Should You Let Your Cat Outside?
By Hannah Baker January 07, 2019
As any cat owner would agree, one of the toughest decisions to initially make is whether or not you should let your cat go outside. Most people who own cats want their cat to be happy and fulfilled, but also healthy and safe. As such, the biggest argument for keeping a cat strictly inside is safety. On the other hand, though, the biggest argument for letting a cat go outside is that they are domesticated-yet-wild animals who need and want to let out some energy.
So, like a concerned parent, we weigh our options. What’s the best choice for our cat? For us? For the neighboring cats, our family, our roommates, the environment? Then even more - should your cat be permanently indoor? Permanently outdoor? Sometimes indoor, sometimes outdoor? It can turn into quite a big decision. Add to that the incessant meowing of your cat looking longingly out the window, and you have one of the hardest predicaments facing cat owners in the modern world.
So let’s break it down.
In addition to having more time to love your pet if they’re kept indoors, cats that strictly stay indoors have the huge benefit of safety. While there is no guarantee that a cat won’t find himself in a sticky situation indoors (you know what they say about curiosity), it’s way less likely for cats to find trouble inside than outside. In fact, indoor cats have a longer predicted lifespan than outdoor cats. This is due to a variety of reasons, from disease to danger (see Outdoor Cats below.)
The biggest downside of keeping cats indoors at all times is boredom - and because of this, sometimes, aggression. Young cats especially in their prime years have quite a lot of energy that they want to release. Although they have been domesticated, cats share several characteristics with their wild ancestors. They like to hunt, run, play, and explore. These are activities best performed outside, but luckily there are alternatives for strictly indoor cats. You can substitute these activities indoors by giving your cat adequate love and attention. Facilitating playtime with a variety of toys can keep your cat active and decrease boredom. Some great ideas for simulating the benefits that the outdoors can bring your cat within the safe confines of the home are cat perches, climbing places, cat towers, hiding places, scratching posts, prey-like toys, and much more. Cat toys and cat comforts are always evolving, and it’s easier than ever to keep an indoor cat happy (and healthy!). Our environmental enrichment article explores ways to keep your cat happy indoors.
If you are not able to spend quality time with your cat on a regular basis, another good option is to get your cat a feline friend. To be completely transparent, though, this isn’t always the easiest thing. This is because some cats do not do well with others. If you are able to effectively introduce your cat to another, however, then it might be a wonderful idea to bring another friend into the home to keep your cat company. Our cat introduction article explores how one cat owner found success introducing cats to each other.
While indoor cats may be less likely to encounter disease and danger, there are still several factors to consider to keep them safe and healthy. Although indoor cats may not directly interact with the outside world, they can still be exposed to disease. With infestations like fleas and ticks, humans can easily track these little nuisances into the house on their clothes or shoes. It’s the same for other diseases. Therefore, it’s just as important for indoor cats to receive their vaccinations and treatments as it is for outdoor cats. Indoor cats are the easiest to keep clean, and they often give themselves regular baths, but it’s still a good idea to maintain regular grooming habits like baths, nail-clippings, and parasite inspection.
If you adopt a cat that is declawed, it’s important that these cats stay indoors only. Without the ability to defend themselves with their claws, they will have a much higher risk of dying outside.
Outdoor-only cats are at the highest risk for disease and danger. Because of this, their lifespans are usually drastically shorter (indoor cats can live up to 17 years or more; outdoor cats on average only live about two to five years). Outdoor cats are at high-risk for being exposed to diseases like feline leukemia (FeLV), feline AIDS (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline distemper (panleukopenia), and upper respiratory infections (URIs). In addition, outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed to a variety of parasites like fleas, ticks, ear mites, intestinal worms, and ringworm. Therefore, if you decide to have an outdoor cat, it’s imperative that you take your cat to receive the appropriate vaccinations and keep up with prevention and treatment for parasites.
Another big risk that is posed to outdoor cats is the variety of dangerous situations they can find themselves in. For example, one of the biggest risks is cars. Even if you live on a quiet residential street, there are likely still cars that pass by. Some of these cars tend to go above the speed limit. Although cats are naturally smart creatures, they don’t always have an aversion to cars as they should. This leads to quite a few cat deaths by car.
Outdoor cats are also at risk for encountering aggressive dogs and other animals. In some areas, wild coyotes are known for preying on household cats that are let outside. If you live out in the country, this is even more of a problem. Cats that go outside are also at risk of being exposed to poison and other dangerous chemicals that they may smell or ingest out of curiosity. Cats are known for climbing trees and not always being able to come down. This can lead to danger if the cat falls or attempts a high jump. Cats fight with one another, too. Cat fights can be dangerous and even deadly.
The biggest positive for outdoor cats is that they are allowed to live their natural, wild life - replete with hunting, playing, and exploring. However, when weighing the risk of death and disease, this positive doesn’t look so strong.
Probably the most common type of cat is an indoor/outdoor cat. This is a type of cat that is mainly indoors but is allowed to go on adventures outside. Just like the other types of cats, there are pros and cons to this type. Indoor cats receive the positive safety benefits of indoor cats (when they are indoors) but are still able to let their wild side free when they are outdoors. However, the exposure to disease is just as high as outdoor-only cats. That’s because, even though these cats are outside much less often, they are still exposed to diseases and parasites.
One of the biggest cons of indoor/outdoor cats compared to outdoor-only cats is that not only can these cats pick up parasites, but they can then bring them indoors. This is especially detrimental in households with multiple pets because the cat can pick up fleas or ticks while they are outside and then give them to the other pets inside. Once a house is infested, it’s quite a task to rid the house and all of the pets of the parasite. As such, it’s incredibly important to vaccinate and provide preventive medicine and treatment medicine to indoor/outdoor cats.
Even though cats that are indoor/outdoor face less of a risk of danger compared to outdoor-only cats, there is still the possibility that these cats could get hit by a car, stuck in a tree, hunted by wild animals, or get into cat fights with other domestic or wild cats.
Cats that are allowed to roam around outside will likely return home pretty dirty. Cats, like dogs, may roll around in the dirt and mud and rub themselves on a variety of different surfaces. Therefore, if you choose to have an indoor/outdoor cat, it’s imperative to maintain a regular grooming schedule. This means baths, nail clippings, and flea/tick preventive medicine applied after the bath.
The bottom line in the debate for indoor and outdoor cats is that regardless of which one you choose, keeping up with their health through vaccinations and treatments is always a high priority. It’s up to you to decide what will be best for your feline friend and yourself. However, if you do choose to have an indoor cat, know that stimulation through playtime and love is a great way to keep them entertained and happy. More about this debate can be found at American Humane.