parts of the world the majority of cats are kept indoors, but this way of keeping cats can bring its own problems, such as distress associated with frustration of confinement and lack of opportunity to express normal feline behaviours. There are pros and cons to both options. Here we will discuss ways of reducing the risk of danger to cats allowed outdoors, but the most appropriate methods will depend on the individual cat, its lifestyle and its home situation – each situation is different with regards to what is best for the cat and its owners. Any cat with outdoor access should be microchipped and up to date with its vaccinations and other preventative healthcare.
Neuter your cat
Unneutered (entire) cats, especially males, are more likely to roam for large distances and may cross roads, putting themselves in danger. They are also more likely to be involved in fights with other cats which brings additional health risks. Neutered male cats roam less and also do not cause the noise and smell nuisance that entire males can. Neutered females may also wander less because they are not calling for mates or hunting to feed kittens.
Keeping cats indoors at night
Most RTAs occur at night (fights with other cats and wildlife are also more likely at night) so keeping your cat inside after dark could reduce the risk of injury. If you keep your cat inside at night always provide a litter tray. If your cat is not used to being kept in at night, you may have to do this gradually so that it gets used to the idea and is not frustrated that it cannot get out. All cats are different and may need different care.
Practise getting your cat to come to you when called at night by calling it, initially in the house, and offering a tasty treat as a reward if it comes to you. If your cat is not motivated by food, then the reward could be a game with a wand toy. Gradually extend this training to the garden and further afield and your cat will learn that when you call it in at night, coming home is rewarding and the cat will be motivated to keep performing this behaviour. This technique can also be used to encourage cats indoors during the rush hours when traffic is heavy and also helps to get cats indoors at other times when being outdoors may not be safe, for example during firework displays.
Using reflective cat collars
Using a reflective collar or even one with inbuilt lights may make your cat easier to see as it crosses the road. Always ensure a collar is ‘quick release’, meaning it has a safety catch that comes apart and allows the cat to escape if the collar becomes caught in a tree or fence .
Keeping your cat in the garden
Confining your cat to your garden will avoid contact with traffic and can be achieved by using types of fencing designed to prevent cats climbing out of the garden. If a cat is to be confined to a smaller area, it is important to attempt to meet as many of its needs as possible. The home and garden can be enriched to provide opportunities to play, hide, climb and perch, and owners should play with their cats to make sure they get enough exercise and stimulation.
Supervising outdoor access
Monitoring where your cat is when outdoors can help identify early if your cat is straying near a road, allowing you to call it indoors before it reaches any danger. There are several ways a cat can be monitored which range from simply watching and being with your cat when it is outdoors to accompanying your cat on excursions and encouraging it to walk in safe areas with you. Owners can even invest in specially designed collars (or devices that attach to the collar) such as those that use Bluetooth and GPS to help you locate your cat at any given time.
Walking a cat on a harness and lead
If introduced correctly, some cats will learn to tolerate being walked outdoors. However, for other cats, this can be distressing. Greatest success at training a cat to accept a harness occurs when the harness is introduced in kittenhood and is paired with rewards (eg, food treats and play). Unable to run away, cats on a lead may find encounters with dogs or other cats frightening so this method is often best used to allow cats to have time in a garden.
Keeping a cat indoors only
Indoor confinement will prevent RTAs, but indoor cats need extra attention to meet their exercise and stimulation needs. The physical health benefits of keeping a cat indoors should be weighed against the potentially negative psychological (and possibly negative physical) health effects on the cat’s behaviour. Alternatives for outdoor activities must be sought indoors and owners need to think carefully whether they have the time and ability to provide these. For example, are you able to provide enough opportunity for your cat to demonstrate hunting and exploratory behaviour within the home, albeit on toys and other alternatives. For more information on keeping the indoor cat happy and healthy, click here.
We all want to prevent RTAs and keep our cats happy and healthy. Every cat is different and there are pros and cons of all the solutions discussed in this article.