From first-time kitten owners to seasoned cat companions, cat owners are divided whether or not cats should be allowed outdoors. Traditional beliefs that cats need freedom to roam are fading in the light of statistics that indicate the indoor cats have a longer lifespan and better health. Deciding whether or not a cat should be an indoors or outdoors animal is up to individual owners but the pros and cons provide substantial evidence toward indoor cats.
Statistics indicate that the lifespan of an indoor cat is much longer than an outdoor cat. On average, an indoor cat lives twelve years but some cats can live for as many as twenty years. In comparison, an outdoor cat’s life expectancy is less than five years.
The pros of keeping a cat indoors outnumber the cons of an indoor cat. Most are directly related to the health and safety of the cat.
The first valid reason to make a cat an indoor pet is traffic. Busy highways, roads, suburban streets and country lanes all present a life-threatening danger for cats. One accident can be fatal or cause serious injuries.
Indoor cats are not exposed to the host of poisons that many outdoors cats encounter. Pesticides, home garden products, car and motor products, discarded trash, spoiled foods, poisonous plants and intentional poisonings are among the poisoning dangers for cats that roam.
The danger of contracting an infectious disease rises for the outdoor cat. Many feline diseases including Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (FeLV) are transmitted from an infected cat to another. Cats who roam at will encounter other cats and can contract either of these fatal diseases. Free roaming cats often encounter problems with other cats in the area and abscesses as a result of a cat fight are ailment veterinarians see on a regular basis. These are painful to the cat and can cost up to several hundred dollars to fix. A host of other infectious diseases thrives in the outdoor environment and among cats that may not have been vaccinated.
Parasites are another health issue for outdoor cats. Fleas are prevalent through the world and can be carriers of disease. Some diseases can be transmitted to cat owners. In Australia, paralysis ticks can infect cats and if not treated ticks can kill. Ringworm (which is, in fact, a fungus, not a worm) is another disease that can adversely affect a cat’s health as well as pass to human members of the same household. While not deadly, ringworm can be quite hard to eradicate in the cat and prevention is better than cure.
Outdoor cats face other dangers. Dogs and wild animals such as possums and snakes often prey on cats that wander into the wrong territory. Australia has the deadliest snakes in the world, and can quite easily kill a cat. Cruel and sadistic individuals sometimes kill defenseless cats for sport or pleasure.
Outdoor cats are more prone to becoming lost. Less than 5% of cats taken to animal shelters are reclaimed by owners. All outdoor cats should wear either safety collars with identifying information. However, collars often become lost. Microchipping is the only permanent way to identify a cat. Theft of animals to be used as lab animals, for the illegal fur trade or in satanic rites is another threat for outdoor cats.
Neighbours who object to a roaming cat who may defecate or urinate in a flower bed or vegetable garden are another problem solved with indoor cats. Neighborhood spats often arise from issues involving cats – if a cat lives indoors, then the potential for neighbour trouble is diminished.
Australia is one of the leading countries in the world for skin cancer. Cats are also susceptible to skin cancer. If you allow your cats to free roam, or have them in the safety of an enclosure it is important to be aware of this and offer the cat protection from the sun. Many people who build enclosures have a shaded area where the cats can enjoy the outdoors without the constant exposure to the sun.
Cat owners should also consider that indoor cats are healthier, often happier, and live much longer than outdoors cats allowed the freedom to roam. However, if you absolutely must allow your cat to roam outside it is important to ensure the cat is brought indoors from dusk to dawn. This is when our native fauna is at its most vulnerable to cats. Many councils in Australia now have regulations in place for roaming cats, so it's important to ensure that you check with your local council for their rules pertaining to outdoor cats.
Traditional views that cats require the freedom to roam outdoors have few pros. The belief that indoor cats tend to be lazy and overweight is not true and can be combated with scheduled play times. Outdoor cat enthusiasts claim cats love the outdoors, which is often true, but the dangers outweigh the benefits. The same cat owners who promote the outdoors often insist that cats deserve their freedom.
Such views, however, are outdated and outranked by most animal professionals. The majority of veterinarians believe cats should be indoor pets. So do members of most Humane Societies and animal protection societies. Dangers to an outdoor cat far outweigh any benefits and responsible cat owners are urged to do what is best for the cat.
Cat owners uncertain about keeping a pet indoors can give their cat the best of both worlds by offering outdoor experiences in controlled situations. Contrary to what most cat owners may think, it is possible to train a cat to a leash and harness. It is easier to train a kitten or young cat but all cats can be leash trained. This allows cats to be walked in the same manner as many dogs and offers outdoor exercise beneficial for both cat and owner.
Perhaps the best solution of all is a cat enclosure where cats can enjoy the outdoors in a safe environment. Many companies manufacture cat enclosures but cat owners can also create their own. A cat enclosure is simply an enclosed area that offers protection and keeps the cat from wandering away. An ideal cat enclosure will contain enough space to move, climbing options, and a resting area. A shady area is best so that the cat can enjoy fresh area even on the warmest days. Every cat enclosure should be covered with a material that can’t be breached by the cat. Nylon mesh and chicken wire are two of the most inexpensive, effective options. Concerns about formerly outdoor cats adapting to indoor life are valid but a cat enclosure often solves this potential problem.
If you are considering keeping your cat indoors, but would like to explore the possibility of building a cat enclosure, please read our page on cat enclosures here. You will find many ideas from home built cat enclosures to commercially built ones. Photos, tips, and lots more.