Electric Fences and Cat Safety

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses different fencing and enclosure systems for felines.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted Oct. 31, 2008, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: We have a cat named Random who wants to go outside and we don’t know what to do. There are lots of dangerous animals in our area, and we don’t know how to make the outdoors safe for him. What do you think about putting up an invisible electric fence around our yard and then putting a collar on the cat that will shock him every time he tries to go through it? Will the electric shock hurt him? Besides the E-fence, are there alternatives?

A: Invisible electric fences are not the safest or most humane solution for keeping cats inside yards. In calm circumstances, the fences normally keep cats within the designated boundaries. They can fail if a cat is highly agitated, excited or intent on hunting.

Some cats are easily startled or frightened; others have high prey drives. A cat who is intensely chasing an animal is likely to chase the animal through the electrified zone, despite the shock. The potential reward of a meal on the wing, coupled with the thrill of the chase is the consuming directive, far outweighing the threat of an electric shock. An electric shock also takes the back seat to the survival instinct of escaping a potential predator. I know of one cat who was frightened by the bark of a dog and bolted through the fence. The cat kept on running as far away as possible from both the barking dog and the shock from the invisible electric fence.

Once the cat has bolted through the electrified zone, he will not be able to get back into the safety of his yard since he will not want to endure another painful shock. Avoiding pain is stronger motivation then going back to familiar turf.

There are safer alternatives to electric fences. There is one fence system available that is made specifically to keep cats in the yard, while keeping other animals out. It is installed on top of your existing fence, extending the fence height. At the top there is an added extension that leans in at a 45-degree angle. There is also at least one fencing system that is a complete solution, allowing you to enclose specific areas. This system has many accessories available, including gates. The one potential problem with these fencing solutions is that they do not protect cats from predators that come from the sky, such as hawks and other raptors.

Covered enclosures are a safer alternative for cats. There are many different kinds of cat-centric enclosures that are available in different sizes, shapes and materials. Enclosures and enclosed areas need to have shade, sunny areas, places to climb, sheltered areas, food, water and cat boxes. The enclosures need to be fun, and they should also have enough room for chairs so that the cat’s favorite people can enjoy the outdoors along with their cats.

The safest solution is to not allow your cat outdoors at all. Cats live longer and are healthier when indoors 24/7. Provide a rich indoor environment and lots of stimulation and exercise. Tall cat trees, interactive toys, clicker training, play and interaction with their favorite people will help keep your cat happy and safe.

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Reader Comments

Lucy    Lake hughes, CA

2/26/2015 9:17:20 PM

Cat in neighborhood attacked my cat I tryed to keep him away wetting him with hose I need so way to keep him out he goes under gate and climbs over chain link fence I am disabled and my cat can be close to me but he chases her I had to take her to vet is there a solution to this nitemare be honest

Angelika    Raleigh, NC

6/18/2012 12:51:23 PM

sometimes, as in my case , neighborhood zoning does not allow for a fence over 42" which is useless for any kind of cat fencing. I also can't keep the cats in the house because they are several strays that do not get along with my cats and so basically live in the garage. Right now when they get out( and they always do )- they often run across a couple of major roads The invisible fence is the only idea that is promising. They have very small collars now and apparently a new type that doesn't require a boundary

Mary Ellen    Venice, FL

1/29/2012 9:17:24 AM

Purr...fect Fence.com. This company has consistently been the best fencing company for cats that I have found. I have been looking for years, and no one produces a better product. AND it can be rolled up and stored and taken to another property! I hope this solves the problem for those who want, (or who's cats want) OUT. Everyone will be happy.

Mary Ellen ciptak    Venice, FL

1/29/2012 8:54:17 AM

Excellent article. A common subject that cat owners struggle with daily.

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