For many cats, the outside world looks like a pretty amazing place to be. With birds, chipmunks, fresh air, and so much more just beyond the window, it should come as no surprise that many indoor cats want to be outdoor cats. However, if your cat keeps trying to sneak out and seems happier when they do manage to bolt out the door, forcing them to stay inside might seem cruel. As veterinarians, we cannot decide whether or not to let your cat outside for you. We can, however, provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.
Pros of Outdoor Cats
The biggest advantage of allowing your cat to venture outdoors is that there are more opportunities for physical activity. Outdoor cats tend to spend their days roaming and exploring and do a good bit of running and climbing in the process. And when your cat stays active, they are less likely to become overweight.
In addition, a cat who can go outside is free to engage in instinctive behavior – like scratching – without damaging your home or belongings. They also have the freedom to indulge their natural curiosity and experience new smells, sights, tastes, and textures.
Cons of Outdoor Cats
While allowing your cat to go outside offers a few perks, there are also several drawbacks. Most notably, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is about 5 years, compared to indoor cats, who according to The Humane Society can live to be 18 to 20 years old. In addition, outdoor cats are more likely to contract potentially deadly diseases, including feline leukemia, feline distemper (panleukopenia), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), rabies, and serious upper respiratory infections. They are also more likely to pick up parasites like fleas and ticks, intestinal worms, and ear mites.
Your outdoor cat may face many dangers from humans and other animals.
Some of these outdoor dangers your cat could face are as follows:
- Your cat could accidentally get hit by a car
- Your cat could become a victim of animal cruelty
- Depending on where you live, there may be natural predators who would love to prey on your cat, including coyotes, stray dogs, bobcats, and bears
- Rattlesnake and other snake are also a threat to your outdoor cat
- If your cat is not spayed or neutered, there is a good chance of an unwanted pregnancy
- Most stray cats are not neutered, and cats can get diseases through sexual contact or fighting with other cats
Outside cats have an environmental impact, too. They are estimated to kill billions of birds and small mammals each year. Though they are our treasured pets, they are also a non-native invasive species in most parts of the world, and their impact on bird and small mammal populations has been devastating in many areas.
Pros of Indoor Cats
Keeping your feline friend inside means you will not have to worry about them wiping out the bird population in your neighborhood. You also won’t need to be concerned about your pet being hurt – accidentally or intentionally – by another animal or a human. Indoor cats are much less likely to encounter dangerous parasites and diseases than their outdoor counterparts, too.
Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. While accidents and escapes can never be completely prevented (hence the need for microchipping), cats who stay inside are much less likely to get lost or stolen. They also do not have to contend with changing weather conditions, and there is virtually no risk of them being exposed to toxins and poisons, such as road salt, antifreeze, and dangerous plants.
Cons of Indoor Cats
Because cats enjoy roaming and exploring, keeping them inside can lead to boredom. Some indoor cats also experience depression and separation anxiety. To prevent these issues, you must take steps to meet your cat’s needs. Their instincts must be considered, and pet parents need to provide things like scratching posts, toys that simulate prey, places to climb and hide, and you might even consider honing their instinctual hunting abilities by making them work for food with things like food puzzles.
Obesity is also a serious problem among many indoor cats. Without the ability to run, climb, and explore, your cat is likely to spend too much time lounging and eating. Excess weight may give your feline friend a cute, chunky appearance, but it is detrimental to their health. Obesity can lead to fatty liver disease, diabetes, joint stress and pain, and other health issues. If you plan on keeping your cat indoors, be prepared to closely monitor their diet and play with them frequently to ensure they get enough exercise and remain at a healthy weight.
Urinary diseases such as cystitis and urethral obstruction are more common in indoor-only cats, especially males. In addition, when cats get stressed due to a lack of mental or physical stimulation, their bladder can become inflamed, leading to trouble urinating. Most cats are very particular about their desire for a fresh, clean litter box, so it is important to provide optimal restroom facilities for your cat.
Enriching the Life of Your Indoor Cat
While indoor cats are more prone to boredom and obesity, these drawbacks are minimal compared to outdoor cats' risks. Plus, there are plenty of ways to enrich the lives of indoor cats. Getting your cat a companion is an excellent way to keep boredom, depression, and separation anxiety at bay. Many cats enjoy the company of a feline friend, and some even enjoy living with dogs. Playing, cuddling, and mutual grooming with another pet will help fulfill your indoor cat’s needs for companionship and exercise when you are busy or away from home.
There are also all sorts of interactive toys to help keep your cat mentally and physically stimulated. Most cats enjoy the thrill of getting a new toy, and prey-like ones (like kitty fishing poles and laser pointers) tend to get even the laziest cats up and running. You can also provide a purr-fect indoor environment for your cat by installing cat perches (especially near windows!) and providing plenty of climbing places and hiding spots.
The rule of thumb for the number of litter boxes needed in your home is how many cats you have plus one, so if you have two cats, your veterinarian will recommend three boxes. Most cats prefer unscented litter that is quite sandy and boxes large enough to fit inside and turn around comfortably. You should scoop the litter box daily, replace the litter, and wash the entire litter box at least weekly. Making sure boxes are not near noisy appliances or deep in a garage makes them more likely to be accepted by your cat. Older cats may need a box on each story of your home for easier access.
The Bottom Line
If your cat keeps trying to get out and seems happier outdoors, deciding what to do can be challenging. Of course, keeping your cat indoors is the best way to keep them safe and prevent them from becoming an issue in your neighborhood. If your feline friend insists on venturing outdoors, though, keeping a close eye on them or even letting them explore while on a leash minimizes the potential risks of outdoor life.
As a pet owner, the decision of whether to allow your cat to be an outdoor cat is ultimately yours to make. Understanding the pros and cons of both options is the best way to make an informed decision that is right for you and your pet. If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care veterinarian to formulate the best plan for your furry friend.