The indoor/outdoor cat debate is very controversial among animal caretakers and humane societies. Unlike most European countries where the majority of cats spend their days outdoors, Americans are increasingly keeping their cats permanently indoors. In 2008, 65% of survey participants said they keep their cats strictly indoors (Rowan, 2012). As we continue to move into the cities, life in high rise apartments makes it difficult for cats to access the outdoors. There’s also an increased concern for a cat’s safety living in a busy city as compared to living in the suburbs or out in the country. However, confining cats to a strictly indoor lifestyle also poses its challenges.
Benefits to cats who live strictly indoors
Many animal guardians choose to keep their cats indoors for a variety of reasons. Indoor cats are protected from potential hazards such as predation, cars, diseases, fleas, ticks and cruel humans. Further, even street smart cats can get lost and end up in a shelter where they could be euthanized. It is estimated that only 2-5% of lost cats will be reunited with their guardian. Keeping a cat indoor significantly reduces the risk that the cat gets lost in the first place.
Risks for cats who live strictly indoors
Cat caretakers must take into consideration that indoor cats can sometimes suffer psychologically and develop behavioral problems. Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and Roger Tabor, British biologist and cat expert, both note that American cats sometimes have higher rates of anxiety-related problems, urinary tract problems, vomiting, weight issues and stress-related problems, which can be attributed to the indoor-only existence (Hamilton, 2010). Sadly, behavioral issues is a main reason why caretakers relinquish cats to shelters; that’s why it is so important to provide entertainment and proper stimulation for indoor-only cats.
The good news is that cat guardians can help make the indoors a more stimulating and exciting environment for cats. Read our tips on how to entertain an indoor cat here.
Alley Cat Rescue’s position
Our position at Alley Cat Rescue is not that everyone should open their doors and allow their cats out to roam around outside! We do believe that many cats, especially if given a stimulating environment, can live quite contentedly and healthy indoors, especially in areas where outdoor living is unsafe. For caretakers who want to allow their cats outdoors, ACR strongly advises the use of specialized fencing designed for confining cats, and we promote outdoor cat enclosures or catios. This way cats have a nice balance of indoor and outdoor living without risk.
As for feral cats or cats who live strictly outdoors, the general message out there is they only live for about two years, which is based on folk wisdom. In actuality, the lifespan of a feral (outdoor) cat is comparable to that of an indoor cat. A study performed on a Florida college campus over the course of 11 years, reported that more than 80% of the cats had been residents for more than 6 years; which is comparable to the mean lifespan of 7.1 years for household cats (Levy et al., 2003).
ACR does, however, reject public policies that would rather euthanize feral cats than allow them to live a good life under responsible care in an outdoor home, and policies that do not allow non-lethal control of feral cats on the basis of “no-outdoor-cats.” One of the major reasons that non-lethal control of feral cat colonies is so contentious in the U.S. is because of the prevailing attitudes towards outdoor cats. While the public is embracing the outdoor life of feral cats, most shelters still find it difficult to accept any cats being outdoors, even feral cats.
Feral cats are not meant to live indoors. They are wild animals and they are already living in their home-outdoors. Most adult feral cats are very unhappy living in homes. Some do adjust and become comfortable sharing space with their caretaker(s); however, others will spend their entire lives hiding under beds and couches because they are too stressed from being confined. These cats are impossible to medicate and trips to the veterinarian are difficult, if you are even able to catch the cat. This is no way for any animal to live. Not to mention, with the sheer number of feral cats living in colonies, it would simply be impossible to find enough indoor homes or sanctuaries for all of them.
Yes, it can be dangerous living outdoors and yes, some feral cats get hit by cars or attacked by dogs or other animals; but to kill millions of outdoor cats, as many authorities advocate for, in order to “protect” them from the possibility of experiencing something bad-when so many thousands of outdoor cats live in managed, safe colonies for many years-is just too extreme a measure to be ethically acceptable. The same thing could be said of you, your children, or any other animal. Any one of us could get hit by a bus or sustain an injury simply by conducting our daily routines, but that is not a reason to avoid venturing outdoors. And it is certainly not a reason to advocate for the killing of healthy, sentient beings.
Hamilton, Donald. Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, Revised Edition: Small Doses for Small Animals. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Levy, Julie K., David W. Gale, and Leslie A. Gale. “Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return and Adoption Program on a Free-Roaming Cat Population.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, no. 1 (January 1, 2003): 42–46.
Rowan, Andrew N. “Cat Demographics.” presented at the The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective, December 2012.
Articles originally posted by AlleyCatRescue Like us on Facebook!Alley Cat Rescue (ACR) works to protect cats on several levels: locally through rescue, rehabilitation and adoption of cats and nationally through a network of Cat Action Teams, called CAT. ACR is dedicated to the health, well-being and welfare of all cats: domestic, stray, abandoned and feral. Help the ACR kitties by making a donation or shopping online! http://www.saveacat.org/donate.html