Indoor or Outdoor Cat

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cats: Should You Keep Your Cat Indoors or Outdoors


by Lorie Huston, DVM on January 22, 2010


Should cats live indoors or outdoors?

“Can I let my cat go outdoors? “Is it safe for my cat to be outside?” “Why is my (indoor) cat behaving badly?” These are all questions which are part of the debate about whether a cat’s life should be led indoors or outdoors. While both sides of the issue have very passionate supporters, the truth is that there are risks and benefits to either lifestyle.

Risks for Outdoor Cats

There are several well-known risks for cats which live outdoors. -Cats which live outdoors are at higher risk of trauma, such as being hit by a car, attacked by a dog or other animal, getting into a fight with another cat or being abused by a mean-spirited person. -Outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed to infectious diseases, such as feline leukemia, feline AIDS, upper respiratory diseases, and many others. -Outside cats are more likely to be infested with parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms. -In areas where heartworm is endemic, outdoor cats are more likely to become infected with these parasites than indoor cats.

Other Disadvantages to Allowing Cats to Live Outdoors

Predation of wild species of birds and other small animals can be a problem when cats live outdoors. Opponents to trap-neuter-release programs, where feral cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, and then released to live the remainder of their lives outdoors, often quote this predation and the eradication of local wildlife populations which can result as one of the reasons for their opposition to the programs.

In addition, cats living outdoors can annoy neighbors by using gardens as litter boxes and becoming a general nuisance. They can also place people at risk for diseases such as toxoplasmosis and infection with ascarids.

Benefits of Allowing a Cat to Spend Time Outdoors

Cats which are allowed to spend time outdoors are likely to lead a more enriched life, encountering stimulation which may not be achieved by living indoors. This type of stimulation can help avoid stress-related problems which may manifest as urinary or other health problems or undesirable behavioral issues, such as urine marking.

Benefits for Cats Living Indoors

There are a number of benefits to keeping a cat indoors. -Cats which live indoors are at less risk of traumatic accidents, such as car accidents, attacks by dogs or other animals, cat fights and other traumatic accidents. -Indoor cats are much less likely to be exposed to infectious diseases, such as feline leukemia and feline AIDS. -Though it is still very possible for indoor cats to get fleas and other parasites, the risk is less than for an outdoor cat. -Heartworms are also possible in indoor cats but are more common in those that live outdoors

Problems Encountered by Cats Which Live Indoors

Cats which live indoors can become bored more easily than those which live outdoors and can experience stress which may contribute to disease and behavioral issues.

Feline interstitial idiopathic cystitis is a good example of a disease which is more frequently encountered in cats which live indoors. This disease causes inflammation within the urinary bladder resulting in bloody urine, inappropriate urination (urinating outside of the litter box) and pain and discomfort. This form of feline cystitis has been linked to stress in cats and this is only one of the stress-related physical diseases seen in indoor cats. There are many others which have been theorized or proven to be caused at least partly by stress.

Many cat owners do not realize that living indoors presents challenges which are inherently stressful for a cat. Stress in the feline can be caused by something as simple as a change in the owner’s schedule or routine, a new member in the household, a rearrangement of the furniture, seeing other animals outdoors through an open window and many other things which we may never guess to be stressful.

Behavioral problems are also more common in indoor cats. One of the most common behavioral issues mentioned by cat owners which keep their cats indoors is urine marking or spraying behaviors. These cats are simply performing a normal feline behavior but within the confines of a home, the behavior may become intolerable for many cat owners. There are other behavioral problems which may become problematic for indoor cats as well, such as intercat aggression.

These problems can be overcome to some extent by providing enrichment in the environment, such as perches where your cats can relax or sleep, hiding places where cats can seek shelter, and toys, particularly those which move and simulate predator behavior. Proper management of litter boxes and food and water stations is also helpful in controlling these issues.

Should You Keep Your Cat Indoors or Allow Your Cat Outdoors?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Each cat owner must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both lifestyles and make the appropriate decision for their individual situation.

My personal choice is to keep my cats indoors. I choose not to expose my cats to the dangers of living or spending time outdoors unsupervised and manage stress-related disease and behavioral issues through environmental enrichment, close observation and appropriate intervention when a problem arises. However, I will not go so far as saying that this is the only right choice.

One of my neighbors, for instance, chooses to keep her outdoors almost exclusively. She has an enclosed porch which provides shelter for the cats and she feeds them and provides bedding for them there. Her cats are semi-feral and they seem uncomfortable on the occasions when she finds it necessary to bring them in the house. She accepts the fact that the cats are susceptible to predation (we have coyote and fox in my neighborhood) and other risks. But this is the arrangement which works for her and she believes that her cats live more “normal” lives than mine do. Who am I to say she is incorrect?

Solutions to the Outdoor Dilemma for Indoor Cats

Controlled access to the outdoors can be accomplished for cats which live indoors by: -using outdoor cat enclosures -walking your cat on a leash or harness

These options may provide a solution for some cat owners who would like to provide their cat with the outdoor experience but still protect them from the risks of being outdoors.

This article is posted with the permission of the Pet Health Care Gazette