Outdoor VS. Indoor Cats

We can’t deny that many cats enjoy the outside (some cats actually hate the outside while others actually show no interest in the outside). Cats, who get excited over motion, love to sit and watch the birds fly overhead, to watch bugs moving around, to see plants and trees waving in the wind, to bask in the sun, and who could forget the plethora of smells that exist outside. No one will deny that many cats have a blast in the outside world as outside is where the action usually is. On the other hand one also can’t deny that there are quite a few dangers associated with being an outside cat. And faced with these dangers we must ask ourselves if cats really do ‘need’ to be outside and if what they gain from going outside outweighs the dangers?

Although we often think of cats as miniature ‘wild animals’, relatives to the lions and tigers who can fend for themselves in the outside world, we need to realize that we have domesticated the common house cat. We have not been domesticating cats as long as we have dogs and thus we can still see some of the remnants of a ‘big cat’ in our cats, but through the years of domestication we have bred house cats to loose many of their ‘wild traits’ such that they can become better pets. With that our pet cats have lost many of the natural instincts needed to survive in the outside world. Take the hunting instinct for example. People often tend to think that house cats, like wild cats, ‘need’ to roam or hunt. Wild cats, true predators, need to roam to hunt and kill (aka to survive) and they only kill what they can eat. Domesticated cats roam for fun and to play and when they do hunt they rarely, if ever, eat their prey. A sign that although they enjoy to roam and hunt, they have lost the instinct or ‘need’ for it.

House cats also have lost much of their natural immunity to certain diseases in the outside world. Interestingly enough most big cats in Africa test FIV+, but rarely if ever, do you see a big cat suffering the effects of the virus or the disease. Why? Because their bodies have adapted to live with the virus through hundreds to thousands of years of living with it in the wild. So why is FIV such a problem for our house cats? They have lost that immunity to the virus through our domestication of them. Please note that FIV is most commonly seen in outdoor cats as it is spread through blood to blood transmission (mainly through fight wounds).

There is a reason that indoor cats live 12-15 years on average while outdoor cats live just 2 years on average. Outside cats face dangers from getting lost, mischievous humans and children, humans that think an outside cat is fair game to take home, cars on the streets, traps, poisonous substances or plants that they may eat or drink, other cats, and other animals with whom they may get into a fight with. We see the highest incidence of diseases like FIV, FeLV, and FIP in outdoor cats and these are diseases for which there is no cure. Although some outdoor cats are lucky and survive well into their teens, this is by far not the norm and the vast majority of outdoor cats die a young and painful death from harm, disease, poisoning or injury.

However let’s also consider the other side of the coin: proponents of keeping cats outdoors protest that it is cruel to keep a cat inside to see them staring through windows, wanting to be outside where they clearly have so much fun. And that it is unnatural to keep them indoors. But medical, factual and statistical evidence also shows us that although having a cat outdoors does have one possible advantage (the fun of playing outside) it has innumerable disadvantages and there is also no evidence to back up the claim that cats need to be outside for any reason. Findings also show that most cats enjoy the outside so much because the inside is fairly boring for a cat, and many owners do not spend enough quality time with their pet, not because of an innate need. So make sure that your home is just as exciting for a cat to be as the outdoors is. Play with your cat at least 2 hours a day and make sure you have plenty of toys, towers, and scratching posts on hand so you cat can entertain him/herself while you aren’t playing with them.

There is a reason that most cat experts, veterinarians, and cat lovers agree that keeping a cat indoors is better overall for the health and safely of the animal. And that the first unnatural step was to domesticate the cat, and now that we have domesticated them we need to take responsibility for them as we do for dogs. But what about the cat that does seem to really enjoy going outside, or the owner that says that their cat is different and needs to be outside? Well lets ask the question “Does keeping your cat indoors mean that you cat can never enjoy the outside world?” Definitely not!

One compromise is having a fenced in backyard such that your backyard becomes a safely enclosed haven. Remember that the main problems with allowing a cat to roam outdoors is that the cat will face dangers from other animals, diseases, injury, humans and cars. Thus if your backyard is fenced in such that your cat can not leave the backyard area and no other animals can get in you now have a perfect compromise. Your cat can now enjoy the pleasures of the outside world while staying safe and healthy. For a fenced in yard what you want to do is purchase some mesh – found at your local hardware store – and nail it to the top of the fence at a 45 degree angle inward or curved slightly inward. That way your cat run all through the yard, he/she can even climb the fences but he/she can’t climb over the fence. Also other animals will dislike the feeling of mesh on their paws and thus won’t be too tempted to climb over. You also will want to put mesh (in a similar fashion – at a 45 degree angle inward) around any trees you have so your cat can’t climb the tree and then jump the fence. There is a company that sells a product that will make any already fenced in backyard kitty-proof.

Cat Fence-In
PO Box 795
Sparks, NV 89432
Toll Free 888 738-9099

Also if you have a balcony you can add some plants, kitty grass, toys and a tower to construct a mini-backyard for your pet. This will also allow him/her to be able to smell the smells, see the sights and bask in the sun in a safe way.

And lastly if you live in an apartment or condo such that you don’t have a yard or balcony you can take your cat for walks or trips to the park. You can teach your cat to walk on a leash. Or if your cat knows his/her name and is pretty good about coming when called you can take your cat for walks without a leash. Similar to how owners bring their dogs to the park. Just make sure to watch our pet for encounters with other animals, especially big dogs!

The bottom line is that there is factual and statistical evidence that there are too many dangers associated with allowing a cat to wander outside as he/she wishes, unmonitored and unwatched, to make being an outdoor cat worth it. Just as you wouldn’t let your child go to a rave in the city with random people but you would let them go to a party at a close friend’s house, you can allow your cat to go outside if it is to a safely enclosed or supervised area such as a backyard, balcony or on a walk. As a pet owner you must realize that cats are domesticated animals and take responsibility for your cats safety, longevity and health as well as his/her happiness. Although in a perfect world we might like to let our cats enjoy the freedom of roaming and doing as they please we must be realistic and realize the dangers of doing so and find a compromise that keeps them happy and safe.